4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
5 Stars
Replay Factor
5 Stars

Red Dead Redemption

Street Date:
May 18th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
September 21st, 2011
Game Release Year:
Rockstar Games
Rockstar San Diego
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)


“Red Dead Redemption” is the dream of many a young lad (or lass) who pined at some time in his or her life of becoming a hero of the Old West. It should strike no one as a shocking fact that Rockstar’s open-world, third-person adventure game is a phenomenal, immersive experience that not only earns every penny of your money in the game play department, but stands tall on the merits of its storyline that tracks the classic (anti)hero in a vintage setting which simultaneously pays loving tribute to our notions of the West in all its forms: good and band, stunning and ugly, romantic and tragic.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

The sequel in name only to 2004’s “Red Dead Revolver” (a good, but linear game), “Red Dead Redemption” also realizes the potential hinted at in “Gun” a gritty mean tale of revenge in a changing landscape. Players assume the role of John Marston in a breathtaking cinematic game entrance that establishes our hero, a former outlaw looking to rejoin his faithful wife and son for a quiet, honest life, as a man in a changing world. 1911 is the year and the old ways of the west are dying; not surprisingly seedy government agents find a use in Marston, strong-arming him into taking down an ancient breed of outlaw, Marston’s former partner-in-crime and mentor Dutch. With his family’s well being at stake in addition to his own, Marston has little choice to comply and embarks on a journey that finds him in the kind company of local ranchers, desperate outlaws, and south of the border freedom fighters.

Rockstar’s work is as stellar as always, giving players a game that handles without hesitation, letting them experience Marston’s tale in all it’s finely scripted, beautifully voiced and designed glory, while still leaving them with enough choice to play it good, bad or indifferent (although Marston is scripted with a little bias towards being reformed and I found myself the avenging angel rather the ruthless punisher). The control scheme and core game play is your average Rockstar open-world third-person outing. Marston controls very smoothly and the gun combat is built around not just accuracy and speed, but some stealth and patience. The issues some gamers had with the hectic shootouts of Grand Theft Auto IV are gone here. The option to go in guns-a-blazing is always on the table, but keeping with the (relatively) realistic tone of the game, that’s not the wisest of choices. The odds are evened by Marston’s sharp shooting skills, represented by a “bullet time like feature” that is both useful in open combat, slowing down time and allow players to mark their targets for instant hits, as well as the game’s dueling system which is functionally sound, but fails a few times to capture the real gravitas of a mano-a-mano duel the way “Red Dead Revolver” did.

When not on foot, Marston rides a horse, obviously, and one of “Red Dead Redemption’s” biggest treats is the way this mechanic is practically perfect. It’s a huge step up from the sometimes clunky vehicular travel in the GTA games, and to be honest, the biggest hiccup in the mechanic are the invisible barriers along elevated terrain to prevent you from spilling over the edge for a minor error in control. As the game progresses, you won’t just be riding your horse for travel, but as a tool in various missions, simultaneously navigating your path and fending off attacks. It sounds tough, but the game builds up to it, giving you ample time to get the basics down. The main story will take the average gamer somewhere north of 12 hours, but the plentiful side missions that seamlessly integrate into game play will have your final tally much higher. Marston’s world is nice cornucopia of various Western locales from your standard dusty town, to deep forests, Mexican villages in the desert and even a burgeoning river town that is very much a 20th century place.

In addition to standard mission based game play, Rockstar adds a spin to the standard fetch-quest/collectible based system, allowing players to track down outlaws and bring them back dead or alive (the latter nets a higher bounty), search the countryside for various flora to be used for healing purposes and last, but not least hunting which starts you off going after birds, rabbits, and the occasional coyote and will eventually lead to tense moments in rocky, snowy surroundings taking on vicious grizzly bears. All these little side ventures play into the game’s economy which is used to upgrade Marston’s impressive arsenal, purchase a better breed of horse, or risk it all through in game gambling (horseshoes, poker, blackjack, and liar’s dice to be specific). The icings on all these thoughtful additions are too many to list, but all come together to make “Red Dead Redemption” an even sweeter treat than possibly though.

If that weren’t enough, “Red Dead Redemption” provides an impressive, albeit overly ambitious multiplayer selection. In addition to the expected free-for-all, team deathmatch, and capture-the-whatever modes, the most innovate (and frustrating) addition is free roam. It is what it says, the opportunity for players to jump into the complete single player game world and come and go as they please, jumping into any of the more objective based game modes via nodes in the various towns. Free roam does come with the inherent danger in any unrestricted online offering: griefers. Should your fellow comrades in a free roam session see fit to do so, free roam can devolve into a maddening exercise in futility as griefers (i.e. trolls/spoilsports/etc..) consistently try and engage other players in gunfights. There is the option to restrict the session to those you choose or try and vote to get a wayward troll kicked out, but there have been numerous game sessions where the majority of players seemed to have “fun” creating anarchy.

