In the five years since Red Dead Revolver, Rockstar always planned to return to the franchise. A sentimental favorite in the office, the team wanted to revisit the Western genre and give it the proper treatment with an ambitious scale that rivals their flagship game, Grand Theft Auto. Judging by our first look at Redemption, Rockstar is clearly on to something.

While its predecessor took place in the heyday of the Wild West, Red Dead Redemption’s tale begins during the declining years of frontier life, the first decade of the 20th century. Riding the coattails of industrialization, a burgeoning federal government is clamping down on the unruly frontier, annexing reluctant territories and ridding the backcountry of lawlessness. To aid the process, the Feds form The Bureau — a seedy precursor to the F.B.I. composed of ruthless arbiters willing to go beyond the bounds of the law to protect it.

To adapt to the rapidly changing landscape, John Marston does the right thing, giving up the life of a ne’er-do-well and settling peacefully into family life. Only the weathered scars on his face tell of his roughshod past that involved running with a notorious band of outlaws. But when the Bureau offers an unsettling proposition to Marston in relation to his newfound happiness, he reluctantly takes up the six-shooter once again.

If our first excursions with Marston are any indication, he’s in for a rough ride. The first mission Rockstar shared has him shooting his way to save a friend from hanging after a hostage trade goes awry in a ghost town. The next time we run into him, he’s stuck defending a shady snake oil salesman from a cantankerous crowd of rifle-wielding rabble in a dust-kicking horse chase. Our experience culminates with Marston riding alongside a posse, struggling to protect a mail train from waves of bandits through a barren, rocky frontier region.

Despite the drastically different settings, similarities between Red Dead and GTA IV are evident throughout the game. Red Dead uses the same RAGE game engine, Euphoria physics technology, targeting mechanic, and cover system as last year’s game of the year. Rockstar still has many elements of Red Dead Redemption under wraps, and we can’t wait to learn more about this ambitious Western in the coming months leading to the fall release.

The Open Trail

Red Dead features a huge playable world divided into three sections: the Frontier, Mexico, and the North. Train tracks and telegraph posts that litter the landscape signal the creeping modernity, but traveling between towns is still a dangerous undertaking. The world of Red Dead Redemption features a day/night cycle, weather variations, and an ecosystem of threatening animals on the prowl. While Marston rides through the frontier, we witness a man on the side of the road fall victim to a mountain lion jumping down from its perch atop some rocks and mauling the poor chap. We also see a stagecoach robbery and a posse of horse-riding outlaws dragging a man behind their horses with a lasso. The world is filled with these dynamic events; it’s up to the player to take sides or stay out of the fray.

The Aughts

Red Dead trades in the common mid-1800s setting of most Western games in favor of the turn of the 20th century, a pivotal time in the nation’s history. Though the tale of protagonist John Marston is fictitious, Rockstar says some side missions incorporate real historical events. These notable events take place in the same time period as Marston’s life unravels:

  • Theodore Roosevelt presides as the 26th President of the United States
  • Henry Ford forms Ford Motor Company and begins mass production of cars
  • The Wright Brothers take flight at Kitty Hawk
  • Albert Einstein publishes the Annus Mirabilis papers, establishing the Theory of Relativity
  • Joseph Conrad publishes Heart of Darkness
  • The Boston Americans defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series

Stark Raving Mad Skills

Red Dead Redemption is a markedly different game than its predecessor, but one feature preserved from the title is the Dead Eye shooting mechanic. Rockstar has altered the skill so players can use it in two distinct ways. The first ability allows Marston to activate slow motion to get a bead on his aggressors with any weapon in the game. The second ability, which is relegated to pistols, gives Marston the option of painting targets and subsequently unleashing a chain of deadly accurate shots.