Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great joy that I inform you the spirit of the classic western is alive and well. But said spirit is not flourishing in an epic motion picture as one might expect. Instead, my undying gratitude goes out to the guys and gals at Rockstar Games, and their latest video game, Red Dead Redemption.
If I were to sum up the experience of this game in one sentence, I would say, “Red Dead Redemption is the greatest mother-fucking western video game ever.” And I have said that, actually. But, when you stop to look at all of the previous western video games that have hit the market over the last couple of decades, such a positive claim sounds questionable: let’s face it, with the exception of the PS2 entry Gun, most western video games have sucked some serious ass. And not in a good way, either.
Previously in the land of games set in the Wild West, the option for players to roam freely about the countryside and perfect their skills was rarely available — and extremely limited if it was available. Characters were as one-dimensional as a stick figure drawn by a child with cerebral palsy. Storylines were so bad that they made even the dullest Clint Eastwood westerns seem like Academy Award winning material. But, worst of all, most western video games before this one followed a dull, paint-by-numbers formula that had you standing at the customer service counter and asking for your money back within a matter of hours.
Not so with Red Dead Redemption (the greatest mother-fucking western video game ever).
Our story begins in New Austin, 1911. Former outlaw John Marston (voiced by John Wiethoff) has been brought in by the recently formed Federal Government (who everyone hates, and feels are just a bunch of crooks — did I mention there’s a lot of political undertones in this one? No? Well, there is!) to dispose of notorious bad guy Bill Williamson, whom our anti-hero once rode with back in the day. After an attempt at a “peaceful” negotiation with Williamson leaves him lying on the ground with a bullet implanted in his torso, Marston is rescued by a local rancher and thus begins our adventure in an untamed land where a kind word and a gun gets you a lot farther than just a kind word.
Here, Rockstar keeps Red Dead Redemption’s game engine familiar — staying in touch with their popular Grand Theft Auto series. Players are free to roam about the countryside (with new portions of land opening up as the story progresses) and explore every nook and cranny there is. Achieve fame as a legend of the west by helping strangers out with their various dilemmas and doing good deeds in-general, or, take the opposite route and become one of the most dangerous outlaws of the land. It’s all up to you, but remember that every decision you make comes with its own set of consequences.
Feel like shooting something, but don’t want to ride cross-country every time a posse comes your way on account of you massacring innocent civilians? No problem: take your aggressions out on the many, many animals that roam the countryside. Red Dead Redemption offers everything from tiny l’il birds and cuddly bunny-wabbits for you to hunt, to deadly cougars and rampaging bears that will crawl out of the hills to hunt you (so what if this is a game: I still shit myself every time a cougar comes-a-leaping on me and kills my horse!). Why you can even skin your conquests with your trusty knife and sell their pelts and meat to local storeowners for some cold hard cash. You can even hunt down the remaining buffalos to extinction (seriously — it’s part of the gameplay).
Love gambling, but don’t feel like losing it all at your local Indian Casino? No worries, Red Dead Redemption has you covered there, too, with an array of matches for Marston to indulge in. Texas Hold’Em Poker, Liar’s Dice (aka Bullshit), Blackjack, and Horseshoes are just a few of the side games that can be played here, all of which can take you just a bit further in terms of completing the game 100% and help you create new outfits to blend in various territories with (or just to make you look cool). You can even cheat at select games, thus ensuring you don’t walk away empty-handed…which is more than I ever do at my local Indian Casino.
Additionally, players can go bounty hunting, search near and far for buried gold, and run into an assortment of wacko characters that are synonymous with the Old West, from cowboys to cannibals. Yes, Red Dead Redemption (the greatest mother-fucking western video game ever) even has a few cannibals in it.
At first, I found myself feeling a bit disappointed with certain aspects about the game. My horse flat-out disappeared one time after a mission, leaving me in the middle of nowhere (which is never really a problem, since you can set up camp anywhere in the outdoors, from which you can save your game or travel to a town or settlement that you have already visited). “Too bad I can’t whistle for my horse to come like in the old western movies,” I said. Soon, I discovered that you can in fact do such a thing. You can even jump off from the top of a building and land in the saddle — without the painful feeling you would get in your lower abdomen if you tried that in real life.
