Despite its alluring backdrop and history ripe with potential, there aren't a lot of great western-themed video games. It feels like every few years a company will give it another shot, but none of them are able to rise above mediocrity. From GUN to Sunset Riders to Mad Dog McCree, one might want to throw up their hands and give up on cowboys and Indians for good. But not so fast, because the makers of Grand Theft Auto IV are ready to show you how it's supposed to be done. The result is Red Dead Redemption, an enthralling new adventure game that is a high water mark for both the western genre and Rockstar Games.
Red Dead Redemption is the spiritual successor to Red Dead Revolver, the 2004 action game for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. But don't get too caught up in the continuity, because outside of the western themes, these two games are not connected in any way. In this story we're introduced to a mysterious cowboy named John Marston. This old-time gunslinger is stuck between a rock and a hard spot, because the government has captured his family and the only way to set them free is to track down and kill the members of an old gang he used to ride with.
Of course, all that is easier said than done. It's clear from the get-go that in order to beat Dutch van der Linde and the gang he used to lead, John is going to need to lasso up some help. It's at this point that the game turns into a traditional Grand Theft Auto-style adventure game. You're free to roam the enormous countryside, but there are always missions waiting for you when you want to advance the story. The story unravels through 57diverse missions, which will have you playing through all kinds of western movie cliches - fighting on a train, having a shoot out at a bank, saving innocent people from a public lynching, etc. You'll also find yourself performing a lot of cowboy-related jobs, such as herding cattle and taming wild horses. Red Dead Redemption allows you to relive just about every key moments in western fiction, all while also offering fun mini-games and silent movies to watch.
But don't let the obvious references to other western movies and TV shows fool you, Red Dead Redemption offers an original story and setting. For one thing, this western is set well into the 20th century. While most western games have you fighting it out in the 1800s, Rockstar's western is set in 1911, at a time when the Wild West was being taken over by modern technology. People talk about the miracle flying airplanes, there are power lines in town, people are starting to use telephones and you'll even see a car or two. This is a game about how the world is changing for many people, and not everybody is happy about that. It's a fascinating time period that is underused in western fiction, including both movies and games.
Still, even with the cars and technology, this is still a traditional western. Your trusty steed is your form of transportation and there are still shoot-outs right in the middle of town. The world Red Dead Redemption lives in (which includes the fictional border of Texas and Mexico) is a wide-open area where there are little towns and lots of wilderness to explore. You start out in the United States, tracking down bandits and helping a woman named Bonnie (who is easily Rockstar's strongest female character). However, it won't take long before you're going south of the border to Mexico, where you'll search the deserts and help out in the Mexican Revolution. Eventually you'll make your way to Blackwater, the big city where everything moves a little faster and everybody has more money to flaunt.
What really impresses me about the game is how slow-paced the game feels. In other Rockstar Games adventures it's easy to get into the rhythm of going from one mission to the next without spending much time looking at the scenery. Grand Theft Auto IV made it even easier to get around, thanks to the millions of taxi cabs lining the streets of Liberty City. But you don't have that luxury in Red Dead Redemption. In most situations you'll need to ride to your next destination, which can take a little while on horseback (even at full gallop). You'll also need to ride to your destinations in the middle of missions, plus again when you've finished up with your mission. The point is, you're going to be doing a lot of riding. This gives you a lot of time to take in the gorgeous vistas and the mesmerizing landscape that Rockstar's developers have crafted.
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