There is a time and a place for everything and the American government has just decided the time is up for the wild west. The south is about to get civilised, taxes are due and there will be law and order. But there is fierce resistance, and the ranch owners seem to prefer cattle thieves over bureaucrats and the gun men refuse to give up their trade. This is where you, John Marston, enter the picture. A veteran of the west, with a solid background in crime that you have tried to put behind you, but as is often the case your past catches up with you and you are forced to hunt down your former gang.
Red Dead Redemption has been described as a GTA in a western setting, and while that description is accurate to some extent, the game is much more than that. Rockstar have truly made a giant effort to create a believable world, and filled it with colourful individuals and tons of memorable moments.
From the moment you get up on the horseback, jam your spurs into the sides, and ride off into an orange sunset in a dusty desert filled with cacti and unique rock formations, you know this is an experience out of the ordinary. I come to think of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion as I stumble on to something to do every time I turn a corner.
It almost overwhelms me. Where do I start? Should I come to aid of the fellow who is about to get hanged, or help the one who claims to have been robbed of his horse, or perhaps assist the lovely lady by the carriage who seems to be in some kind of predicament. Add to this a map that is littered with icons, wanted criminals to catch, spots where a friendly game of poker can be enjoyed, night shifts at the farms, or hidden treasures. Oh, and on top of that there is a well written main story to get into.
It should come as no surprise that your guns will do a lot of the talking in Red Dead Redemption. And instead of the rather stiff action in GTA, the gun fights in Red Dead Redemption are more reminiscent of Gears of War, as you duck in and out of cover and take out bad guys by the dozen. This makes for action that is more enjoyable than in any other Rockstar game to date. One memorable battle was when I stormed an enormous fort equipped with a gatling gun and mowed down armies of tobacco chewing slobs. The second after I had hunted down the last stragglers I was forced to defend myself ferociously as reinforcements arrived.
I'm a huge western fan, and John Marston really comes across as classic and likeable John Wayne hero. By rescuing people your popularity grows, and the residents will greet you in the streets. Growing fame will also lead to gun men challenging you to duels, where you need to draw quickly and aim well - tense moments where the adrenaline is pumping and the sweat is pouring.
Rockstar have delivered a world that lives and breaths populated with incredibly carved out characters. Many of the characters become immediate favourites, such as tough as nails farmer's daughter Bonnie, quack Nigel West Dickens, and then there is Seth. He's a Gollum-esque body snatcher who digs up rotting corpses, speaks to them and takes care of them. A man with a seriously broken spirit, and an exterior that is equally tarnished, who will be of invaluable help to you.
This is what makes Red Dead Redemption unique. The story and world I'm told is told with great conviction. The world has a life of its own, and everything doesn't revolve around me as in most other games. Sometimes I ride up a hill to look out on the world just to see what it's up to without my involvement. It's not just a giant flat western set, it's the real thing.
This is backed up by wonderfully crafted visuals, both from a technical and aesthetic point of view. The faces are expressive and the work done on animations has been incredibly ambitious and even went as far as motion capturing horses to get their movement done right. Nothing has been left to chance. The environments are very varied. A visit to the abandoned town of Tumbleweed is a breath taking experience, as is riding on the cobble stone streets of Blackwater in between cars. The world is significantly larger than Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and includes sun drenched Mexican deserts, dark mines, enormous forts and forests as well as snow covered mountains.
Rockstar have put a fair bit of extra effort into the multiplayer, where the whole world map is at your disposal and you can form your own gangs. Everything you can do offline such as hunting or picking flowers is also available online. With your crew you can fight other gangs, enjoy death matches or rob each other blind.
It's a lot of fun storming forts, hide behind a barricade and hold your own in what amounts to something close to the Horde mode in Gears of War 2, or just fight each other over vast distances in the expansive world. The best multiplayer mode is called Goldrush, a smart variation on capture the flag with heavy bags of gold and insane amounts of action. It reminds me a bit of Stockpile from Halo: Reach, and it quickly gets intense and fun to hunt down the sons of bitches who hold the bags of gold.
Every round of the multiplayer start off with a Mexican stand off where you draw your guns quickly and ask questions later. The winners get a slight headstart and that makes for an interesting and involving start to each round. In addition to this there are plans of the co-operative mode that will be available for free download, but we haven't had the chance to try this yet.
As I close down my former colleagues, I realise that Red Dead Redemption ranks among the best games I have ever played. It combines hard to balance elements such as freedom, with a magnificent story, brutal action and things that border role playing. The story grabs me by the throat and won't let go, while I'm still in full control of creating my own western tale, all while my resentment towards the powers who force Marston into his crusade grows to full blown hatred.
Red Dead Redemption is a feel good western at its absolute best and when the credits roll after about 30 hours (without anywhere near all the things you can do) I'm close to applying for a green card, get myself a ranch somewhere in Arkansas with a dozen or so of Black Angus, and start a new career out west.