by Robert Zak
reviewed on PS3
Whether you're in town or in the middle of the wilderness, there are countless chance encounters that cross your path. My first such experience came just after I bought a room in the Armadillo saloon. After hearing gunfire, I ran outside to find a group of bandits riding through the street dragging a hog-tied victim along behind them. I reacted quickly to unleash dead-eye hellfire on them and within seconds they were all lying in the dirt. This in turn triggered a journal entry which gave me a set of tasks to do in order to unlock a new outfit for Marston – of which there are 16 in total.
Encounters in the wilderness are equally exhilarating. You'll come across gang hideouts, law-men chasing bandits across the countryside and even men asking you to help pick flowers for his wife. The sheer variety of these encounters is spectacular and prevents the game from slipping into that sandbox tendency of using repetitive side-missions to fill out the game. Before you know it, your journal will be full of challenges, missions and treasure maps for you to do at your leisure.
As with all their games, Rockstar have filled Redemption with plenty of Western-flavoured mini-games. Aside from the obligatory card games such as Texas Hold 'Em poker and Blackjack, there's also five-finger-fillet (familiar to those who've been bored in maths class and had a compass in their hand), liar's dice and horse-shoe throwing. All these games are fun in themselves, but even more fun if you wager ridiculous amounts of money in them. Grab yourself an elegant suit (unlocked by joining the Rockstar Social Club) and you even can play high-stakes poker with the fat cats in Blackwater. As an added incentive, winning a certain mini-game in a certain town is always one of the tasks required to unlock outfits.
The multiplayer element, while not central to my enjoyment of Redemption, is deep and rewarding. By default you're chucked into Free Roam mode with up to 15 others, where you can form posses, do missions together, fight fellow posses or just run around wreaking carnage.
While Free Roam is effectively a diluted version of the single-player game, the real fun lies in the more focused competitive modes available. The pick of the bunch is Gold Rush, in which each player contends for a few bags of gold scattered around the map. Once you grab one, you're given a point on the map to deliver it to and earn your points. Aside from that there are re-branded versions of deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. A unique feature is that all matches start with a Mexican stand-off in which the last man/team standing gets to choose their starting positions for the match.
A small but welcome touch in the multiplayer is that you only get revealed on the mini-map if you sprint or fire your gun. This adds the opportunity for some genuine stealth gameplay and means that games can be won by cunning as well as by gunning. There are also countless characters, weapons and xp-boosting challenges to unlock, making Redemption's multiplayer hold its own in a games world obsessed with online character progression.
Wild West at your fingertips
Red Dead Redemption is the greatest success story of taking the 3rd-person sandbox game away from the contemporary/futuristic setting and moving it to a defining historical time and place (honourable mention must go to Assassin's Creed II). I've already spoken to naysayers who, not having played the game, say things like 'but horses aren't as fast as cars!' and 'What, you can't actually fly?' Well, perhaps those people should stick to the rocket launchers and jet-packs of just about every other sandbox game out there. Redemption has to be played to be fully appreciated, as it is possibly the most immersive free-roaming game world I've ever played in; the great use of sound, unprecedented sense of 'wilderness' and attention to Western culture make you feel like a part of this unique world, rather than just a visitor running amok in it.
Redemption's storyline, if a little familiar, stands up to the best out there, and the climax is unparalleled. The multiplayer too does its part in being filled with the unlockables, xp and challenges that the contemporary gamer seeks; throw in a few Western-specific game modes and dead-eye, and you have a legitimate alternative to all mass of modern war shooters out there. While the gunplay felt a little too simple for my fussy self, even I eventually got seduced by the ridiculously stylish dead-eye targeting.
For me, Redemption's greatest charm lies in the way it shifts the gamer's experience between the extremes of the Wild West. Whether you're raking in the chips in a game of high-stakes poker, shooting birds in the wild, or being chased by bandits across the desert, Redemption makes you truly appreciate this world you're in. Calling it a sandbox game is an injustice, as that that implies that it is a gamer's playground. Red Dead Redemption is a brilliantly perceptive recreation of the semi-mythical Wild West, and marks the conquering of a new frontier in immersive video game worlds.
A living world, realistic atmosphere, a lot to do
Perhaps a tad too easy auto-aim feature