Red Dead Redemption
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You can buy a horse or catch one

Rockstar create epic games that often feel like high budget movies. Whether the player is controlling a cool character strutting through Vice City, or a wannabe mobster in Liberty City. What we have come to expect from Rockstar games is a depth that easily rivals the modern day Hollywood blockbusters.

Sat aboard a steam train, the credits slowly roll across the screen, as you enter a town that could only be found in the wild west. As you disembark from the train, you are accompanied by federal officials. Little is discussed in the early game to give the player any insight into who John Marston might be. Luckily for us, part of the fun in Red Dead Redemption is this discovery into who Marston really is, why he's out West on the U.S./Mexico border, and how he has come to carry his side arms with such skill. Almost instantly you will sense the sandbox, Rockstar heritage. He knows how to kill, he knows how to ride and drive stage coaches, and is faced with numerous moral decisions. Marston rounds out to be one of the most appealing anti-heroes in recent gaming history.

Coming from a lawless life, his sole mission throughout the game is to find, capture or even kill a nasty bunch of gang members. But I wont expand any more and let you enjoy the rollercoaster story for yourselves.

The story is just one aspect of what sets Red Dead apart from most other games. When all the pieces are pulled together the game delivers the player brilliantly into a western full of smoking guns and cow rustling. The frontier land of New Austin and the Mexican border territories of Nuevo Paraiso are incredibly realistic leaving one convinced that this may well have been a retelling of some famous historical legend.

The world is alive. I've never experienced the detail that Rockstar San Diego has put into Red Dead Redemption, which is the spiritual successor to Red Dead Revolver. In classic Rockstar form, there are plenty of side quests, different ways to make money, and townsfolk always have something to say that's relevant to the story. But beyond the usual style, Rockstar has given us a frontier to explore. Instead of playing through an urban jungle, we find ourselves in the brutal wilderness, complete with animals, harvestable plants, roaming outlaws, vulchers hovering over fresh carcasses, ambient trumpet music, brilliantly lit red rock cliffs, tumbleweed, and some of the best sunsets any game has to offer.

Each animal in Red Dead Redemption has its own unique behaviors: dogs will chase wagons, or bark at potential enemies. Barnyard animals will herd together, taking fright at loud noises. Large birds will scavenge from corpses, while predators, like bears or wolves will put on agressive threat displays and fearlessly attack humans. Here are a few of the ones you may encounter across the world. You'll find wolves, bears, coyotes, buffalo, cougars, eagles, armadillos, deer, and even skunks. Also, all of the animals in the land can be killed. Still there's a reason for slaughtering the local wildlife - you can harvest animal parts and sell them to shop keeps.

Much of your life is spent on horseback. Still, I wouldn't recommend getting too attached to the friendly beast, as while you essentialy have a designated animal, you'll quickly find they can be slain just as easly as yourself, either by local wildlife or enemy gunfire. The riding mechanics themselves are pretty good, but not quite polished as they could have been. Horses have a tendency to run into walls when you are trying to gun down some bandits. you'll have plenty of time to practice riding as there are several races you can take part in to earn some extra money, and increase your horse's stamina. It's also not uncommon for your horse to wander away if you dismount. That's not a problem because you simply need to whistle and your horse will almost always come to find you.

It's checked, this is the largest Rockstar's virtual creation, much larger than San Andreas. For example, to cross the road between the two furthest points on a map, riding on the medium-speed horse, you'll need nothing less then 20 minutes tireless galloping. What makes travel even worse (depending on how you look at it) is that you can get sidetrack simply by looking around for a minute or two. There are plenty of damsels in distress, people who lost their horses, or sick women needing some medicine. The amount of side tasks is enormous, and is a game in itself. Clocking in at anywhere from 15 to 25 hours for the single player campaign, you can easily spend 30+ hours if you try to find all the side quest and take all the dueling challenges the game has to offer. If you wont to do a bit of bounty hunting, simply find wanted posters and track down your target. Take him alive for money, but killing him still gets you some loot.

