Platform: PS3, Xbox 360. Version reviewed: PS3
It’s a simple fact that the world is not exactly brimming with great video game Westerns. If you like your war movies and Tom Clancy thrillers, you’re pretty well covered. Likewise if you want the video-game equivalents of space operas, serial killer thrillers, post-apocalyptic dramas, horror movies, action movies, fantasy sagas, crime thrillers, swords and sandals epics and CGI family flicks. But Westerns? Nope.
Maybe the dwindling popularity of the cinematic and literary Western is to blame, but it’s a shame that a genre so rich in atmosphere, violence and drama has only inspired the likes of Desperadoes, Mad Dog McCree, Outlaws, Gun and Call of Juarez. These aren’t necessarily bad games, but the Western has never brought us something of the calibre of Bioshock, Oblivion or Mass Effect 2. Or at least it hadn’t until now.
Red Dead Redemption, you see, is a bit of a triumph. It’s a great video game, a great Western, and further evidence that Rockstar isn’t just the pioneer of the open-world game, but the leading exponent by a blood-soaked back country mile. While developed by Rockstar’s San Diego studio under supervision from Grand Theft Auto’s creative masterminds, the Houser brothers, it‘s taken much of what’s great about Grand Theft Auto IV and its episodes to a radically different world.
From the success with which it creates an immersive, believable world to its ridiculous attention to detail, its sense of character and drama and its anarchic, do what you will mentality, Red Dead Redemption sits right up there with Rockstar’s best work. To call it Grand Theft Auto on horseback would be to do it an injustice, but in terms of the length and quality of the experience, it’s an apt description.
The basic setup won’t be unfamiliar to fans of Grand Theft Auto. A man with a troubled past – in this case a retired outlaw called John Marston – arrives by train in a town riddled with crime and opportunity. By making contact with figures on the local scene, he gains access to missions, which progress relationships and move the story on its way.
Which missions he takes, and in which order he takes them is – within the constraints of the central story – up to him, and even if he’s not on an active mission, there’s still plenty of stuff to do. In Grand Theft Auto, you might be stealing cars to order, taking taxi fares or squiring a girlfriend around town. In Red Dead Redemption, you’re more likely to be hunting and skinning animals, catching and breaking wild stallions, racing horses or gunning for the bounty on some outlaw’s head. The basic structure of the game, however, is broadly the same.