Red Dead Redemption is the tragic tale of how the West was finally conquered. John Marston and the outlaw brothers he is now forced to apprehend, are the last of a dying breed. Noble criminals who at their best, looked to feed the needy with the excess of the wealthy in an unforgiving land. As the political and social landscape of the United States changed, they turned on themselves, dividing what was left of the America they knew and holding it to ransom. Marston is forced out of the game after being left for dead. Almost happy to oblige, he attempts to make an honest living with his wife and son. The US government then grows tired of waiting for these fearsome bandits to die, and force the anti-hero to take on his former brothers-in-arms to complete the spread of civilization to the nation's borders.
Sound Design - For the majority of the single player adventure, Red Dead Redemption features an authentic score that wouldn't sound out of place in any classic western movie. Bereft, for the most part, of the licensed music for which Rockstar titles are usually renowned (via Grand Theft Auto and Midnight Club titles), RDR is a refreshing change of pace from the usual fare. When third party songs are employed on two occasions, they are used to such great effect that I was almost brought to tears. The first time you hear lyrics (Jose Gonzalez, Far Away) is at a time when Marston (and by extension, the player), ventures into a foreign land. Cheated, frustrated and lost. By the time the song fades out and you ride into Chuparosa, you're left with an experience that won't fade from memory anytime soon. On the second occasion (Compass, Jamie Lidell), you can imagine the feelings rushing through Marston's head, and it captures the drama so brilliantly that you will be whipping your horse relentlessy until you reach your destination. Apart from what is, in my opinion, the best videogame soundtrack in recent memory, you'll find the realistic din of firearms, carriages, steam trains, horses and native fauna. This in concert with the exceptional voice acting from central characters, strangers and townspeople really does create the illusion of a living, breathing world for players to explore.
The Landscape - I've explored this previously in the post, Deep Red Bells, so I won't dwell on this too long. If you're travelling with no particular objective you will notice some truly fascinating events that you would be unlikely to see in any other game. You may be riding a horse across Mexico and witness a man being mauled by a pack of wolves. You may be riding though Thieves' Landing and witness a kidnapping or a robbery. As mentioned above, you are walking/riding through a living, breathing representation of the Wild West.
The Story (The beginning and the end) - RDR starts off strong, introducing the MacFarlanes, Marshall Johnson and the town of Armadillo. The early missions quickly acquaint you with all of the game's mechanics and before long you'll confidently accompany companions on horseback; hunt animals and forage for herbs and flowers; and activate and effectively use Dead Eye. Characters like Bonnie MacFarlane and Landon Ricketts are particularly engaging. The final chapter in Blackwater introduces some genuinely funny side characters as well as the main villain, Dutch (!). The conclusion is poignant and cements John Marston's position as one of the great videogame characters.
Everything on the side - The in-game economy, the wealth of ambient tasks and mini-games will absorb hours of your time. There is quite a bit of game to be enjoyed, and while some activities like horseshoe throwing may not tickle your fancy, odds are you will find something peripheral to the main quest that will distract you.
Multiplayer - For impressions please see my previous posts, Draw and Wild Horses. Not content to only provide players with an extensive single player game, Rockstar has provided a comprehensive multiplayer suite which allows you to party (posse) up with friends and traverse the entire map from the single player game in Free Roam mode. You can raid gang hideouts, complete ambient tasks and visit lobbies to participate in more traditional multiplayer match variants such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture-the-Flag (Bag).
The Story (Mexico) - The second third of the tale takes part in Mexico and served only to muddle my perception of the Marston character. When I first left Austin I felt as though he was a good man (I played as an honourable outlaw) with a bit of a mean streak. This is further enforced in the first few missions with Landon Ricketts. The honeymoon ends after your travels with Ricketts however, as you then fight on both sides on the Mexican revolutionary war. The main proponents of this war are obviously corrupt, and they string Marston along with the promise of the men he needs to bring down. After completing so many tasks for so many villains with no return for such a long time, you start to doubt Marston's resolve and his motives.
The Villains - The relationship between Dutch, Escuella, Bill Williamson and Marston is not effectively explored over the course of the game. It would have been interesting if the game incorporated some flashback missions which would have served to develop these characters and an understanding of their past relationship. The original Red Dead Revolver (for better or worse) switched to the perspectives of different characters so frequently, but in Red Dead Redemption the narrative rarely jumps to a different point of view.
A little too easy - The game's default targeting system features an auto-aim system which centres on enemies when you pop out from cover. It drains a great deal of the challenge from the game's many firefights. The auto-aim system also makes the transition to the multiplayer game and leads to some cheap deaths. Further to that, RDR employs a forgiving checkpoint system that also serves to discount the level of skill required to progress through the game. The game features a regenerating health system, but you can also purchase items to heal yourself. Considering that you heal pretty quickly, there was no real need for these recovery items (read: I never used one).
Mission Design - The game borrows too heavily from Rockstar heavyweight, Grand Theft Auto. Considering that horses are not as fast as Porsches (or their GTA equivalents), you should not be required to travel for miles (and miles) in almost every mission. I found this especially painful during my time in Mexico, and it really took some shine off the overall experience.
A mountain of various visual glitches - I rode invisible horses, textures disappeared from NPCs, and the amount of pop-in was at times horrendous. The worst glitch occurred after a cutscene, when a character duplicated. I had two sprites of the same character standing side-by-side and this obviously didn't help immerse me in the game world.
9.5/10 - Red Dead Redemption is an essential experience despite it's flaws. This is a great value package containing a campaign that can absorb 20+ hours and an extensive suite of multiplayer activities that can be enjoyed on your own or with a posse of friends.