And here in lies one of Red Dead Redemption's standout features - the fame and honor system. As you perform various deeds, your honor and fame will increase or decrease depending on your actions. Kill a random drunk guy stumbling out of the saloon and your honor drops. Assisting stranded travelers is honorable, but not everyone is as helpless as they appear. Also, if you allow your Honor to fall, more dishonorable opportunities may open for you. Honor and fame allows the player to determine how they want to play the game. There is a benefit for playing more honorably, of course, as shops will give you reduced prices on goods, and townsfolk will know you by name, as if they fear you when you walk by.

The towns act as hubs for gathering quests, buying a room to save your game or change your outfit, or doing the more mundane portions of the game - card games, dice games, and other ways to try to earn some cash. Cash is only minimaly important in Red Dead Redemption. Sure, you'll need it to buy medicine or new weapons, but you can get through most of the game with just a few stops to the weapons and general goods stores scattered throughout the land. From the weapons through the game you'll find: cattlemen revolver, lasso, mauser pistol, repeater carbine, throwing knife, sawed-off shotgun, sniper rifle, TNT and gold-plated revolver, just to name few of them all.

The controls in Red Dead Redemption are the standard affair for those familiar with Grand Theft Auto IV. Many of the mechanics are nearly identical, just improved. For instance, the duck and cover system works very well and the auto target mechanics has been revamped just enough to make it unique. The left trigger aims your gun while the right trigger fires off a round. The new Dead Eye system slows sown time, and allows you to place your shots like a real gunslinger. This is, after all, Wild West and Marston is a true master of arms. Duels in the game allow you to use Dead Eye to place shots on your victim. It can take a bit of time to master, bit it's pretty easy to learn this system. For the most part, you'll earn more points of money by shooting your opponent's gun out of his hand, but killing him work pretty well too.

Since Marston befriends a rancher, you'll learn how to herd cattle, lasso horses, and other random farmhand tasks. These missions were pretty slow and slightly irritating, but mastering the lasso is essential, and it can create a lot of fun for those looking to tame some of the wild horses running throughout the land. These missions just go to show that Marston isn't just about killing. In fact, the game offers more than just the typical "go and kill person" kind of missions, but it's true that the bulk of your time will be spent spilling blood.

As I mentioned before, Marston is pretty likeable, but sometimes he seems like a pushover. Your time in game is spent trying to find people to help you take out your old gang member, but all these people who you ask for help seem to have their own needs. Whether it's a grave robber, Mexican authorities, or a miracle potion fraud, everyone seems to take advantage of Marston. On occasion he makes threats to these people about not wasting his time, but he always ends up going along with theĀ  flow. There is one specific character who constantly betrays Marston, and yet he seems more than willing to help him out. That just doesn't seem how our rough and tumble cowboy would act.

There is just too much to see and do in this game to scratch the surface in this review, but just know that if you are looking for a game that will provide many hours of play outside the main story objectives, Red Dead is for you. And, that's not even speaking of the multiplayer features. Competitive online modes are terrific, offering a solid starting point for all players. The modes are all traditional multiplayer modes, like deathmatch (Shootout) and capture the flag (Grab the Bag). I really enjoyed how each multiplayer games starts with a little standoff (in two opposing lines). As you're told to draw, people die quickly and then the game starts. There's a Grab the Bag mode that make you capture bags of gold, which carry some weight, of course.

However, my favourite online mode is Free Roam, which allows up to 16 players to compete together, or against each other, in the single-player world. You can hunt down bandits together, do some side quests, or just shoot each other in the back when they are trying to rescue a horse. This mode, more than another, seems to offer the most long term potential moving forward.

Outside the beautiful visuals that open up the vast prairie world, the voice acting and audio are incredible. The cast in Red Dead Redemption are the best I've seen in a long time. The dialogue is natural, funny, and often witty. The soundtrack is great, but limited. It's used in a way that made me longing for a song to play, and when it does, it's incredibly moving - funny to say about a song in a video game, but it's true.

Those thinking that this is nothing more than Grand Theft Auto IV in the West will be surprised to see that, in many ways, Rockstar has outdone its last major sandbox game. Red Dead Redemption is one of the best games I've played in a long, long time. Sure, it has some minor problems, but overall its story and immense world offer up both engaging and compelling gameplay that any self-respecting gamer need to experience.

You can find walkthrough for Red Dead Redemption here.

One of a series of mini games/additional activities