RETROSP EC­TIVE: RED DEAD RE­DEMP­TION

This one-off western won­der is also one of the finest open-world ad­ven­tures we have

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Martin Kitts

Com­bin­ing the hard­core fo­rum cred of a cult favourite with the sales fig­ures of a gen­uine main­stream hit, Red Dead Re­demp­tion saw the Grand Theft Auto for­mula trans­planted into the last days of the Old West, to hugely suc­cess­ful ef­fect. In much the same way that GTA dis­tils the essence of mod­ern Amer­ica as seen through the lens of Hol­ly­wood, Re­demp­tion is Rock­star’s homage to a pe­riod of his­tory that’s dis­tant and strange, yet some­how also in­tensely fa­mil­iar.

Set a cen­tury ago, the game fol­lows John Marston, a re­tired out­law who, de­spite hav­ing re­nounced his former life and taken on the role of a sim­ple farmer, has been press-ganged into bring­ing his old part­ners-in-crime to jus­tice. Leav­ing his fam­ily be­hind, Marston heads out to the bor­der state of New Austin and sets about hunt­ing down his former com­rades, aided and abet­ted by a cast of stereo­types who will be recog­nis­able to any­one who’s watched more than a fist­ful (yes!) of Clint East­wood movies.

You’ll meet Bon­nie Mac­Far­lane, the feisty cow­girl who’s more than a match for the men, and el­derly sharp­shooter Lan­don Rick­etts, who can still teach the young guns a trick or two. There’s griz­zled law­man Leigh John­son, world-weary but in­cor­rupt­ible, and naive jour­nal­ist Jimmy Saint, un­wit­tingly wan­der­ing into dan­ger while re­search­ing tales of the west for his gen­tle read­ers in the city. And let’s not for­get slip­pery con­man Nigel West Dick­ens and the nu­mer­ous swag­ger­ing gun­slingers and ruth­less ban­di­tos, all of whom help Re­demp­tion tick ev­ery box on the big check­list of western clichés. But while the plot would not have won any Os­cars if it had been made into a film, as a game it all makes per­fect sense. Its job is to give you a rea­son to ex­ist in the vast world the de­vel­op­ers have cre­ated, so why not pop­u­late it with char­ac­ters you al­ready know?

How­ever, just as in GTA, the real star of the show is the open-world en­vi­ron­ment. It’s a mas­ter­fully re­alised recre­ation of the vis­tas we’re all so used to see­ing in the movies. And while it’s com­pressed into a nav­i­ga­ble size it’s still able to evoke that cru­cial sense of wilder­ness and iso­la­tion. Camp­fires glow faintly in the dis­tance at night, and in the morn­ing the sun re­veals the rocky ex­panse of New Austin’s rugged, dusty ter­ri­tory. There are few set­tle­ments, and of­ten, after you spot tell­tale signs of habi­ta­tion, they’ll turn out to be lit­tle more than des­o­late ru­ins. The de­vel­op­ers saw the im­por­tant role that na­ture plays in sim­u­lat­ing a time and place be­fore cities, and Re­demp­tion’s epic scenery is still as good as it gets.

High plains drifter

The game’s sig­na­ture mo­ment – prob­a­bly the most cel­e­brated scene in any of Rock­star’s games – comes when you first un­lock Nuevo Paraiso, the Mex­i­can state that for the first few hours you only get to view from the dis­tant Amer­i­can side of the river. Once the bridge has been re­paired and you can cross the wa­ter, Mex­ico is re­vealed up close – an en­tire new land, un­mis­tak­ably for­eign, wait­ing to be ex­plored – while a gen­tle acous­tic bal­lad plays. It’s a beau­ti­ful and sur­pris­ingly mov­ing mo­ment, although in the un­patched orig­i­nal ver­sion any­one who got off their horse to have a look around at this point would find that the mu­sic cut out, never to be heard again, which was a bit of a mood killer.

Ob­jec­tives are doled out by var­i­ous char­ac­ters, the more im­por­tant ones of­fer­ing their own threads of the main plot to fol­low while mi­nor char­ac­ters of­fer side quests, mini-games and di­ver­sions. These op­tional mis­sions ac­tu­ally pro­vide some of the weird­est and most in­ter­est­ing glimpses into the life of New Austin’s odd­ball res­i­dents: an old lady in a wed­ding dress waits by a ru­ined church for the groom who never showed up;

be­low Luisa plays a key role dur­ing your trip down to Nuevo Paraíso. Not a happy story…

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