We first covered Red Dead Redemption a month ago, when Rockstar invited us to take a first look at the open-world Wild West. Developed by the company's San Diego studio, it seemed like the Grand Theft Auto IV of gunslinging games, taking a very serious and cinematic approach in contrast to the tongue-in-cheek predecessor, Red Dead Revolver. Now that the game is somewhere near completion, I was offered a chance to play some missions with my own hands.
Before I put the controller in my hands though, I'm given a little more information on the background of John Marston, the game's protagonist. Once an outlaw, Marston turns away from the life of crime after a heist goes wrong and he's left for dead by his fellow gang members. In the course of three years the man sorts his life out and gets a wife, son and farm to call his own.
Marston is forced back into the gunslinging business when the Justice Department asks him to bring his former friends down. When he refuses, the government agents resort to holding his family hostage unless he does what they ask. This is the bit where the player jumps in, playing both sides of a war between the lawless and the lawful; with the latter appearing to be just as corrupt as the former.
I was shown a particular mission before having a little run around on my own, and it was similar to the last task I was shown during my last visit with the game, only the tables have turned. Instead of helping rebels take over a fort, Marston chooses to help the Mexican Army suppress a revolt by a ridge. After driving them back towards a stronghold, I was shown scenes of rebels running around, scrambling for some cover as the player systematically took out each one.
The Dead Eye mode ? a method of slowing down time to lock onto enemies - was used liberally during this demonstration, as the meter for the feature builds up the more bad guys you take out. With a pistol you can 'paint' multiple targets of an enemy in this mode; for any other weapon you can unload your barrel at one or more enemies in one go.
I was then handed the controller to get to grips with the game. Just as the presentation of the game suggests, this feels very much like a tweaked GTAIV
in terms of button layout. The same buttons are used for shooting and aiming; the engine and camera viewpoints are very similar and whether you're running or galloping on horseback, pressing the A Button will allow you to sprint.
It's good that Red Dead Redemption
uses a similar control scheme ? makes the whole thing seem very familiar the second you jump in. With an expansive world to explore ? and by comparison we're talking several times the size of Liberty City ? you're going to need that familiarity as well.
The first mission I played was as a bounty hunter ? Marston is looking for a chap called Bill Williamson, who is the first on your list of gang members to be taken out. I have a choice to either kill him for the Bureau or capture him, ultimately, but I can't do either without the help of a local Sheriff. After a cutscene and a quick trot up a nearby hill, both the Sheriff and I are locked in a pistol-fight ? Williamson had seen me coming.
Taking out his band of merry men was a breeze, and I was faced with a choice in apprehending him. Being the nice guy that I am, I capped him in the leg for some Honour points. Throughout the game your gameplay is judged by Fame and Honour gauges, filling up depending on your actions and causing consequences like higher store prices and challenges from outlaws.
In-between missions I had the chance to snoop around and came across a gang hideout ? one of the many side-quests you'll be able to tackle during the game. The opportunity arose when I came across a stranded farmer who flagged me down for help. His daughter was holed up in a hideout, and I was his only hope apparently. I obliged, gunned down some Western fools, and made off with the girl. Not really - the father tended to her afterwards, while I killed time shooting vultures out of the sky, which in fact is a bonus game that you can try out for a highscore. It's quite random.
My final mission involved meeting up with a drunkard called Irish (fitting), who owes Marston his life. Apparently I need a Gatling gun, and Irish knows of its location ? so after beating the details out of him (it's a trusting relationship, obviously), I learn that the weapon is hidden within a nearby mine.
It became a race to the inner depths as I was chased by outlaws that weren't entirely happy about my presence there. I shot them in the face (as you do) and blew up a few TNT boxes (bit dangerous in a mine) that were lying around to clear my path. From then it was a case of holding on to the cart containing the Gatling gun and darting along the tracks as if I was on a rollercoaster to fast-track my way out of danger. Irish seemed pensively amazed that Marston survived, probably because he's due for another kick in the head or something, but I didn't ask.
All in all, Red Dead Redemption
is looking ? and playing ? like loads of fun. As much as I enjoy playing all of Rockstar's open world games, I've always felt that the 'urban' locales and in-your-face nature of Grand Theft Auto
was a bit too against my grain. Something that channels the awesome action and atmosphere of the greatest Westerns seems a bit more up my street, so I'll be keeping an eye on this when it hits this April on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.