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Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Game Shelf: Red Dead Redemption (PS3)

This one has been put off for too long, as I finished the game a few weeks back (I got the game for Christmas last year, but that's another story for another day). So, now that I've got a another review to write (Bulletstorm), I figured I might as well get this one out of the way so I don't get further behind. This week, we'll be looking at what many called "Game of the Year" last year, and one of the all-around finest pieces of work put together by Rockstar Games, Red Dead Redemption.

RDR is the story about a man named John Marston. John is a relatively regular guy living in the earliest part of the 20th century, as the wild west era is beginning to fade and the Industrial Age is moving its way in.  After getting into trouble with the law due to gang activity, Marston decides to turn things around in his life and become a better man, settling down with his wife and son and becoming a rancher. However, government officials aren't willing to let Marston off so easy. They have taken his wife and son, and in order to get them back and return to a normal life, Marston must take on the task of either killing or turning in the main members of his former gang.

Marston's journey takes him across the entire continent of North America, from Canada to Mexico as he hunts down the last remaining members of his gang, including the leader Dutch, a man who is getting crazier and crazier with each passing day. Along the way, Marston meets and aids a variety of characters, from ranchers and farm owners to police officers and Mexican revolutionaries. Each of these is a road block Marston must pass in order to get to Dutch and end his living nightmare once and for all.

John Marston hogtying a criminal
While the premise sounds like it would make for a short game, it couldn't be further from the truth. There are at least 30-50 story missions alone (although it could be more than that; I was never actually counting), with each main character you meet along the way getting their own chunk, with some intertwining with the stories of other characters. You will do everything from help a farmer out in the U.S. to starting an entire war across Mexico. Each story-even the seemingly pointless ones-serve a purpose to the big picture in the game. It may not seem like it at the time, but each and every one is important in some way.

Now, much like I said in my L.A. Noire review, Rockstar Games is famous for side quests and missions, and there is absolutely no shortage of them in RDR. In between story missions, you can hunt down bounties, collect plants, hunt animals, help out random people along the way, collect treasures, and so on. The most intriguing side quests are the "Stranger Missions". Occasionally, you will come across a stranger who wants you to help them in some way or another. Some of these end pretty quickly, while others actually span across large chunks of the game. The reason these are so interesting is due to the characters. Each stranger you meet on these missions has something very specific they want you to do, and for very specific reasons. What makes them so interesting is the characters themselves Several of these missions involving someone very quirky, such as a man who wants you to help him build his flying machine, a man needing your help in opening a movie theater, and my personal favorite, a very strange man who knows a lot about John Marston, despite the fact that Marston has no idea who he is. This particular quest (appropriately titled "I Know You" actually has 3 separate parts to it, with each part taking place in a different country. I recommend doing these just to see the characters, but you also get rewarded with cash and XP (experience points) for completing them.

Now, while the side quests are fun here, in all honesty, they were too much for me. I enjoy a few side quests here and there, but there is just an insane amount of them in this game. The only ones I really tried to get completed all the way were the Stranger Missions, for the reasons mentioned above. The other ones, unless they were a smaller part of a story or stranger mission, I generally ignored. Honestly, if you have the time and energy to do everything in this game (or are just a person who loves collecting trophies), my hat is off to you; you will likely spend a good 60-100 hours playing this game if you are that type of person.

There are also numerous other activities, such as various gambling games like Texas Hold 'Em and Blackjack. You can play these to earn extra money and unlockables, but they are not pertinent to the story. There are also shops you can buy and sell things at, such as doctors and gunsmiths. However, through this game, you will probably not use either of these shops much. Doctors sell medicine, which you really don't need as you heel over time automatically (they can be helpful in a gunfight if you're on the verge of death and have nowhere to hide in order to recuperate, though). As for the gunsmiths, they're great for buying new guns, but I'd forget about wasting your money on ammo. Not only can you collect ammo from fallen enemies (which you will do. A lot), but each safe house has a chest in it that provides you with free ammo whenever you enter them to save your game. I didn't buy ammo even once during the 40+ hours I played.

One other aspect of the game that can be both great and frustrating is the size of the gaming area itself. The world of RDR is big, and by big, I mean huge. If you have a long distance to travel, such as from Mexico to Canada, it can take you nearly an hour (even longer if you get hit by random strangers wanting help, which will happen a lot). Fortunately, you can also access stagecoaches at various locations that will take you to anywhere on the map that is open. At first, this costs money, but as you gain experience and fame, you will eventually be able to ride them for free. Plus, the nice thing is you can skip ahead to your destination once you are on the stagecoach.

Game play is pretty straight forward. You do a lot of shooting, riding horses, driving stagecoaches and collecting items. The game has a very simple control scheme as well. The weapon wheel can be a bit of a pain if you need to switch weapons right away (the game continues on while you're deciding, meaning you can be killed just picking a weapon), but it's a minor inconvenience. As long as you switch weapons during down time or the moments in between firefights, you're good to go.

Honestly, my complaints with this game are very minor. I've pretty much listed them all, which should tell you just how little there is to complain about. The graphics are beautiful, and practically every character you meet is memorable with great voice acting. If you're anything like me, you'll get very attached to John Marston over the course of the game. Although he was once a very bad man, you can feel for John as he fights to regain his family and you truly believe he's a man trying to change his ways. Although many of the characters John meets along the way are helpful and friendly, there are few that are out to use and/or hurt him. I found myself wanting to kill each and every one of those characters throughout the course of the game, and I've heard similar stories from other players as well.

I'm not going to spoil the ending here, but I will say that it is one of the greatest yet saddest endings I've ever seen in a game. I understood exactly why the ending went down the way it did and it made perfect sense, but I still was sad to see it go down. Fortunately, there is technically a true ending that you easily achieve by playing the game for another 10-20 minutes that helps redeem the sadness. Unfortunately, with how the true ending goes down, it is highly unlikely that Rockstar will put out a sequel. At the same time, I can't say I blame them; I don't think a sequel could possibly live up to what this game has accomplished.

Overall, Red Dead Redemption is a great open-world game with very minor flaws that are easy to overlook. It is masterfully done, and features one of the best stories I've seen in a video game in a very long time. You can tell the creators really wanted something special with this game, and they certainly didn't disappoint.

I give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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