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A Westside story

Red Dead Redemption is possibly the best release of the year. Just avoid the cougars. Reviews Gopal Sathe.

entertainment Updated: Jun 26, 2010 00:25 IST
Gopal Sathe

John Marston is a man on a mission. He was an outlaw, but he’s given up that life. All he wanted was to settle down with his wife, and raise his son. But the world is filled with change in 1911, and the government in the East can’t let people in the Old West remain lawless and wild anymore. The railways have changed everything, and tamed the lawless land.

Marston is taken in by the government and told that if he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in jail away from his family, he will go into New Austin (a fictional state entirely like Old Texas) and kill his one-time friend Bill Williamson. This might sound like an old Eastwood movie, but it is the world of Red Dead Redemption, the latest game from Rockstar Games, the same banner that made Grand Theft Auto a household name. It’s a sandbox game — an open world for you to explore and do what you want, when you want. You’re given a vibrant world to explore, and John Marston is a real living person whom you will care about.

It’s so real, I now fear cougars. An early optional mission had me look for a missing person. I followed the trail to the Hanging Rock, a few miles north of the town of Armadillo. I got of my horse to investigate some blood on the ground and there was a heart stopping sound behind me! Suddenly this monstrous creature was charging at me! I ran as quickly as I could but it took a swipe at me and I fell down. Luckily my horse panicked at that point and ran between me and the cougar, giving me a few seconds to pull my gun and kill it. I knew then that I was never getting off my horse outside the cities again.

The modelling of all the animals, and the various pistols and rifles you use through the game, has been done with tremendous care and is extremely realistic, though people and faces are a little less so. The game stands as a wonderful technical achievement, with almost no load screens to speak of, and an enormously detailed game-world.

Red Dead Redemption is definitely fun. Games don’t have to make sense, they have to be enjoyable. The mechanics themselves are not as important as the enjoyment they provide, and Redemption definitely delivers.

But at the same time, it also gives you a cohesive world to explore. You could do the side quests given by people around the world, or roam the countryside hunting animals for fun and profit, or pick up bounties and arrest gang members. Just riding your horse, with no objective in mind, is enjoyable.

Despite these distractions, you keep coming back to the main storyline because of the great writing. John Marston is no cardboard cut-out, and before long you will actually care about this man, and want things to work out for him.

Like most open world games, RDR also dabbles in creating moral choices for the player. For instance, in an early optional mission, you have to convince an old man to sell you his property. You can put up your own money, or point a gun at him and make him give it to you.

There’s no real consequence to either choice — ‘good’ choices raise your honor and ‘evil’ lowers it, and all this does is change the discounts you get in stores — but while I normally play as the bad guy in any game that lets me, here, I found myself ponying up the cash myself because I knew that Marston would have.

He’s a good guy and while he’s done a lot of bad stuff, he’s clearly trying to atone for it. He might be here as a government assassin, but he’s not happy about that, and he’s not going to rebel by becoming a gun toting outlaw either.

At least that’s how I felt about the character, although perhaps the developers see things differently — the game hardly penalises evil characters and there’s a few things you can do as a bad guy which actually sound like a lot of fun, and would probably warrant a second playthrough of the game for me.

There were some gameplay issues in the game, a number of glitches as often happens in such huge games, but nothing gamebreaking. Some people are complaining about the control scheme and the shooting mechanics to which I must say — the shooting is fun! It’s a game, not a simulator! The control scheme is a little complicated but the game takes you through a thorough tutorial, and the end result is great control over the horse, which is half the fun of this game.

It’s possible to finish the game within around 10 hours, with no side quests, fast travel everywhere, and skipping all the cutscenes.

If you’re like me and don’t go for 100 per cent completion, picking up only interesting challenges and missions, focussing largely on the main storyline, the game should take around four to five days to complete. To compare, I finished all of Modern Warfare 2 in one day. Also, even when you’re done with the story, riding around saving strangers and hunting bears is so much fun that the game represents tremendous value for money. Red Dead Redemption is available now on the Xbox 360 and PS3, for Rs 2799. This review is based on the Xbox 360 Sathe is a video game reporter who writes at split-screen.com