Red Dead Redemption Hands-On
After a second presentation of Red Dead Redemption last week, we figured you might be interested in reading our hands-on article. Last week's presentation gave us the opportunity to get our hands on a slightly more recent build of the game. More details inside.
Update 2: English trailer added.
I won't go into as much depth as the previous article, I want to talk about the story in which you player are going to evolve. Rockstar's new hero, John Marston, is left for dead by his comrades after a robbery that has gone bad. Thinking that he owed his survival to a sign of fate, John settles down and decides to raise a family, far away from the violence of the west he used to know. Unfortunately, the American government forces John back into business and asks him to pursue his former partners. As it is after this is America, Marston doesn't have much of a choice but to comply since his family is being held hostage as a guarantee of his cooperation.
During this presentation, we were shown three missions from the main story and one that looked more of a side quest. Unsurprisingly, each of them involved a lot of gun fire, but tried some variations to hold the fun with different weapons, places and situations.
First, we find Marston in the desert, mountainside while he must clear a path to the right-hand of an army Colonel, a cowardly Mexican officer who wants to avoid the battlefield at all costs. To do so, he becomes the official supplier of the General, ready to fulfil each of his whims. Accompanied with allied soldiers, the player must progress carefully, switching from a sniper rifle to kill shooters in the canyon's heights, to revolver or shotgun to clear a path through the mass of opponents rushing down the dusty track leading up to the main objective. We then had a lot of fun shooting at army soldiers, so soon as we opened fire on the soldiers we immediately saw the Wanted system come into affect. Indeed, at the first gunshots, we got ourselves our very first Wanted sign, appearing in the top right corner of the screen and never fading out, well, not until we've loaded the next mission that is.
At the beginning of the second mission, we met the Sheriff of a small town situated in the middle of a rocky desert full of cacti. Being after a man on the run, Marston is looking for some help and so he decides to ask the Sheriff, who doesn't seem to be receptive to his demand. According to him, he already has a lot on his hands and can't take care of everything, especially when the problems are beyond his jurisdiction. Marston decides to cut a deal with the sheriff by help the Sheriff provided the sheriff returns the favour. After heading to the saloon to locate a henchman on the Sheriff's wanted list, the player has to tail him by horse until we reach a small cabin outside of town. After a manly discussion involving gun powder (and a tutorial of the cover system) the mission is over and we move on.
Looking more like a side quest mission, the next sequence showed us a farmer asking Marston for help as his daughter needs saving. She is held hostage in her own farm by some bad guys who are keeping her father away from the house. Brave being Marston's middle name, he sneaks to the farmhouse's surroundings and takes cover. Once all the outside enemies are dead, theres still one enemy inside. This situation requires to be quick and effective, the Dead Eye function which slows down time comes in handy in such situations - you don't want the victim to be killed, or even worse, you don't want to destroy or damage the furniture.
Finally, in the last mission, Marston is seeking a Gatling gun. After a brief meeting with an Irishman, an old drunk Marston already saved previously in the game, Marston must take on a mine occupied by some disreputable men. Unlike previous missions, this one offers a more linear section, which does not come as a surprise since it's a mine gallery, with a subdued lighting atmosphere. The mission ends with Marston hanging on to a small rail truck carrying the Gatling gun, a scene you may have seen in the latest trailer of the game.
The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful
Graphically, the game has already evolved, with an impressive draw distance, polished textures and a rather unobtrusive pop-up. The large wild areas will certainly give hours and hours to roam free. The work they have achieved with the animations is absolutely outstanding, the muscles on the horses react according to their movements, which are very realistic as far as I can tell. Enemies do not fall down all in the same way, and their reaction will change depending on where they have been hit, which again makes the game even more true to life. Depending on the time, there are subtle lighting changes bringing some more realism and there is little doubt that the postcard look of these magnificent views will be remembered for a while.
A word on the cutscenes which, as usual with Rockstar, are wonderfully rendered. All the different faces are always very expressive with some great lip-synchronization sustained with a good voice acting to top it off. The cast of characters already looks as colorful as we would expect and it will hopefully be rich enough as not to disappoint in the end.
This more recent build of the game still suffers from small bugs, of course, and a strangely low framerate when in town areas (while in the countryside, even attacked by a dozen enemies, the game runs smoothly) but it's still a work in progress and therefore not representative of what the final build will be. AI (allies and enemies alike) seems to be quite good, taking cover and doing everything to bring down their target. A good thing then, because our companions didn't seem to want to relax and let us do all the dirty work. On the other hand, we were unable to judge the difficulty of the game given that the demo was in God mode. They obviously did not want to risk having us die at every corner but it was however a blatant lack of trust in my innate skills. But well, never mind.
In Guns we trust
Our major fear regarding the playability of the game was essentially about the aiming system and the character's movements. First, know that regular GTA IV players won't be disoriented by the pad configuration, aside from Dead Eye function assigned to the R3 button. As a result, it is very easy to pick up and we soon felt completely at ease. While the player is on foot the game doesn't feel that much difference from GTA IV, Marston still seems more responsive and thus easier to handle than Niko. The aiming system (automatic or manual) is therefore more nervous yet less difficult to apprehend. Add to that the fact that moving around feels less awkward and you find yourself playing a much more pleasant game. There's still those odd cover glitches when Marston chooses to stick to wrong part of the scenery, but nothing too serious that you won't find in all the best games in the genre.
Let's now talk about the Dead Eye function that I mentioned earlier. When the player pushes the right analog stick, the game switches to slow motion, allowing you to move a reticle and have more time to aim where you want before letting your guns do all the talking and making a real mess. It works rather well, although the system in itself is not really original. We couldn't get any information on how to refill the meter affiliated to this function but I bet that our next meeting will lift the veil on this point.
Walking on foot feels good, but there is nothing like galloping on the back of a horse. The Good news is, this part of the game has been nailed by Rockstar. Horse riding is indeed really pleasant from trotting to a full gallop. They also had a very simple idea that should satisfy the non English speakers. You know, all the players who always whine at the driving sequences of GTA IV where they have to keep an eye on the traffic and the subtitles at the same time. Sure, it is not easy to understand a whole discussion when driving from point A to point B when you're not even able to follow and understand a full Teletubbies episode in English. In Red Dead Redemption you can now lock on to the horse you are following (e.g: the Sheriff of the second mission) by holding the A button. Your horse then switchers to autopilot mode, giving you plenty of time to admire the view or read the subtitles of the conversation. An utterly simple idea, easy to implement in this situation, (traffic jams are pretty rare in the desert) but it adds more comfort to the gameplay.
Finally, Rockstar showed us the challenge system they've incorporated into the game. After a shoot-out, fresh dead bodies will obviously attract hungry vultures - another example of Rockstar's attention to details. One of the challenges was to shoot down five of these vultures to get the the first rank of the marksman. We bet that Rockstar has prepared us a large amount of challenge, with hopefully some fun surprises that could help us develop our character.
Overall impressions Red Dead Redemption continues to seduce us and this extra hour we spent with John Marston will not lower our enthusiasm, quite the contrary. We don't see how Rockstar could fail to deliver with this ambitious game and such an incredible atmosphere. While waiting to learn and see more of this game, we remain very optimistic and we definitely look forward to our next meeting with the game.
About the game
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