When Rockstar - the creators of the famous Grand Theft Auto - announces a GTA-style game, you can imagine it is as hotly anticipated as such household titles like "Halo" or "Call of Duty." Red Dead Redemption
is no exception. Borrowing the familiar sandbox style so aptly put on display in the GTA series, Rockstar opted to shift time periods rather than just metropolises. This is Rockstar's Wild West and, to cut to the chase: it's good.
Players inhabit the role of John Marston, an ex-criminal compelled by the Federal Government to hunt down his previous cohorts in order to protect his family. In a way, the concept isn't entirely new. The character of Marston, a career criminal thrust into perilous situations and displaying admirable adaptability and murderous skills, is not unlike, say, Vice City's Tommy Vercetti or San Andreas' CJ Johnson. But despite all the familiarities of a Rockstar sandbox game, this is a completely different monster. Rockstar has created an encompassing world that is so immersive as to make you wonder: how are other game developers getting it so wrong when these guys are getting it so right?
It might have a little to do with the estimated $80 million to $100 million spent developing the game, but the money was well spent. Stepping out into the world of the Wild West, every detail the player encounters, ranging from an anti-semitic General Store operator, the old style movie theaters, newspapers on sale, etc. is steeped in that peculiar character of the era. A simpler way to say this: you feel like you're really in the Wild West.
If you've ever heard that unofficial anthem of the American West (and official state song of Kansas), "Home on the Range", you get the idea that the Wild West was expansive, at times peaceful, at times perilous, and almost always lonely. It is this feeling that Rockstar has created with a shocking skill, raising the bar for what "immersive" really means in a video game. Many of the characters in the game deride the meddlesome federal authorities - those who have set you upon your task - and the Northern cities they dwell in, preferring the simpler, honest life of the west. The comparison can be extended to what Rockstar has done here.
Unlike the bustling and relatively chaotic Vice City, Red Dead Redemption's New Austin is quiet, natural and beautiful. You will frequently find yourself observing the environment around you. Riding your horse - a tricky skill that is immensely satisfying once you get a hang of it - through the open, dusty range comes with a feeling of solitude coupled with a connection to the natural world around you. The day somehow feels hot, the night is empty and cold.
Not that riding around and enjoying the sights are all you'll do in Red Dead Redemption. The cities you'll encounter have general stores, gunsmiths, poker games, five finger fillet games, train stations and everything else you might expect. You'll also find the quirky inhabitants that provide the missions that drive Marston's quest for, well, redemption. Interactions with these characters puts Rockstar's fantastic writing and gift for retaining great voice actors on full display. Rather than wanting to skip dialogue sequences or cut scenes, you'll find yourself listening to every word.
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