by Robert Zak
reviewed on PS3
Unavoidable fame and fortune
This leads me neatly on to the honour and fame bars. As you complete missions your honour and fame grow, resulting in discounts at stores, duel challenges from jealous wannabes, and a general sense of self-worth. Committing crimes naturally lowers your honour, leading people to fear you and shops to turn you away. While becoming a villain of the West is everybody's schoolboy fantasy (it is? -Ed), it's a little disappointing that there's a distinct lack of honour-lowering missions. Rather than being able to side with (or have your own) outlaw gangs, hold up trains, or rob banks, it seems that the only way to become notorious is by killing as many men, women and stray dogs as possible. Even then it's hard to stay notorious as any mission you inevitably do will regain your hard-lost honour. Sadly, this leaves the honour system feeling a little imbalanced.
Controls, for better and worse
Redemption shares GTA IV's RAGE engine, so it's no surprise that the gameplay mechanics are similar, albeit more refined. Riding a horse feels intuitive as rhythmically tapping X increases your speed; if you tap too frantically, your horse will run out of stamina and chuck you off. This system works very well, and makes horse-riding in Redemption feel distinct from driving or riding in other games.
Basic combat in Redemption, such as shooting and fighting, is an area that I feel could have been done better. As in GTA, shooting largely involves hiding behind cover, holding L2 to aim, then shooting without thinking as the reticule automatically points to – and follows – the nearest enemy. Whole groups of enemies can be taken out by the formula of sitting behind cover, then jumping out to shoot whoever your auto-aim is over-accurately stalking. While this quick-draw shooting style is more at home in a Western setting than an urban one, it does feel a little too easy for challenge-seekers such as myself. Those who actually want to do some aiming before shooting can switch targeting to 'Expert' mode, but it's clear that the gameplay is built around the auto-aim mechanic.
That being said, the combat animations are incredibly gritty, and watching enemies roll in the dirt as you shoot them off horseback or keel over from a shot to the stomach is perversely satisfying. That is more than can be said of the melee, which is comprised of simple punch and block actions; neither substantial nor stylish. So don't get your hopes up about bar brawls involving chairs, bottles and people getting thrown through saloon doors.
Fortunately, Redemption's 'dead-eye' targeting system makes combat more interesting, allowing you to temporarily take out enemies in slow-motion. Your dead-eye improves as the game progresses; while the first stage just slows time down, the second stage lets you queue up a series of shots on your enemies, and the third targets specific body parts. This leads to some great cinematic moments in which several enemies fall virtually simultaneously as the powers of dead-eye are unleashed upon them. It's safe to say that Clint Eastwood has nothing on dead-eye Marston.
Sounds of the west
Another key factor in Redemption's masterful immersion is its use of sound. The soundtrack draws on Ennio Morricone's legendary Western scores, making use of harmonicas, banjos, 4-string guitars and whatever instruments are used to make those distinctly Western whistling and rattlesnake sounds. The music also adapts to the on-screen situation; horse chases, for instance, are reinforced by a twanging guitar beat, while walking around the ghost town of Tumbleweed is accompanied by a slow, haunting harmonica. Whatever situation you're in, the music will complement it; even when there is no music it feels deliberate and fitting.
The rest of Redemption's sound palette is also impressive. Guns sounds are spot on, and nothing says 'Western' like the sound of bullets ricocheting off of every solid surface. In the wilderness, you'll hear coyotes cackling, insects chirping in the scrubs and vultures screeching overhead. In fact, using your ears will be important in tracking down various encounters in the wild, as it is usually a matter of listening for the gun sounds or animal cries then tracking them down; this feels like a naturalistic way of playing the game and will be particularly appreciated by those with a surround sound set-up.
A living world, realistic atmosphere, a lot to do
Perhaps a tad too easy auto-aim feature