Rockstar is no stranger to exploring iconic time periods and locations, having used the Grand Theft Auto series to explore the 80’s, 90’s and modern day in recreations of Miami, New York and California, and having helped Team Bondi on the creation of LA Noire, which explored late 1940’s Los Angeles. The formula was always relatively the same, involving open world shenanigans with cars and taking on missions from crime lords (with the exception of LA Noire, where you were taking on a linear succession of missions from your police superiors). Red Dead Redemption is their most ambitious open world effort to date, taking on the American Wild West in 1911, during the waning years of the frontier and casting you as an aging former rogue named John Marston who is out to hunt down his former partners in crime at the behest of The Bureau for the sake of his family. While it is called Red Dead: Redemption, make no mistake; this is not a sequel to Red Dead Revolver and has very little to do with that game aside from being published by Rockstar and sharing the Wild West theme.


As a character, John Marston is a sympathetic figure and quite different from the usual selfish criminals Rockstar usually puts the player in charge of. He isn’t taking on missions for money, to build up a criminal empire or support himself through crime, but he’s quite literally being forced by the government to help them so he can have his family and livelihood back. This brings some comparisons to GTA IV’s Niko Bellic, who wanted a normal life and used crime to support himself and his cousin, but unlike Niko, John never actually has to commit any crimes in the game, and players could go the entire game without angering a single authority figure if they wanted to (barring a single tutorial mission teaching the players how the old west “Wanted” system works in the game). That’s not to say that players won’t be taking part in some shady business and gunfights ever now and then, but the lawless west is a different place from the more civilized and controlled confines of Liberty City.


In classic Grand Theft Auto style, players will accept missions from bosses for a variety of tasks, ranging from killing people to chasing people to fetching an important item, with a bevy of side missions and open world activities in between to keep players busy. Players can amuse themselves with some horseshoes or poker, have a few drinks at the saloon, get into a duel with a challenger or even take part in various random events where John can do things like partake in a hunting challenge with a stranger or save a prostitute from being stabbed (or just ignore the situation, or even help out her assaulter). Players can’t actually do any business with these prostitutes though, since John is a married man and will remind the women of this, though part of this might be because players can’t really use their horses in the same way one might use a car to ferry a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto, especially since John still has the freedom and characterization of a former criminal out in lawless lands.


The game has an “honor” system as well as a reputation system that takes note of your actions in the game, and allows different interactions in some different areas. It’s not as deep as it might sound and doesn’t allow the wildly differing exchanges you might get in a title like Fallout, though it does affect prices and NPC interactions for a little more life. It feels oddly constraining and a bit tacked on when it’s so rarely used and when the story doesn’t change at all with Marston’s actions, but as an entirely optional in game feature that doesn’t affect anything you do or how you do it too much, it’s hard to complain. It does show off just how wasted the Wanted system is in the main game when that too is a more optional feature (as mentioned) and players almost never have to deal with fighting off the army or committing any crimes unless they feel like killing some time just screwing around. It makes the game seem less cohesive as a whole, but again, it’s hard to complain about having more optional things to do and ways to experience the game.


Redemption's story is rigidly defined, with some minor subplots now and then (including one rather over long segment in Mexico involving a revolution), but it is well written and does a great job of showing Marston’s dedication to his family over the allures of money and returning to crime. John Marston is one of the best characters ever realized in a videogame, and his interactions with others do a great job of defining him and his personality, as well as his upbringing and what led him to his current situation. Other supporting characters are also expertly voiced and written, and come off as much more realistic and believable then the caricatured characters in previous Rockstar titles, though there are still a few oddball characters to lighten up the grim situations John finds himself in (such as an inept revolutionary leader and a drunken Irish arms dealer named Irish). The world as a whole is just much more serious in tone then any Grand Theft Auto title, barring some humorous newspaper ads and short silent films that are almost a requirement in any open world Rockstar title at this point.


The gameplay and gameplay mechanics are incredibly refined, more so than any previous open world Rockstar title, with the gunplay and combat feeling tense and quick thanks to clever AI and responsive controls, as well as the incredibly fun to use Dead Eye system that allows players to slow down time and mark enemies to gun down rapidly in classic Wild West fashion. Of course shooting things is about 70% of what you will be doing when fisticuffs are so rarely relied on and horses merely provide another platform for shooting people, but the different enemies, missions types, settings and the progression in weaponry and story do a great job of alleviating repetition, while the well done shooting mechanics make the game much more suitable for online play. The game is a bit buggy at times with clipping and times when I ended up paying significantly more then I was asked to pay for a stagecoach ride, but given the size of the world it’s astounding it’s as polished as it is, and for what it’s worth the game puts the engine to great use with some beautiful graphics on display and some lifelike animations on display.


Multiplayer is one of the most surprisingly fun offerings, with an extensive amount of differing modes, expansions, ranks, and the ability to just screw around in the world with friends and take on any variety of challenges you like. Players can activate the many modes right in free roam with their friends, and set up fearsome posse to terrorize other players and NPC’s. Without these activities or the extra content the DLC offers, the open world online is rather bland and save for the shrubbery and NPC’s, may as well be mars since the basic online free roam lacks side activities, random events and even trains and the ability to rob people that added so much life to the single player. The various modes include basic deathmatches as well as a Capture the Flag variant revolving around gold bags, and a bevy of co-op activities that can be activated right in free roam, plus some really well done story based co-op modes offered through a free DLC pack that allows up to 4 players to partake in some caper or task with their friends for a sizeable amount of experience.


Overall, Red Dead: Redemption is another fantastic open world title from Rockstar, easily the best Western videogame created thus far, and a game that you should not miss if you have the time needed to invest in such a large game with so much to do. Amazing writing and music, mechanically refined gameplay, and Rockstar’s best use of online multiplayer yet, this is a game that is destined to be a classic.