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Hindsight : Red Dead Redemption – Game Of The Year Edition

Cart: Red Dead Redemption GOTY Edition
Cab: PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC
Coin: Rockstar San Diego

2004’s Red Dead Revolver was a decent enough romp through the Wild West, capturing the atmosphere and style of the era perfectly – even if it did let itself down with sub-par gameplay. Featuring some pretty dire third-person controls, shonky AI and naff scripting, it was a passable, if forgettable affair.

2010’s ‘spiritual successor’, Red Dead Redemption, unfortunately adopts one-too-many characteristics of its forefather for my liking, mixing it all up with the open-world DNA with which Rockstar so notoriously made a name for itself. In fact, so strong is my bemusement with this title and its glowing accolades, that this was almost a Lost In Translation article – but there are several things that it does nail, so the least I can do is complain at length about its numerous failings.

Nuns on the guns; how very Rockstar.

Nuns on the guns; how very Rockstar.

In its favour, this is, without doubt, the closest we’ve ever come to a genuine Wild West simulator. Racing through the mountains and prairies with the sun setting over the horizon is a magical affair, one reminiscent of every decent Wild West movie ever made. Whilst I’ve long held that Rockstar lack the ability to make a truly strong and cohesive game, they certainly know how to capture the particular flavour and nuance of their subject matter. In many respects, they’re the Tarantino of the games world; holding them up as anything more or less is foolish.

So we have an amazing setting, a flourish of style and some superbly well-realised characters that explore every angle of this twisted and gritty part of American history. What we don’t have, however, is any really meaningful way in which to wrap them all together. The narrative is mildly intriguing to begin with but soon peters out into a series of mundane fetch quests for a motley crew of reprobates – as is the case with Rockstar. The gameplay is a marked improvement over Revolver, but the controls still feel somewhat awkward in comparison to the very best of the third-person-cover-based genre with the AI remaining almost as pitiful as it was in 2004. An auto-lock feature enables a smooth enough style of play for most, but I’ve always hated any sort of crutch, and removing it makes the game near unplayable, with a tiny dot of a reticule and stiff controls being the only things to guide your aim. If you’ve ever tried playing Max Payne without bullet-time, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

In short: it’s all rather like a shooting gallery at a Wild West funfair, just without the fun.

Is this some twisted sense of atonement for a developer that's been so keen to disempower female characters in the past?

Is this some twisted sense of atonement for a developer that’s been so keen to dis-empower female characters in the past?

The world is sparse and vast, as it arguably should be, but is sorely missing the richness and quality of activity and gameplay that feature in the similarly hostile environments of its peers. Far Cry 3’s ‘Rook Island’, for example. If there was ever a master-class in open-world environments, Ubisoft certainly delivered it there: strong narrative, memorable characters, slick gameplay, cunning AI, engaging side-quests and a wide variety of well-realised activities. Redemption simply fails on almost all counts, with the Undead Nightmare expansion pack doing little to develop either the core game or the zombie universe.

I’m sure that many will want to hog-tie me for my feelings on the matter, but if there was ever a game whose hype you really shouldn’t believe, it’s this. The only silver-lining in the cloud? If Redemption is your cup of tea, there’s certainly plenty of it to drink in this GOTY edition.

Here’s hoping that for GTA-V, Rockstar actually remember to put the game back into their gameplay.

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  1. Agreed. The setting is incredible, as is the feel of being in the Wild West, and the story starts our well, but soon becomes very stale, and the actual action feels like any number of 3rd person games.

    I wanted the feeling of having two bullets left, with killing a man being a massive task, yet you end up mowing down hundreds in some missions. Sad.

  2. I’ve tried on several occasions to get into RDR and come away feeling the same every time. Shame.

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed Red Dead Redemption on the most part. But, I must agree the plot becomes a little tedious eventually. Plus the inability to revisit some of the more memorable characters once you have completed their missions. It would have been nice to be able to ‘visit’ them and see them go about their daily lives.

  4. That’s a very good point. It’s all rather ‘fire and forget’ in open-world games with characters. The illusion of a living, breathing world is broken in this respect. You might like this Blueprint article – some ramblings written a while ago on the theme of open-worlds and next gen.

What do you think? Leave a comment!