Red Dead Redemption:
As everybody knows, the beginning of 2010 should bring just as many big titles as the end of this year. Among them is definitely Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar's new highly anticipated game. Last week, Gamersyde was invited to a presentation of a recent build of the game, a good opportunity to find out if the hopes for this one are high for a good reason.
Update 2: Added an image gallery.
Back to the Future
May 2002. Capcom announces the development of a whole new franchise whose main particularity is to choose the Far West as historical background. Despite an outburst of enthusiasm on the part of both the press and the players, the project is unfortunately canceled about a year later. Hopefully, against all odds, Red Dead Revolver rises from its ashes in July 2003 thanks to Rockstar who decides to take over the development of the game. It is eventually released in June 2004 on Xbox and Playstation 2 and, in spite of its flaws, it turns out to be a rather fun game in the end.
February 2009. Rockstar officially announces that Red Dead Redemption is in the making. The sequel should have very little to do with the first episode as the story is set 30 years later and the main character is absolutely not related to Red, hero of the first game. Contrary to Red Dead Revolver which was not an original IP by Rockstar, this time they really could work at making the game they had in mind right from the start: a good mix between action, exploration and character development. So, is Red Dead Redemption a sort of GTA in the old West? Partly yes, but there is a lot more to it.
Once upon a time in the West
USA, dawn of the 20th century. The Wild West is living its last hours, caught up as it is by modern life, growing industrialization and civilization per se. A whole page of American history is about to turn. Again, quite an original background for a video game and, given the emphasis that Rockstar has always put on storyline, it's safe to say it should be one of the game's strengths. You play the role of John Marston, a former outlaw who will be forced to go after his old partners for the sake of his family, the classic quest for salvation and redemption you'd expect in the genre.
The presentation started with a freeride sequence in the middle of a beautiful desert area. John Marston rides his horse under the scorching heat of the Southern States of the US, heading towards the closest town. The structure of the game is very different from the likes of GTA : as the main character crosses the path of many different people, it will trigger off random secondary missions. The main difference here is that, no matter what you decide to do (intervene or not) the event in progress will happen anyway. Should you choose to do something, your reputation meter as well as your honor meter will be affected and these two elements are among the new important features of the game. “What's in it for me other than keeping myself busy?” you might wonder. Well, by improving your reputation (or honor) level, it will affect how the population will treat you. You will for example be given more missions, you will be able to buy items at cheaper prices in the cities and the more famous you get, the more chances you have to be challenged to duels by loose canons. To give you examples of possible encounters in the wilderness, you may be asked to give a soldier a hand to capture the prisoners who escaped his convoy, you may decide to go to a farmer's rescue as he gets mugged by bandits, or help the passengers of a train that is under attack. Be careful though, you might also run into a horse thief who can lure you into thinking he is in danger so you get closer and he can steal it from you.
Lonesome gun: Il mio nome è Nessuno
Because it's a Rockstar game, you will obviously be able to break the law should you decide to. When it happens, be aware of the consequences as they are certainly heavier than in the GTA series. Indeed, whenever you decide to kill someone you shouldn't, a WANTED sign appears on the top right corner of the screen. The colored letters indicate the alert level and, like some kind of meter, they empty with time if you are good enough to outrun your enemies. It is important to point out that, even if you manage to get to a safe spot, the WANTED sign will never completely disappear and it is then theoretically possible to play the whole game that way. As a result, all through the story, the city where you have committed a felony will send men looking for you, which will have you stay on your toes all the time. Depending on the number of people you killed, the bounty on your head will be more or less high, as will the number of people chasing you. During the presentation, we were shown a sequence during which Marston can decide to shoot down a patrol of Mexican soldiers to avoid a few rebels from being captured. After putting on a mask (a good way to make it more difficult to track you down), Marston killed them and galloped away in the desert.
Hopefully, being wanted by the law does not mean there is no way to make things right. To get a pardon letter, you can try to make up for your actions by helping, say, a Mexican commanding officer who wants to rescue one of his men who is held prisoner in a nearby outpost. Once you get the letter though, you are not free to run around everywhere just yet. It is necessary to go find the nearest sheriff to give him the letter so he can officially clear your slate.
What a wonderful world
Red Dead Redemption will feature Rockstar's biggest open environment to date, no less. Three territories will be available and no loading screens will ever break the immersion. West Elisabeth and New Austin will be situated in the US while Nuevo Paraiso will obviously be on Mexican grounds (the story takes place along the Mexican border). With such a vast playground, it is easy to figure out that a lot of traveling around will be involved in the game. If we were told that quick travel will be possible (expect different means of transportation), you will spend most of your time riding a horse in the big open spaces. Much like in Colorado (an Atari ST game by Silmarils), saving your progress will only be possible if you set up camp. Provided you have bought a special kit in the city before, you can camp just about anywhere you wish in the wild. There are of course several types of kit levels that you can acquire and the more expensive they are, the more food or ammunition you can get when using them. Once you have established camp somewhere, it will stay there for the rest of the game, which will allow you to use the spot as many times as you want. It could bring a little big of strategy in that choosing a good spot might permit you to avoid any future problems should you need a quick save later on.
