Red Dead Redemption: Early Impressions

I’ve just made it to Mexico in Red Dead Redemption, so I figure I’m about a third of the way through. I am, I suppose, grudgingly enjoying my time with it. Neither past Rockstar open-world games, nor past western games, have done much for me. I’ve been jokingly describing the game to my friends as Grand Theft Horse, and it’s kind of amazing how closely the game hews to the GTA 4 template.

Once again we are controlling a man whose back-story we are only vaguely privy to, who is compelled to go on one last mission to kill a former associate before starting a new life. He’s given jobs by an assortment of fools and stereotypes who keep promising they’ll help him just after he does this one more thing for them. “One more thing” inevitably involves traveling with the mission-giver for a time, all the better to let the mission-giver drone on about their absurd philosophies. The mission-giver then drops off our protagonist so that he can murder a couple dozen people, hopefully some of whom vaguely seemed like they deserved it. Maybe this is followed by a chase. It’s all pretty predictable.

There’s very little freedom within the missions. Notably, in a side-mission, there was a conflict between two characters. The game initially claimed Character A was a good guy hiring me to track down Character B. After capturing B, it was clear to me that the game was misleading me, and that A was going to kill B upon my delivering him to A. So I released B and confronted A, who drew on me, so I shot him. Mission Failed, since I didn’t deliver B to A. In another instance, in a main-story mission, the game instructed me to approach a crime scene, which I did, and then after a cut-scene I stuck around to actually inspect the crime scene for a minute. Mission Failed. It was apparently very important that I follow the quest giver immediately.

That said, the generous auto-aim and bullet-time systems mean that combat is brisk and satisfying. Chases work a lot better than in city-based games, since there aren’t other cars to run into, or street-maps to constantly consult. Not having to worry about crashing or missing an important turn every time I try to shoot at a pursuer is a real blessing, as is being able to subdue enemies from a bit of a distance via the lasso.

Marsden himself is well-acted, and he’s not unappealing – at least when he’s not committing mass-murder again and again for the flimsiest of reasons. Bonnie and the Sheriff also come across quite well. And while the western setting itself does little for me, I like the idea of setting the game so late in time, at a point when the frontier has closed, and it’s clear that the encroachment of Civilization is inevitable.

I didn’t love the horse-back riding model, but I’m coming to terms with its quirks. Having to hold the A-button to maintain speed, and then pound it periodically, is distracting. Between that and having to stay on trails to maintain speed, it gives very little opportunity to move the camera around and enjoy the landscape, which is a real shame.

The thing I dislike the most, and if anything is going to make me quit it’s this, is that I feel like the game doesn’t respect my time. The looting and skinning animations are too long (besides being repetitive). While I appreciate the fast-travel system, having to get off of roads and out of towns to use it is needlessly cumbersome. It’s especially annoying when I want to start a mission, and it isn’t available because I’ve arrived at the wrong time of day, so I have to ride away, camp, then come back. And while I like the idea of the challenge system, it’s absurd that progress towards a challenge that’s accomplished before the challenge is given out doesn’t count, especially given that all the challenges seem to be collection quests, and thus are time-consuming to begin with.

But on the whole, despite my bellyaching, I’m having fun. It’s a pleasant world to be in. The production values are sky-high. So I’m going to ride it out for a little longer, so to speak.

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