Red Harlow is a man with a face as scarred as his childhood--and a gun as big as the chip on his shoulder. Red Dead Revolver hands you and old drink with a new twist: one part bounty hunter mystique, and two parts wild, wild West, served up in a dirty mug with a Rockstar logo. Paying homage to the spaghetti western flicks of the 60s and 70s, this title is painted with a level of thematic style only the Rockstar camp could pull off. They prove themselves as faithful disciples to Italian directors such as Sergio Leone, making no apology for the vintage film quality that is etched into every scene.
The tutorial plays out as a flashback to Red’s childhood. Red’s father returns from a gold mining expedition, his gorgeous Native American wife and devoted son welcoming him back after three long months. But Red’s dad had rustled up some ruffians along the way and the momentous reunion is cut short. The Harlow Homestead is attacked and Red’s parents are killed amidst six-shooters and gun smoke, but not before young Red takes down a few villains with his father’s old pistol. The leader of this marauding group gets his arm blown off, hence Red’s lifelong pursuit of a “one-armed man.” Unfortunately, there is little time for the audience to formulate any emotional connection to Red’s loss, and the entire story rides a dusty line between the classic and the cliche.
Which is where the plot shoots itself in the foot. Character development, motivation, and storyline analysis are scribbled into the pages of an artfully crafted journal, but this journal is virtually inaccessible except from the main menu. This is obviously not a setback for those who approach situations with a go-in-guns-blazing mentality. By focusing on atmosphere and third-person shooter momentum, the revenge plot is straight forward and subdued in favor of action-junkie semantics.
This initial lack of depth is by no means the fault of the developers. In fact, the stereotypical characters, formulaic settings, and predictable plot are 100 percent true-to-form as far as spaghetti westerns are concerned. In this respect, Rockstar translated the film genre flawlessly. At the very least, it is a refreshing sidestep from the stealth-based shooters that have recently saturated the market. (Except for one level that embarrassingly asks you to sneak through a gold mine. I personally don’t recommend said course of action.)
Several chapters have you controlling several different characters. Annie Stoakes, a crack shot with her rifle, is defending the back forty from a band of brigands. Shadow Wolf, Red’s cousin, puts Legolas to shame when it comes to brandishing a bow and arrow. You will even control characters that end up siding with the Bad Guys before all is said and done; a fun and ironic twist. Red is a man of few words, cool and focused—the ‘quicker picker upper’ when it comes to collecting bounty. He has maybe three lines during the entire game. But hey, Boba Fett spoke even less, and look at the superstardom he achieved.
Each chapter cooks up another batch of tried-and-true western recipes: the bandit-run ghost town, the saloon brawl, the train chase on horseback, the quick draw competition; it’s all here. The duel, that quintessential high noon showdown, is handled well. Although, you’ll wish Rockstar had thrown in some tumbleweed along with the whistle and wah-wah-waaah harmonica theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. But Dirty Harry might sue. Nevertheless, facing off against another sharpshooter acts as an integral mini-game, turning the intensity up a hefty notch. You’ll develop your own gunslinger’s squint in no time.
A special feature called “Dead Eye,” only performable by Red, is a unique take on the whole bullet-time phenomenon. Holding L1 to draw your gun, hit R2 to engage your Dead Eye timer. Time slows. The right analog stick will lock onto multiple enemy targets (head, arms, legs, and torso are subject to area-specific damage); then tap R1 to unleash a devastating hail of gunfire. It sounds complicated, but the overemphasized L1/R1 action keeps your trigger fingers itchy.
And the average baddie doesn’t stand a chance against this maneuver.
The multitude of mini-bosses, however, will eat it up and ask for more. Earlier bosses, like Pig Josh and some Yosemite Sam-looking fellow, are more creatively engineered. Later bosses increase in number but enemy AI rarely exceeds duck-and-cover tactics. Charlie, still warmed up from his E3 encounter with FATAL1TY, complained about the too-low level of difficulty. Myself, a simulation and strategy game fan, had my ass handed to me on a regular basis.
If the graphics don’t impress you--which they won’t--then the soundtrack sure as hell will. The songs are more than just ambient filler, they are a veritable greatest hits collection of western classics. Lifted from over two dozen of the original films, the sound does not get any more authentic than this. Visual style only encompasses half of the formula; the other half is derived from the bone-dry melodies of composers like Ennio Morricone. The rattlesnake maracas, the gravel-eaten guitar, and the haunting whistles will make a believer out of you.
But the game exhibits a few bugs. The soundtrack breaks down after extended hours of gameplay: the background sound effects and the musical score would argue with one another, and I missed entire cinematic sequences of dialogue.
The multiplayer games are temporarily engaging, if only for the family reunion-sized cast of characters to unlock. Regrettably, huge graphical borders are torn away from every side, making the split screen mode even smaller than it should be.
This title is going to fall under the radar for many. When it comes to getting the most bang for the buck, the wild, wild West can’t compete with World War II (or the genre’s mass migration into the Vietnam Conflict.) Those that are lucky enough to give this shooter a shot will not regret it. So you’ve got only one question to ask yourself: Do you feel lucky?
A third-person shooter with a mini-game chaser. Rockstar brings its A-game to the B-movie industry, and shows a gaming generation how the West was won.