Call of Juar-ah-what? Gunnz? With Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar San Diego puts a stop to whatever other developers thought they were doing right with the wild west setting and shows them how it is really done.
You play as John Marston taking part in history as a reformed outlaw in a world changing faster than his horse's legs can take him. Tasked with bringing down his old gang in order to reclaim his family from a corrupt government, Marston traverses an amazing desert expanse worthy enough to locate any classic Western movie in.
Seeing Rockstar take a new stride into a world that isn't another modern day mobster story with RDR is refreshing and — surprisingly enough — may just get you a bit more in touch with the environmentalist inside of you.
The whole world lives and breathes in RDR. Wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, eagles, elk, among others are scattered throughout the land for skinning, selling, or horse-breaking if you deem necessary. There's no such thing as horns honking or boom boxes blaring here, just the calm and, at times, short-tempered nature of the wild west.
Style is something Rockstar has always been able to get across successfully in its games, but the main aspect of RDR's production that steals the show is the aural treat you get at every turn in your quest to save your family. Soothing sounds permeate your gameplay experience when you walk through sleepy towns and erupt into a perfectly timed up-tempo progression when you get hit up by not-so-friendly townspeople and enemies. It complements the setting well and the transitions and flow of the background music gave me the same vibe the incredible soundtrack to Bully did while mucking about the halls of Bullworth Academy.
Gameplay-wise, Red Dead Redemption is no slouch either. Rockstar did the seemingly impossible and made shooting "old-timey" weapons fun to play with minus any tricks to make them seem more modern. The main reason is the fact that they gave weapon feedback and body shots more weight where you don't care to empty a clip in someone because every bullet shot is noticeably effective and powerful.
Of course, the underlying game engine is still the same one used in Grand Theft Auto IV with the same unique quirks like the awkward cover system and the annoying input lag that has you physically moving the analog stick but your on-screen character suddenly comes down with a case of slow-to-start!
Unfortunately, it does affect some of the otherwise epic moments during the course of the game when it tries to give you more than the sense of living an idyllic farm life. There, is where the game shines; in the little moments that only a video game would be able to represent. Times when you ride across the desert under a sea of stars at night or breaking in wild horses make more of a personal impact when you do them instead of just watching like is the case with film.
If you're not one for subtle messages, Rockstar's brand of satire, and gameplay that doesn't overstimulate your senses…no worries. The usual GTA trappings are present in RDR — all with a dash of wild west flavoring. "Stranger" missions like those introduced in GTA IV make a return and provide a perfect template to tell random stories that don't break away from the seamlessness of the main narrative. Poker, blackjack, liar's dice, horseshoes, and, the most entertaining in my opinion, bounty hunting are some of the distractions that round out the quantitive qualities of RDR.
And, of course, if you're completely into it for the story — like me — it offers up a tale that truly lives up to the game's namesake. Not only is the story the most cohesive Rockstar has produced (rounding out at about half the length of GTA IV's) but it also delivers one of best, most apt, resolutions I've seen in a game yet. Really, a story that needs to be experienced by every gamer. At about 12 hours long, this may be the first GTA-style game's story anyone actually completes.
All that and that's just talking about single-player. GTA IV introduced what was possible from an open-world game taken online, but Red Dead Redemption is another serious step in the right direction for Rockstar-branded multiplayer. It's not perfect, but streamlining the action by matchmaking games and setting up objectives for players is something GTA IV severely lacked. There's no longer a need to argue and scream with the host of the game until he decides to start the game 15 minutes after you enter the lobby…the game does it for you.
If the not-quite-perfect game mechanics don't do it for you, there's always free roam for you and up to 15 of your closest buddies to posse up and make your own fun as much as you want. Rockstar has furthered the template for their multiplayer going forward and I'm sure that they — based on their continuing efforts — could become an actual contender in the online scene a game or two down the line.
Even with its mechanical flaws (mainly the clunky control holdovers from GTA IV's game engine), Red Dead Redemption is yet another masterpiece from the minds at Rockstar. One worthy of the "GTA: Wild West" moniker and one that pushes boundaries in terms of a setting teeming with life, getting across small details with engaging gameplay, an awe-inspiring soundtrack, and, even, lessons in how to create a powerful narrative with a satisfying conclusion. A must-buy experience. And one that will keep its hooks into you long after you 100% single-player to continue into the overhauled and improved multiplayer experience introduced in GTA IV.