When you do get a good free roam session going, the fun in trying the co-op missions, which boil down to defeating a mass of enemies in either a confined space or over a small pursuit area, are a blast. They provide the all important XP which is used to upgrade base weapons, unlock new character skins, unlock better mounts, and provide the flashy “title” that seems to be the craze in online these days. Going back to the notion of anarchy in free roam, it is notable that a co-op group can choose to engage random NPCs for the thrill of getting the law on their heels, living out that fantasy of being a lawless outlaw.

On its own single player merits, “Red Dead Redemption” is a must purchase title. A real work of art (despite the protests of the Roger Ebert’s of the world), it’s a testament to the faithful Rockstar record of quality and the seriousness of the gaming industry in general. The storyline could have been made into a miniseries and the result, provided a competent cast and director would have been magic; getting to actively take part in the story of John Marston is a rare opportunity for any gamer as games of “Red Dead Redemption’s” caliber rarely come along, but are always appreciated and savored.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

At first glance, it would be easy to say “Red Dead Redemption” sports perfect visuals. Yes, the game looks like a period Western world, with perfect color palette selections depending on the locale (the contrast between the “civilized” modern Blackwater and dusty south of the border pueblo architecture is astonishing) and the game world stretching into the horizon, under a more objective eye, the game shows a few technical limitations that leave it “merely” very good looking.

First and foremost, the time period of the game allows for sparse design as one might expect from a frontier landscape, but a few hours into the game and one begins to notice that there is some repetition to the vegetation that makes up the lion’s share of the paths between ranches, forts, and towns. The same can’t be said for the more mountainous regions of the game, which do lend weight to the argument that the game is perfect visual offering, but those regions make a sizable but ultimately smaller portion of the game world.

On a truly technical level, Rockstar still has a bit of stiffness to character animations. When John’s on his horse, he looks great, but get him running and some of the same issues with GTA IV’s characters rear its ugly head. There’s a mild amount of pop in, logically as the complexity of the graphics ramps up, mostly as you the more busy graphical areas begin to show up on the edge of one’s field of vision. Additionally, some slow loading textures spring up, which in no way ruin the experience of the game but do highlight that it’s pushing both the engine and the system to the limits.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The most noticeable success of “Red Dead Redemption’s” sound department ties back into what really aids the narrative: the voice cast. Nearly perfect in every casting choice, the voice work of “Red Dead Redemption” has an authentic western sound, mixing a healthy blend of straightforward everyday people with some colorful genre staples. The voice work is expertly blended alongside a fine selection of realistic effects that do double duty as necessary game elements and atmospheric sweeteners.

The sound mix is perfectly balanced from the get go, with the surrounds successfully delivering vital aural cues to the gamer, whether it be distant gunfire or a deadly four-legged predator. The mix never falters even during moments where John spins in every direction taking out the closest opposition. Likewise, the effects carry proper weight from, from galloping hooves to the deep cold death of a shotgun blast. The game uses sound to drive home the idea that John Marston’s world is meant to be somewhat grounded in reality.

Helping blur the line between mere game and cinematic experience, the score of “Red Dead Redemption” comes and goes as needed, seamlessly, to the point that players may only notice it if they find themselves less than 100% immersed in the game. During critical moments in active play or during cutscenes though, the score makes its impact felt and captures the sprit of the genre lock, stock and barrel. It’s a subtle integration into the game, but one that when scrutinized holds up and reveals the intelligence behind the experience.

Replay Factor

With numerous side missions to tackle, “Red Dead Redemption” like other Rockstar open world games, will likely keep the pleased gamer’s attention for several more hours. The fun, but slightly flawed multiplayer, should a player round up a group of close friends, prove to be the captivating experience Rockstar intended it to be. Not all of the single player mechanics translate well to multiplayer, as was the case with “Grand Theft Auto IV,” but the fine selection of co-op tasks will also squeak out even more added value from a game that succeeds on the merits of it’s single player story. Now with all the additional DLC, which adds something for everyone, “Red Dead Redemption” should have a lasting legacy as a good title to fall back on for both the lone and social gamer.

Final Thoughts

If one were pressed to find a real nitpick when it comes to “Red Dead Redemption,” it’s that the multiplayer experience isn’t as nearly refined as the masterwork that is the single player storyline. “Red Dead Redemption” is Rockstar’s finest hour as a company and the best combination of pure, easily accessible game play and honest storytelling the company has ever been apart of and to top it all off it’s a visual and aural delight.

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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