And, just when I thought Red Dead Redemption couldn’t get any better, I started hearing Wilhelm Screams as I shot down the bad guys!
Yup, this is definitely the greatest mother-fucking western video game ever.
But, back to the game itself. Commune with nature and pick wild herbs and flowers in the desert (where you can live and breathe and see the sun in Wintertime). Break in cattle and wild horses with a lasso (the latter is particularly useful if you should find yourself without a horse to whistle for). Kill more men than Cecil B. DeMille by shooting every piss-ant prairie punk who thinks he can shoot a gun and challenges you to a duel (you can also get “invited” to draw against angry poker players who catch you cheating). For tougher battles (or just for target practice), use the Dead Eye (slow motion) control to make sure your every shot counts.
As your fame (or notoriety) becomes widespread, the game will tell you of your stats (which you can check in the game’s menu, along with your mission tactics and whatnot). By playing on the right side of the law, you will gain honor amongst the locals and law officials, as well as increase your morality scale by being an all-around swell guy. Or, give yourself to the Dark Side: watch civilians run in fear at the very mention of your name; discover just how much storeowners charge you extra when they don’t like you, and be prepared to run from or fight the law when a posse comes-a-callin’ for the bounty on your head (which increases with each bad deed done).
God-damn, this is a great game! For film fanatics like myself, Red Dead Redemption also throws in a ton of references to western movies new and old. They even gave cult B-Movie legend Ross Hagen a paycheck for voicing the character of aging gunfighter Landon Ricketts, who looks exactly like what might have happened if Sam Elliott were to play Lee Van Cleef.
And then there are the game’s locales. Whereas Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV had our jaws on the floor at the sight of the urban jungles of Liberty City, Red Dead Redemption makes us drool over its incredible graphics. Whether you’re simply admiring a rattlesnake hiding in the brush (which will bite you if you get too close) or setting your rifle’s sights on the lush plains and rocky mountains (and all of the breathtaking colors that the Southwest is so revered for) that surround you, you’ll fall in love with the admirable world Rockstar has created here.
Watch as characters react to you shooting their hats off (or watch as they drop dead because you missed — heh, I gave one bad bald bastard an inverted skin mohawk thanks to a strategically-placed bullet). Every creature — be it human or animal — has its own unique animation depending on how you treat it.
Oh, and just wait until you find yourself in the desert during a thunderstorm: if the graphics don’t have you wanting to put on a raincoat, the incredible sound that accompanies the storm will!
Yes, Red Dead Redemption’s sound is also a force to be reckoned with. Warning sounds of the aforementioned rattlesnakes, the quaint and curious squeaks that skunks make when your run over them with your horse, the unsettling growl that approaching cougars and packs of wolves make, passersbys in towns and on the road (in the US and Mexico): all these sounds and more go to make the best Rockstar game yet.
Online content? Yep. Chime in with up to 15 additional players online via competitive or cooperative modes, or take part in the multiplayer Free Roam feature, where you and your buddies can save the day, or wreak havoc throughout the land.
On the negative side, I noticed the occasional glitch or two in the game. I found one poor sap stuck in the ground due to an error (I lassoed him and pulled him out, interestingly enough). A wagon riding along the trail moved very choppily, as if it were a filmstrip that had a couple of frames missing. Some objects would occasionally float in the air. And I encountered two more instances where the finishing animations disappeared (making poker players look like they were part of a movie’s CGI work print) and the major sound effects simply turned off (these latter two issues were fixed by restarting the game).
Most of these glitches were never really what I’d call “distracting.” Hell, most of them were more amusing than anything else (except for that one occasion where the game locked up on me entirely: that was what I call “infuriating”). Still, a glitch is a glitch, and these minor instances ultimately affect one’s final scoring.
Speaking of final scoring, it’s time I give Red Dead Redemption mine. The gameplay is incredible. The graphics are outstanding. And the sound is fantastic.
This truly is the best western video game created. Well, thus far — and I can’t wait to see what Rockstar does next for this oft-abused genre.
Red Dead Redemption is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.