It also helps that Red Dead Redemption's world is a beautiful one. It runs on an enhanced version of the engine that powered Grand Theft Auto IV, and while the characters aren’t quite as convincing as those in Heavy Rain or Mass Effect 2, and the environments aren’t as rich in textural detail as what you’d see in Uncharted 2 or Crysis, it doesn’t really matter. From the rocky scrubland around the frontier town of Armadillo to the breath-taking mesas and rock arches of Nuevo Paradiso, there are breathtaking sights a-plenty, and there are times when you’ll find yourself just trotting on horseback as the sun goes down for mile after mile, checking out the scenery. It’s a world you want to explore to its full.
All this is good, because Red Dead Redemption is, in true Rockstar style, an epic. There’s so much content in here that we’d sunk nearly a dozen hours into the game by the time we got to what you might call the ending of the first chapter, and with a good few more hours clocked in on top of that, we still feel like there’s a huge amount of game to work through. This won’t be a problem. As with Grand Theft Auto IV, it’s not so much a question of finding the impetus to carry on playing as forcing yourself to stop. One mission leads on to another, one story arc develops as another meets its end. Red Dead Redemption doesn’t so much immerse you in its world as drag you under and hold you there until you nearly drown. Start a quick game at 10pm and you’ll be lucky if your head hits the pillow before two.
By now, you probably get the idea. Where the original Red Dead Revolver was a curiosity, this is the real deal: an open-world Western every bit as good as Canis Canem Edit (a.k.a. Bully), GTA: San Andreas or Grand Theft Auto IV, and arguably the finest example of the genre yet. If you know and love The Good, The Bad and The Ugly or High Plains Drifter, it’s a must, but even if you don’t you’ll find it one of the finest games to mosey your way this year.
Rockstar’s magnificent Western isn’t simply Grand Theft Auto on horseback, but a rich, immersive experience with a tone and style all of its own. With beautiful scenery, brilliant set-pieces, fantastic characters and a compelling tale to tell, it’s arguably the best open-world game yet.