As it always is the case with Rockstar, a big open environment never goes without a whole bunch of varied activities on the side. Even though we were not told much about it, we learned that the world will be full of wild animals that you can interact with. Will hunting be among the possibilities? I don't know but it would definitely make sense after all. What we know for sure is that there will be wild horses that you can capture, break and then sell at a good price. Considering that each horse has its own characteristics (speed, power, stamina etc), there should be much variety. Talking about horses, you should know that, as the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. Indeed, horses are living beings and, as such, they can't be pushed beyond their limits for too long. Therefore, you can't expect to go at full speed at all times since your horse will not be happy about it. If that happens, it will first warn you by shaking its head but if you don't listen to it, don't come crying when you end up face down in the ground.
Wild Wild West
The wildlife isn't the only representation of the Wild West since you will also cross the paths of wanted Bandits. During your stays in towns you may find a sheriff hanging a wanted sign on a wall. You are free to get that sign and go look for the outlaw immediately. As expected you can accomplish this by either coming back with your target dead or alive, provided you get a proof when you have no choice but to kill. If you choose to come back with the target alive, you will have to drag him around all tied up with your lasso, not too fast though, unless you want to get in town with a corpse.
Treasure hunting is another activity that will be available. After having found (or bought) a treasure map, the player will have to use these scarce indications to find the place where it's buried. No radar indications to help you in your quest, so an akin sense of observation will be mandatory there. Money, weapons, munitions or even more treasure maps will be good enough motivations for the player as rewards. The cities will also offer as many activities as possible with for examples the ones to be found in saloons: Poker, Black Jack, strong-arm, having a drink and even some relaxations with the local prostitutes will be some of the pleasures of the night.
Viva la Revolución
But as said before , Red Dead Redemption's main ambition is to tell a story, and as usual with more advanced storytelling the main missions are more scripted. But in comparison with GTA these missions in their structure are less straight forward and more open. It's always possible to just go and do something else and ignore the current mission for a while.
We got to see an example for a mission with the classical introduction sequence, in the pure Rockstar spirit. As Marston enters a house, Reyes (A not too modest Mexican friend) does the same with a young woman. And on the kitchen table! The fairly raw representation of the scene will certainly not please the most puritan people out there, but the least we can say is that we almost have never seen such a realistic portrayal of the act in a video-game.
The mission is cut in 4 distinct parts. In the first one you have to drive a cart full of dynamite to a certain point, while speaking with Reyes. A phase that's certainly very reminiscent to GTA, but that you will be able to cut short if you are in a hurry. Then Reyes will ask you to place the cart near the door of a fort that him and his friends want to invade in order to rise up against the current Mexican government. And since your Mexican Stallion friend is a such a joker he will ignite the fuse on the cart, leaving you with a quite limited time to drive it to its future location. Afterward comes a more usual shooting phase where you will have to invade the fort and ultimately kill the Captain. And finally you will have to defend the fort from outside invaders using an army canon, a nice and explosive way to finish this Tex-Mex piece of violence.
Purely technically speaking the game uses of the course the in-house Rockstar engine, and quite nicely at that. The draw distance is truly impressive, and the rather aggressive pop-ins of GTA seemed already much more discreet. Even the rather annoying blurring is only a bad memory now thanks a much more harmonious usage. The game of course features a day/night cycle and I have to say the work on the rendering of the light at the various hours of the day has not only gained in realism, but also in warmth thanks to less dull colors. As a whole this all gets much more cohesive and natural. Add to this some very acceptable texture for a game this size, and an already quite solid framerate (smoother in the wilderness than in cities though). The first visible contact is really striking and really puts us directly in the dusty atmosphere of the hostile grounds of the Far West.
In terms of animations the Euphoria engine is at work and it's visible instantly. Be it the horse (you HAVE to see it use it's fore-legs to slow down when it's going down a steep path!) or Marston and his enemies, the end result is impressively realistic. Also impressive, the way the bodies of the enemies react when touched by bullets. Depending on the impacted area they won't react in the same way and if a bullet in the torso will for example have to enemy back down, it won't prevent him to counter-attack if it's not a fatal injury. All this adds even more credibility to the various situations and from the little we saw the progress since GTA IV is very real.
In terms of gameplay we can't really say much since we were not allowed to touch a gamepad during the presentation. I'm still talking about since it seems to be the area where the most work will be needed until April's release. It's difficult to say for sure since it could have been the demonstrator's fault, but it seemed like the gunfights were still FIXME like in GTA IV. Even though the hero is less clumsy than Niko while in motion, the manual targeting still seems to be lacking in precision. From what we saw we are still far from the speed and finesse of Uncharted 2 or Gears of War 2. The automatic lock-on and the Dead Eye mode (slow down effect allowing to shoot in bursts) will of course be a nice alternative the less agile, but let's hope the targeting will be mademore dynamic by release. But we'll have to wait and try by ourselves to be sure.
A tad more than 30 minutes, that's what we got to see of a recent build of Read Dead Redemption. Half an hour and already so many things to write. And we are far from having a reply to all our questions! It's hard to imagine how full the disc will be if Rockstar manages to integrate all the great ideas they seem to have for this game. Stunning? Certainly. Promising? Absolutely. With varied environments, a different architecture for the various cities (depending on their geographical location), huge spaces to cross on your horse (and more), a character that we will be able to shape according to our choices, an incredibly well rendered atmosphere, thanks to the jazzy and westernish music (not yet final though), to say that I was impressed by this game would be quite an understatement. If you have always dreamed of hearing the sound of your spurs on the filthy floor of a saloon or of whistling your horse before going full gallop into the sunset like a poor lonesome cowboy far away from home, then I can only tell you to keep an eye or two on Rockstar's new baby. We hope to get our hands on this one as soon as possible, and confirm (or not) all these positive impressions.
About the game
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