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Red Dead Redemption Hands-On Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:40am 01/02/10 | Comments
AusGamers finally went hands-on with Rockstar's forthcoming western openworld romp, Red Dead Redemption. Read on for our full thoughts...

Like some western anti-hero, Rockstar have been dragging us behind the proverbial horse, lassoed and tearing face-first through the dirt when it comes to previewing their upcoming open-plains opus, Red Dead Redemption. However, we managed to chew through our ropes while they were asleep at a campfire and get some proper hands-on with the game in between mouthfuls of fried beans. Red Dead Redemption is fast becoming the absolute benchmark for not only this budding genre, but for sandbox/openworld games period.

There were a few key thing we were readily looking forward to testing with Redemption, specifically horse-riding and gun-play, and we can tell you both handle spectacularly. It's a point that prior to getting our mits on the test 360 controller (the platform we previewed the game on), our Rockstar rep gave a quick catch-up; revealing the development strides the game is making in both visual tweaks and immersive gameplay machinations. This is important because Red Dead Redemption, despite being of the openworld formula, is very much unlike any other Rockstar production.

Whereas jumping into a game of Grand Theft Auto will likely see just about anyone attempting to cause as much chaos and destruction as possible; stealing the first car they see to enact some fantasy of human demolition derby, Red Dead Redemption immediately demands your respect. Upon first glance, the usual tongue-in-cheek social commentary we're used to seeing Rockstar flex is null and void. This is the wild west on the cusp of being tamed - its intrinsic death and destruction was commonplace, allowing for no real comedic spin on developer Rockstar San Diego's part. In short, you're playing through a true slice of history with a more-than-acceptable bridge of suspended disbelief in the every hero, John Marston.

Being that the game is set at the turn of the century where the old ways of the west were being quashed under the advent of industry and government, the aforementioned lawlessness finds itself being rounded up like so much cattle, which also stands as a solid pretext for roping Marston out of his new life and onto the side of the 'law' to bring his former brothers to justice. The secret department demanding Marston's help are the same mob who will go on to become the FBI and given the severity of their task, their methods and actions often make the crimes of their targets look petty. Still, it created a thin veil between good and bad and right and wrong, which in turn creates a perfect narrative foundation for the era that arguably spurred the popularity of the anti-hero (I would say "spawned", but that belongs to Akira Kurasawa's Sanjuro, which was set in the Edo period - a tad earlier than the Wild West).

The initial hands-off portion of our time sees Marston fighting alongside the Mexican army, attacking rebels; assaulting a hill and eventually, their stronghold. The event is something of a "you'll eventually do this too" as we're privy to all manner of gunplay from short-range firing with pistols, to rifles, sniper rifles and even molotov cocktails (aka in the era 'Fire Bottles'). It's a great moment to not only see the range of ability you'll learn and gain, but also the scope of things to come - there're some serious political undertones being presented throughout the game, not the least of which explores blanketed oppression across the entire frontier.

Once the goal has been set, our hands-on time comes in the form of a more tame, stripped back beginning to gunplay. The set-up sees Marston hunting down one of his ex-gang members in the town of Blackwater. Before going after him though, Marston confronts the sheriff of another local settlement, Armadillo, where they exchange brilliantly scripted words enabled by equally stellar voice-acting where Marston volunteers to help the sheriff bring down a small-time crook in exchange for his help with the bigger fish to fry, Bill Williamson.

The actions in place for completion of this early mission in the game really act as something of a tutorial teaching you the fundamentals of gunplay, but also of riding your horse and just generally working with NPCs (which will happen a lot throughout). You have your own horse, who will come to your side at a simple whistle, however, you are able to take any horse in the game, though they won't come when you whistle, and are a bit more lively than your horse, meaning they're not as tame. Once you're riding, you can gallop at speed, though this is based heavily on your horse's stamina, which slowly replenishes over time. You can also maintain speed with NPCs by simply holding the A button. While doing this, you'll get more fleshed out story (similarly to driving with NPCs in GTA) from your companions who spiel all kinds of information, rants or rubbish.

Actually bringing down our target proved to be very easy, and in control of Marston, we can say he moves much more fluidly and organically than any of the GTA IV characters. You can go into cover similarly to the aforementioned games, but there are more movement options and snap-on targeting does not result in being locked to said target. This allows for quick gunplay, but never hinders your free-aim, optioning plenty of head-shot potentials as well as utilising the environment (precariously placed barrels of TNT, for example) or other troublesome enemies.

You also have the Dead Eye mechanic, which essentially thrusts players into a slow-mo scenario so you can aim more readily at enemies while not being rendered useless because you're being shot at. You can use this mode to target multiple enemies, or simply one enemy. On top of that, it's also useful for pinpointing exactly where you want to shoot your target which all corresponds to correct locational damage; represented brilliantly with Euphoria for animations which, coupled with Rage's excellent physics system means you're going to get all the over-the-top action you would expect from a high-drama Western epic.

