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The wild west has made many writers and actors both famous and rich over the years. Countless television shows and movies have come and gone depicting their own adaptions of the lawless west, and the majority of them were flawless hits. The setting was what made the on the on-screen cameo so good. The western genre had all the essential pieces needed to make a perfect movie.  

They just never clicked in video games. Despite the countless disappointments of past efforts to capitalize on the genre, Call of Juarez and Red Dead Revolver to name a few, Rockstar's first plunge into the genre was a smashing success. The game isn't perfect though. Many of its pros are weighed down by stupid, unnecessary mistakes, refraining the game from becoming what it could really be and distinguishing itself from some of the other cult hits out now in the industry. Rockstar played it safe, rehashing what many gamers came to love from the Grand Theft Auto games, delivering a massive story and a highly immersive world bundled into one, big, western-centric package.

The death of the west…

Red Dead Redemption takes place at the dawn of the 20th century where an self-minded federal government is hellbent on spreading civilization from coast to coast of the United States. The days of the cowboys is swiftly coming to an end, making way for feeble business men and politicians to expand their business and influence. In order to fully meet their vision though, a new branch of law enforcement has been formed to clear out the violent gangs running a-muck at free will and set up firm order over the land. 

Lucky for you, John Marston, used to be one such outlaw. But as far as he knows, that life is over for him. After leaving his gang when they left him for dead when a bank robbery went wrong, and a deranged leader weighing him down, Marston settled down on a ranch in favor of a more quiet life with his newly wed wife and soon to have child. He thought he had changed…

But much like his closely similar counterpart in Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko Bellic, he eventually realizes that running from the past doesn't mean what he did never happened. The locales remember, his friends and family remember, but more importantly, the feds remember. And they want nothing to with it. After kidnapping his wife and son, the Agency forces Marston to hunt down the last remaining members of his former gang, or he'll never see his family again. John must once again pick up his old revolver and ride back into his past, one he thought he had long given up. 

A world too big to keep up!

As enticing as the story may sound, the story has its fair share of high and low points, more often low than the contrary. Throughout Marston's adventure, he'll need the trust and help of friends before he can track down his former gang and dispose of its leadership. He'll have to consort with drunks, gunslingers, corrupt politicians, drug addict scientists, native "savages" as they're called, con artists, and so on. His cast of friends doesn't sound very pleasing to deal with. And Marston learns that lesson again, and again, and again.

While some of the story quests given make sense and play a crucial role into finding Dutch Van der Lin, the leader of his former gang, about half of them are a tedious repetition of the same, old boring thing over and over. You'll spend countless hours appeasing worthless allies who do little to bolster your quest if at all. While escorting cattle and rounding up horses for a nearby farm, or even hunting down local criminals for sport or hunting animals and selling their hide for money may sound like fun, none of them are essential to the plot at all! 

Yes, they were fun at first to play through and I can understand that many of those "chores" were a huge part of the wild west, but I don't think they should be mandated quests to progress the story forward. They should be side quests that I can do for fun to be completed when I want to do them. Ripping off local farmers to buy fake "special" potions isn't worth my time. I'd rather get on with the story and get to the good stuff. I got tired, and very soon, of being the errand boy. Sound familiar Grand Theft Auto fans?

The game performs at its best when it thrusts you into action heavy missions that only a game in the western era could offer. Such as protecting supply trains on horseback while speeding across the countryside, fighting up treacherous mountainsides to find an enemy camp, assaulting gang strongholds with your posse of friends, or igniting the Mexican revolution to clear out a corrupt military. Red Dead shines and manages to stand out among the many other games out there when in focuses on what the game can offer exclusive to itself. But just when you think the game is picking up and beginning to get good, it shoots itself in the foot and sends you off on another pointless errand. 

Even so, given the eerie lack of the western era's assortment of weaponry,  there isn't much variety to Red Dead’s gunplay, but it is surprisingly enticing. Every weapon has its own distinct feel. No matter what you choose, whether that would be revolvers and repeaters, or even a Springfield rifle, every weapon feels unique to itself and leads every shootout to have its own sense of urgency and impact. No two fights feel the same.

The animation effect are spot-on too. A shot to the shoulder will spin enemies around, where a bullet to the back of a fleeing enemy on horseback will see him slide off the side of his saddle into the dirt below. A wound to the foot will cause an enemy to crawl away or a violent shotgun blast will seen enemies flying backward. When faced with a large group of foes, you can switch into the slow-motion Dead Eye ability and paint cross-hair marks on a bunch of enemies, which will prompt Marston to effortlessly send them to their graves in quick fashion moments later. 

Choices matter

One of the most notable feature of Grand Theft Auto, I mean Red Dead Redemption, is how your actions will affect how others look upon you. Help out a gunned-down treasure hunter under attack by bandits and your honor will increase. Kill a man and steal his money will send your reputation will move the opposite direction. Lawmen, bandits, and townspeople will react to you according to your honor. 

If robbing banks, hunting down policemen, or harming innocent civilians is your jazz, ironic sounding if you look back at why your back out in the west in the first place, then local law enforcement branches or citizens even will begin to form posses and hunt you down. The more acts of disobedience you commit, the higher the bounty will be for your head. If you don't want to be chased down practically everywhere you go, you could opt to pay off your bounty if there is one, and everything will return to normal. 

Fun for all, all for one

Red Dead also allows you to round-up a group of friends to roam the wild west in an online multiplayer mode. The free roam mode let your posse can terrorize towns or chase down bandits to collect bounties. You can even jump into competitive multiplayer matches as well, pitting you in modes such as team deathmatch or capture the falg styled games, or another mode that pits the two teams together to see who can collect the most gold coins. 

Every match, no matter what mode, starts off with a Mexican standoff, where the last man standing gets to have a slight head start over everyone else on the lobby leaderboard. With 50 levels to play through and unlockable mounts, character skins, and titles to achieve, multiplayer is a massive part of Read Dead Redemption that I originally did not care to have. Now, I can't imagine the game without it. Many of my most memorable moments were spent free roaming the wild west with my friends or reliving a Mexican stand-off for the first time. 

Closing Comments

Red Dead Redemption is stellar entry from Rockstar into the untapped world of the Wild West in video games, but it isn't perfect by any means. While the game succeeded in seemingly every part where past western games have failed, I don't think it delivers a quality experience that would make the game worth the 40 or more hours of your time that it would take to beat it. 

Score: 8/10

Replay Value: Moderate