Warning: This story was published more than a year ago.



MY BOYHOOD FANTASY of living on the edge of the law in the Wild West is fi nally realised. Set in the late 1800s on the borders between America and Mexico, the game charts the story of John Marston, a former outlaw trying to go straight and redeem previous wrongdoings by bringing members of his former gang to justice. Remember, this is a time and place where justice usually comes from the barrel of a gun or at the business end of a hangman’s noose. The story and cut scenes do have Rockstar written all over them, and I feel very comfortable in dubbing the game ‘Grand Theft Horsie’. The game’s structure is quite typical of Rockstar and in step with the developer’s previous games. Starting softly with some fairly tame story missions to ease the player into the controls and environment, they soon progress into the familiar task-based mission structure that progresses the tale. This may sound like a negative, but it is not; there may be familiarity, but the open-world nature of the setting makes these tasks refreshing and enjoyable, perhaps even more so than Grand Theft Auto IV. Although the aforementioned was a game that technically stood out from the crowd, it suffered in longevity for many players. Red Dead feels right; it feels better than GTAIV, and with a landscape that is much sparser it still creates more interesting and spontaneous encounters.
Graphically, the environments are a pleasure; the day-night cycle gives the player some wonderful moments to digest in the beautiful countryside around them. Similarly, the weather effects have a huge impact on the atmosphere of the game. The fi rst time I found myself riding my horse across the plains in a thunderstorm I just stopped to soak it in. It’s in moments like these that you half expect a grizzled Clint Eastwood to ride up alongside you. As for wildlife, there is plenty going on, and although much has been made of the hunting and skinning of wildlife, the balance is just right. The fauna of the plains is incidental enough to be there by rights, and sometimes it’s fun to simply watch instead of relentlessly hunting it down. Everything is as it should be for the period; even when I started wondering if I would see a tumbleweed, a lonely ball of twigs rolled across my path right on cue.
Rockstar has also managed to extend the player’s integration into the world with the usual range of shops and mini-games. The mini-games are mostly to do with gambling and are well executed enough to be a welcome diversion from chasing down bandits or starting bar fights. Everything is handled within the game engine, which keeps it quick to access and does not pull you out from your immersion.
Alongside the main story arc the game offers many opportunities to extend your adventure with a collection of varied side quests and challenges. The incidental side quests are generally short-butfun diversions and are sparked by an NPC running up to you asking for help. Whether it is rescuing somebody from an illegal hanging, retrieving a stolen horse or breaking up a potential murder, they usually require a speedy and decisive outcome. There are also non-incidental side quests that can have a couple of branching decisions, usually generated by a character in a fixed location. These quests can often be morally questionable and can leave you with a dilemma depending on how much you want to stay on the right side of the law.
The player challenges are generally taskbased and will require you to ascend levels of competence. For example, the Sharpshooter challenge will depend on successful kills and skinning of a number of animal types. It makes for a satisfying diversion; even challenges around collecting herbs and flowers in the wilderness are not quite as dull as they sound.
The multiplayer aspect of the game was announced fairly late into development, and apart from a few connection issues I have found it to be very engaging. The game throws you straight into a Free Roam mode that will give you and up to 16 other players the full map to play around in. Pretty much everything is there apart from the mini-games. The options on offer are exhaustive; from Free Roam you can dive into a variety of competitive games ranging from traditional deathmatch style games to variants of capture the flag. Competitive games start off with a Spaghetti- Western style standoff where all players face up to each other ready to twitch those itchy trigger fingers. The chaos of these starts is soon over, but it is fun and gives the last man standing a slight head start on the map in play.
At this point in the calendar I would be happy to say that my humble opinion of this game places it at the top of my ‘Game of the Year’ list, if not ‘Game of the Decade’ given that we are six months away from the next one. In all it is a comprehensive and well-rounded package, a joy to play and – the odd graphical glitches aside – a technical work of art. So if you don’t have Red Dead Redemption in your collection yet, I hope you are reading this on the way to the store.

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