Review: Red Dead Redemption

June 3, 2010, Author: Trent Pyro

The Magnificent Sixteen
Multiplayer was one of the elements of Red Dead Redemption that was understated in the initial marketing stages (the epic setting and story took precedent) but seemed interesting and original nonetheless.

It’s an odd concept, ambitious as it is confusing and works for the most part. Pressing X at the menu screen with field you right into the multiplayer hub; Free-Roam. Doing away with the fiddly phone menus of GTA4, RDR plops you right into a living free-roaming world with up to fifteen other players. You can ride around doing in bandits, shooting animals and taking down other players, earning XP for everything you do. Challenges are present, and completing them will earn you new characters to play as, horses to ride and titles to display. XP also plays a big part in unlockables, and as you level up new content is slowly drip-fed. Forming teams (known colloquially as ‘posses’) is simple; a tap of BACK and you can see the entire player list, making it easy to send anyone a posse invite with a couple of taps of A. Sticking together is easy and simple, the posse leader represented by a white star on the mini-map. The real brilliance comes in the other game modes, though.

Littered around the world are signposts, each serving a purpose. Some allow you to quickly teleport around the world, saving hours of galloping around. Others allow you to kick off free-for-all or gang matches, and this is where the multiplayer framework really comes into its own. Starting a match, an invite is sent to all the players in the world. Any who accept are instantly teleported to your vague location (Armadillo for example) and the match begins almost immediately. When the game is over, everyone can either return to free-roam or choose to carry on playing together. It’s a fluid, organic and smooth system and it certainly beats flicking through bland menus.

The game modes are simple but effective. Shootout and Gang Shootout are basic deathmatches. RDR’s controls work almost perfectly in the multiplayer forum, although the sticky cover system does infuriate in times of peril. Bolting around with your temporary posse, taking down enemies and feverishly rushing between cover is exhilarating, even if it never quite matches up to the character and mood presented in the single player. Capture the Bag encompasses three distinct modes of play, each one a new twist on the age old Capture the Flag.

In Gold Rush, bags of gold are dropped around the map (bizarrely through huge forks of lightning) and you have to grab as many as you can. The catch is, carrying more than one bag makes you run like a pensioner and you have to get it to one of the drop-off points. This leads to hilarious tales of dashing around, grabbing a bag or two and then abandoning all thought of getting kills as you rush to the nearest drop-off. However, it also leads to infuriating feelings of unfairness much too often. Experienced players camp out near known drop-offs and take pleasure in cruelly murdering you just before you can deposit your gold. In all fairness though, there’s a good chance you’ll do this yourself without realising it.

Hold Your Own is the most basic CTF type. Each team has a bag they have to defend while trying to nab the other teams bag. It’s simple CTF, albeit infinitely more fun given the Western setting and brilliant maps. Good teamwork is a must here, otherwise face-palm moments will come crashing in as you realise your entire team has rushed the enemy and left your flag unprotected. Nothing we haven’t seen in other games CTF modes though.

Grab The Bag is the final and most chaotic of the three. One bag is dropped at random, and both teams rush to collect it and bring it back to their drop point. The area around the bag becomes a storm of bullets and bodies very quickly, leading to most veterans grabbing cover and hammering the bag until the opposing team is dead. Once a team has the bag, however, the whole charade turns into some mad Benny Hill-style chase sequence. In my time paying this mode I’ve experienced a good few epic chases, my team high-tailing it back to base with the enemy close in pursuit, bullets whizzing past our heads. Protecting the bag-holder at this point is critical; dropping the bag allows the enemy to acquire it, scuppering your chance of success.

Aptly, every match begins with a classic Mexican stand-off. In free-for-all, players stand in a circle and each get a designated target to fire at. Whether you take the suggestion or not is up to you, but safe to say most players seemed to be shooting the guy to their left or right instead of the guy across the circle. One player wins, and it always seems to be the same bloke. One particular player won nine of these stand-offs in a row, either showing his extreme skill or extreme luck. Considering he seemed to be simply moving slowly and shooting everyone dead, I suspect it’s more of the latter. Team matches begin with more order, both sides facing off in lines. When the ‘draw!’ command sounds, it’s total chaos, everyone side-rolling and shooting wildly. I only managed to down a couple of people before I was cruelly cut down every time, causing me to think that these stand-offs are a whole element to master in themselves.

Overall, the system works very well. Little touches like the mini-free-roam lobbies before every match, or the way that the bag bounces on your shoulder during Gold Rush matches serve to make this one of the most rounded and playable multiplayer experiences around. While not quite part of the Elite Fleet, American players have had about two weeks more experience than us UK gamers and it shows. I spotted highs of 25 in the level department, a small miracle considering how slow you level up. Beginners should prepare to die a lot, and get very angry before they even start crawling up the match leaderboards. Free-roam is fantastic, marred only by those cheeky bastards intent on shooting everyone and ruining the fun. The community is largely very friendly, and has the most headset-using players of any game I’ve ever seen. People welcome you into their posse, and I received more than few invites despite only being a low-level player. There’s really no sense of ‘pwning the n00bs’ and most players are open to teamwork and collaboration. Tossers are an inevitability, however, and there’s always one or two in every match. You know, the guy who screams ‘yeeeeee haaaaa’ every time he gets a kill because he thinks it’s cool? The joker who thinks shouting his request at the rest of the room will make everyone obey him? Yep, he’s invaded RDR too and it can, very occasionally ruin the game.

A Few Dollars More
Just a quick note before I round it all off. I ordered the Limited Edition and the extras I got were actually quite cool. The War Horse is a civil war-style steed with extra speed and strength than the standard in-game horses. This gave me an initial edge in the single player; the horse you start with is cripplingly slow. The Golden Guns look effortlessly cool, and give you double Fame for every kill. They gold sheen extends only to the first revolver and rifle you get though, and you’ll soon drop them in favour of faster, more powerful weaponry. The Deadly Assassin Outfit, my fave, is brilliant. Looking like a cross between Preachers Jesse Custer (look it up, it’s brilliant) and a Mexican pirate, it adds a layer of crazy-calm to Marston and also neatly causes your Dead Eye to regenerate twice as fast. I also got a code to download the fantastic soundtrack, which has now earned a firm place on my MP3 player. The pack is brilliant, and for only a few quid more you can’t go wrong.

Wanted Alive!
This is the biggest review I’ve ever done. Fitting, seeing as this is the biggest game I’ve ever played. Crammed into the modest-looking map is an astounding amount of content. There is almost no chance of you ever getting bored in Red Dead Redemption, the game constantly offering you stuff to do, challenges to complete, outfits to unlock, people to save and jobs to get done. The story is a roller-coaster of emotion, with not a lull or dead moment in the whole thing. The world is breathtaking in look, feel and technical marvel. The multiplayer system is ground-breaking and actually works, a rarity in today’s ultra-buggy online frameworks. No game has ever matched this level of quality and quantity and nothing feels tacked on or unnecessary. The mood and feel Rockstar San Diego have been able to create never leaves you and is woven through every facet of the game experience. I could rave about Red Dead Redemption forever, but I’d rather play it and I suspect so do you. So do yourself a favour, take a fistful of dollars (or pounds) to your nearest game shop and pick up this epic slice of gaming heaven. You need this game in your life.

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