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Critical Reception: Rockstar's  Red Dead Redemption

Critical Reception: Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption

May 19, 2010 | By Danny Cowan

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the Western-themed sandbox adventure title Red Dead Redemption, which reviews describe as "arguably Rockstar's finest effort to date." Red Dead Redemption currently earns a score of 95 out of 100 at

Matt Bertz at Game Informer scores Red Dead Redemption at 9.75 out of 10, noting similarities to Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series. "While Red Dead Redemption's setup reads like a Clint Eastwood script, the gameplay construct is pulled straight from Grand Theft Auto," he says. "Assistance doesn't come easy, as Marston must complete fetch quests and rack up kill counts to earn their trust before they divulge any useful information."

"Those who tired of the errand boy mission structure of Grand Theft Auto IV won't find any solace in Red Dead," Bertz warns. "To get what he needs, Marston helps peddle cure-all tonics, aids in finding a lost treasure, puts in time herding cattle on the ranch, and rescues kidnapped citizens."

Bertz feels that the game shines when it focuses on action. "The game is at its best when it embraces gunpowder-centric missions that only a Western era game can deliver," he writes. "My favorites include assaulting a gang stronghold with a posse of regulators, protecting a supply train on horseback, and fighting up a treacherous mountainside to locate an enemy camp."

"Given the limitations of the era's weaponry, Red Dead's gunplay is surprisingly exciting," Bertz praises. "Each weapon - from six-shooters and repeaters to sniper rifles and Gatling guns - has a distinct feel, and the hit detection system couples with Natural Motion's Euphoria animation technology to create visceral shootouts. Shotgun blasts blow enemies violently backward, sniper shots to the shoulder spin bandits around, and if you nail a fleeing enemy in the leg, he'll feebly crawl toward the nearest cover."

"To succeed where other Western games have failed, Red Dead Redemption deftly recreates a sandbox playground of a tumultuous historical period swept away by technological progress," Bertz concludes. "The game perfectly captures the expansiveness of frontier life and the gritty gunplay of spaghetti westerns, rightfully earning its place alongside the great Western films and the best Rockstar games."

GamePro's Will Herring gives Red Dead Redemption 5 out of 5 stars. "Arguably Rockstar's finest effort to date, Red Dead Redemption does an exquisite job of capturing the iconic essence of the Wild West," he writes, "presenting one of the most engaging and enjoyable open-world climates in recent memory with the dusty plains of New Austin."

Herring finds that Redemption's main character is a vast improvement over Red Dead Revolver's. "In the fifteen hours it took me to clear Red Dead Redemption's expansive core campaign, the thing I found myself most surprised by was how consistently likable rough-and-tumble protagonist John Marston remained throughout," he notes.

Herring continues: "He's a stark contrast to Red Harlow, the star of 2004's Red Dead Revolver; that character was built in the mold of Clint Eastwood's 'Man With No Name' and rarely spouted an unnecessary syllable. Marston, on the other hand, shares more in common with Unforgiven's tragic hero Bill Munney: he's a family man who is unceremoniously thrust back into a past life he can't leave behind."

The result is a more compelling narrative. "Marston's sweeping transition from bounty hunter to unlikely freedom fighter to, finally, grizzled relic in an endangered era makes for a captivating arc, and paints Marston as one of the more sympathetic antiheroes in recent memory," Herring explains. "Marston's confrontation with an America that doesn't want nor need him brings to mind GTA IV's Niko Bellic, but his desire to find a peaceful place for himself and his family makes Redemption's yarn something familiar yet utterly unique."

"As diverse and memorable as Redemption's cast is, however, it's the game's expansive open-world of New Austin that lifts the experience well above the latest crop of open-world sandboxes," Herring asserts. "But the best part of Rockstar's open-world oater is its honest and open appreciation for the iconic Western genre; Its Wild West setting is memorable and stays true to established genre lore while still managing to add its own wrinkles and twists.

"It's one of the most appealing game worlds I've experienced in my recent memory, and it holds enough thrills to keep you playing from the very first bullet to long after the ride off into the sunset."

OXM UK's Mike Channell rates Red Dead Redemption at 9 out of 10. "With Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar has given us a timely reminder that cowboys are effortlessly cool," he begins. "The game's mysterious stranger, John Marston, combines the grit of Clint with a streak of humanity that makes spending several hours in his company an enormously involving experience."

Channell praises Redemption's storyline, in particular. "The story takes place at a time when the lawlessness of the region is rapidly becoming trampled by the onward march of civilization - and that fact is lurking in the subtext of every cutscene," he notes.

"As a result, we found the approaching death of the Wild West an added pressure as you play - pretty soon Marston won't be able to get the vigilante justice he's looking for, so you're all the more keen to ensure that he settles his quarrel. These kinds of nuances can only be detected because the characters are both beautifully written and flawlessly performed."

The action sequences are also top-notch, Channell says. "Red Dead's missions are like a greatest hits of classic cowboy scenes," he recalls. "There's plenty of variety, so you'll be performing daring jailbreaks, riding runaway mine carts and leaping on to speeding steam trains. Central to all this action is an enormously satisfying shooting mechanic. Aiming is a combination of crisp free-aim and a snappy lock on system that allows you to dispatch enemies efficiently."

Channell warns that the mission structure may grate, however. "There's little sense of uncovering a trail of evidence that unfolds in a satisfying manner," he warns. "Fortunately, there are other story threads that begin and resolve themselves within the greater plot -- most notably your involvement in the Mexican revolution -- that distract from your lack of real progress."

"Red Dead Redemption is a truly epic resuscitation of the Western theme in games. It's also easily the best gunslinging game we've ever played," Channell notes in conclusion. "Anyone who dismisses it as just 'Grand Theft Horsey' is missing out on a rich, beautifully realized portrait of life on the frontier, which is filled to the brim with interesting and amusing characters."

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