It's interesting that this be presented in such an open way too. The game-world is big, and we mean really big. In fact, it's the biggest play area Rockstar have ever presented, and incredibly tantalising for all its hidden treasures. See a place off in the distance, and you can go there (which is equally daunting). And while it may seem overly barren, the potential for emergent gameplay is very strong thanks to the ecology system we've talked about before, the game's treasure-hunting side-quest and its myriad random events.

You can also come across gang hideouts and strongholds; some of which carry with them a helpful pretext in the form of a NPC asking for your help (which is a good segue to the next mission in our hands-on). Our scenario presented a farmer whose daughter had been abducted by bad-guys. This is a situation where Marston works alone, of which the game seems to present a fairly balanced amount of. Taking out the enemies outside the capture HQ of our lavely farmer's daughter was as easy as utilising the game's excellent cover system and switching up the use of my firearms. Pistols are good at close to medium-range, shot guns close-range, and rifles long-range. It's almost a rock, paper, scissors affair but really is just common sense when you think about it. Being of exceptional aim is a massive help here as all the game's weapons are modelled off their real-world counterparts, meaning some might jam, others might not fire as accurately which overall brings a sense of skill and ability to the gunplay, a factor I've been told by my Rockstar rep is a strong point of the game, but is clearly something I need more time with to fully measure.

Once all the baddies outside are laid to rest, I need only to burst into the shack our lady is being held in and take out her main captor - which I do in style thanks to Dead Eye. With the girl safe, the bad-guy's dead and a family reunited, Marston's Honour goes up, which counts towards his place within the game-world. You can, of course, pretty much play as the worst gunslinger on the planet, which takes your fame in an opposite direction, and all of this works towards your acceptance in and throughout various areas.

Our final mission introduces one of the game's more enjoyable characters (it's not all serious), Irish, who is as hard to understand as he is to not laugh at. He's promised Marston the location of a gatling gun, which we're told will be used in a later mission, but for now it needs to be procured, but is unfortunately heavily guarded underground in an occupied mine. Making our way there, we make short work of the miners outside the immediate area and then descend into the darkness where we can use contextual devices to help clear the way.

It was commonplace for miners to use TNT to blast their way into the gold and oil-rich Earth, which is what we use to blast our way through their flesh; shooting out barrels of the stuff as we descend further and further into the darkness. You can also shoot out kerosene lamps, which then spread fire on anything in the immediate area - enemies included. Other real-world objects of use include mine-carts, which can be pushed as mobile cover, with you ducking behind them and shooting at your leisure. However, what also comes into play here is the idea of physics, so pushing a mine-cart to a decline will force it to gain momentum and move on its own; Marston quickly jumping onboard allowing for inertia-powered mine-cart drive-bys.

From all accounts, this particular instance isn't the only time we'll be playing mine-cart games ala Donkey Kong country in 3D and with pistols and outlaws, and it was just one little surprise that made the game even more enticing. The parallel is that in confronting the unexplored frontier of the American Wild West, we as gamers are also confronting the unknown. Red Dead Redemption, while spectacular to look at, offers no immediate hook - you're looking at open expanses with seemingly nothing to engage, yet every step you take in the game reveals something new, something hidden and ultimately, something exciting. We haven't been this amped to sink our teeth into a product of this nature in a long time and we haven't even explored multiplayer yet. Stay tuned for more Red Dead Redemption as we close in on the game's April release period.

Latest Comments
Reverend Evil
Posted 01:51pm 01/2/10
This will prolly be banned seeing as it has location damage and you can shoot someone as they're crawling along the ground.

Looks awesome though. Pity it's not coming on PC...yet.
Posted 01:54pm 01/2/10
wasnt really keen on this game to start off with, but after seeing a few of the video's lately I've changed my mind. Think its looking really cool, cant wait to get my hands on it.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 01:58pm 01/2/10
I can't stress enough how infinitely better than GTA it is. Such a different game with a different feel, and I have a feeling it's going to be a massive undertaking
Posted 02:05pm 01/2/10
I've never really rated any of the games that have come out of R* San Diego, always seemed to have just been riding the GTA success coattails of R* North.

Hopefully this one can change my opinion.
Posted 03:18pm 01/2/10
damn i still remember pre-ordering Red Dead Revolver. Loved the first one and this one looks pretty darn good as well.
Posted 03:37pm 01/2/10
I can't stress enough how infinitely better than GTA it is. Such a different game with a different feel, and I have a feeling it's going to be a massive undertaking

The last few GTA games have been developed really well, even Chinatown wars is a solid game. The problem for me though is personally im getting bored of what to me is basically the same thing over and over again. Hopefully with this they will be able to bring something fresh and different, there really aren't that many great western games around.
Posted 04:10pm 01/2/10
I didn't really take any notice of this game as I thought it sounded gay but last week I caught up on all the shiz here and on GA. Now I am pretty excited.

This, mafia2, god of war3. Gotta dust off my ps3. (my comp wont be able to run mafia2)
Posted 04:35pm 01/2/10
hmmm mafia 2, you can expect 2K to ramp up the marketing on that one once bioshock 2 has released.
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