Redemption Indeed

It is quite possible that the only bad thing about “Red Dead Redemption” is the title. That and a few graphical hiccups. When a game goes off this well, you have to really harp on what little material they give you. It really is a monumentally stupid title, and it doesn’t lend itself that well to shortenings. What are we going to call this game? “Red Dead”? Meh. “Redemption?” You can’t call up your buddies and be like, “Do you have time for some Redemption tonight?” It sounds like you’re a Baptist minister.

Everything about RDR smells of polish, professionalism and experience. You can only make a sandbox game this good after you’ve made, like, ten really good ones already. What’s funny about the title is that the lack of technology ends up helping the developers: they don’t have to create an urban sprawl everywhere the player goes, transportation is slower which gives the game more time to load, and there’s fewer people around. With the same processing power available in “GTA IV” minus the need for skyscrapers, all that extra power starts finding its way to other places. Here are just a few:

-Character Designs. The game-rendered cut scenes really shine in a way no GTA’s ever have. The movement is more fluid, the faces more articulate and interesting. Especially the Sheriff of Armadillo, they really accomplished something there.

-Landscapes. Just breathtaking. You will ride into the sunset just for the heck of it.

-Sound Design. It’s just out of this world. The leather of your saddle cracks as you ride, wooden plans groan under your boots, even the sound of your weapon coming out of its holster is just dead-on.

-The Cover System. Which, for the first time ever, is actually really useful. Do a full sprint into cover and watch your character throw himself to safety. It’s awesome.

-Horses. I hate riding horses in games, because it never feels as satisfying or as real as it did in “Ocarina of Time.” RDR comes close to attaining that same level of weight and satisfaction in each gallop. The “press A to kick the horse then A again to keep going at that speed” system is a little clumsy to me, but the animation of the horse–especially the slight bend in its gallop at super high speeds–is great stuff.

-The Multiplayer. Wow.

Okay, this needs a whole section to itself.

The multiplayer is one of the most interesting experiments I’ve seen this generation. Rockstar seems to have incorporated themes and ideas from MMOs into a smaller-scale, higher yield formula. You enter “Free Roam,” which is effectively the game lobby, and then you run around looking for crap to do. Gang hideouts are scattered around, and by marching in and ridding them of their inhabitants, you gain XP and level up to get better equipment. Grinding for epic loots, anyone? Or, you can find the other people who are kicking around nearby and duke it out with them. Free Roam also acts a portal into other game modes, which are positioned throughout the various frontier settlements on the map.

Is this system successful? Absolutely. It isn’t quite perfect–it’d be nice to have a wider variety of potential activities available–and I doubt it will have the long-term staying power of MP experiences built from solid foundations, but it’s an incredibly interesting step forward and I’m surprised how functional it is. “GTA IV’s” multiplayer was a bold move that vacillated between paying off in droves and failing completely. RDR never fails, the experience never feels broken or unsatisfying, and when it hits its mark it’s a really gratifying experience.

But MAN is that a stupid title.