Out-shooting GTA IV?: Red Dead Redemption Hands-On

Rockstar finally lets us clamber into the saddle, but is an embarrassing tumble in store? VideoGamesDaily goes hands-on with three missions from the new frontier of sandbox gaming.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, January 28, 2010

GTA’s cars might be sturdier, faster and laden with on-board entertainment, but the occupants of Redemption’s stables have something far more valuable, given the aforesaid sparsity of human life – a personality. Not to mention a useful degree of animal intelligence. A horse won’t take well to rough ground, nor will it applaud any Light-Brigade-style aspirations, but it’ll come when whistled for, leap obstacles mid-gallop without instruction and recoil from sudden drops. It’s unlikely that either Marston or the player will forge quite the same kinship with a particular nag as in the sorely under-imitated Shadow of the Colossus, but you may have your favourites among what we’re told will be a sizeable assortment of breeds and temperaments.

Saloons should play a prominent role in the plot. And yes, you *can* have a drink too many.

Saloons should play a prominent role in the plot. And yes, you *can* have a drink too many.

Marston – a taciturn, born-again moraliser obliged to take up reprehensible old ways, ever ready to preach but incapable, it seems, of resisting the gravitational pull of his own history – is pretty engaging company all by himself. Rockstar’s protagonists have always been a breath of fresh air among the cueball scalps and bulldozer jowls of their contemporaries, but GTA IV’s world-weary cast were a cut above the cartoon infamy of bygone GTAs, and Redemption feels just as grown-up.

It’s time to enter Armadillo. Having tethered his horse – they’ll follow you if you let ‘em, bless ‘em – Marston presses its Sheriff, a cynical old paper-pusher named Johnson, for news of one Bill Williamson, your former partner-in-crime and (as far as we know) the game’s chief antagonist. While familiar enough with Marston’s past to question his intentions, the sheriff is willing to spill a bean or two in return for some assistance against a pack of local outlaws, dug in atop a nearby hillock behind a suspiciously regular series of rock outcrops. En route, we’re introduced to a variation on The Lost and Damned’s “convoy” system, holding A to keep pace with the sheriff’s horse while he and Marston exchange tactical chit-chat.

The cover-driven gunplay, again, feels a lot like that of GTA IV, which is to say not quite Gears-of-War-slick but considerably slicker than most homages to the latter. Rockstar has loosened up the mildly contentious lock-on system: hold left trigger and you’ll line up your sights automatically on the nearest bandito, as before, but Redemption won’t tether your reticule to the target. “Dead Eye”, the game’s sole obvious nod to its more straightforwardly action-oriented PS2 predecessor, is another in the industry’s long line of recharging bullet time multi-kill abilities. It lacks the kinetic punch of the Call of Juarez equivalent, but functions well enough, allowing swift, satisfying resolutions to the small-scale engagements into which you’re pitched whilst roaming the map.

We don't know if Johnson's a major character, but we'd like to see more of him.

We don't know if Johnson's a major character, but we'd like to see more of him.

Having gunned down the gang, we flush the ringleader out of his shack and, at Johnson’s request, take him alive by blowing off one of his kneecaps. Doing so swings the needle of our “Honour” gauge, wrapped around the mini-map at bottom, a little further into the green. Honour represents your moral standing in the world of Redemption – a subject fairly new to Rockstar, so skilled at creating immediate, local repercussions for anti-social behaviour without invoking weighty structural notions of good or evil.

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