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

While your sharp-shooting talents remain the same whether you open a fresh chapter in Marston’s criminal backstory or no, the social landscape will react appropriately. Honourable types may get a discount at stores, for instance, or find the law taking their side in a dispute. Dishonourable types may be bowed double under the weight of ill-gotten gains, but will get a frosty welcome whenever they stray into town. Dovetailing with this system is that of “Fame”, an abstract measure of your reputation, which may condition which side quests or procedural events you happen upon. The extent to which these modifiers impinge on the storyline is hard to call, inevitably, in the hour or two we spend with the game. Our PR handholders are tight-lipped on the subject of alternative endings.

Predators have no qualms about taking Marston on.

Predators have no qualms about taking Marston on.

It’s unlikely, though, that Redemption will handcuff your every idle gesture to a moral development pathway, a la Infamous. Confirmed ne’er-do-wells, like the hostage-takers who constitute our next brace of kills, can be blown away without a second thought. The in-game ecology shows the first of its cards in the wake of this battle, as vultures sweep out of the scalding blue sky to pluck at the corpses, giving us the chance to try our hands at another no-strings diversion – bird genocide.

The third mission is the most protracted, and the first to veer a little off the beaten track of plausibility into the Disney-fied capers you’d associate with an earlier, more naive breed of Wild Western. Accompanied and at times aided by a bandy-legged Irish drunkard known, sensitively enough, as “Irish”, Marston must liberate a Gatling gun from a mining settlement, hop-skipping from crate to rock to crate and finally into the gloom of the shaft itself, festooned with exploding oil lamps. It’s cookie-cutter stuff, but it concludes on an exciting note, with the gimlet-eyed duellist peek-shooting from the back of a speeding mine cart.

This is the kind of game-changing set-piece we want and – judging by prior projects – expect from Redemption when it ships at the end of April. As deadly as Marston may be with his pistols, the fine-tuned gunnery is only a gentle thrill in itself: Rockstar must dole out a more diverse range of means and ends if it’s to keep pulses jumping across God knows how many hours of frontier exploration.

Public transport in 1908.

Public transport in 1908.

As regards the precise contents of those charismatic but worryingly arid landscapes, it’s still difficult to comment. On the strength of its heritage alone, Red Dead Redemption is one of the most arresting new projects of its generation, but outside of the gutsy revenge narrative and tobacco-chewing ambience, a lot of the material which really piques our interest is material we’ve yet to become fully acquainted with – treasure hunts, how the ecology’s 40 specimens of critter will act and interact, how high noon duels will play out, train robberies, how one breaks in a wild horse, cattle thieving, the nature and value of the cowboy anecdotes told over procedurally generated camp-outs. Rockstar has succeeded in atoning for Revolver’s flaws, without a doubt, but when it comes to matching GTA’s successes, there’s still something to prove.

Red Dead Redemption is due out for Xbox 360 and PS3 on 27th April in the US and 30th April in Europe.

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