Red Dead Redemption Exclusive Hands-On

We got to see a little bit more of the Old West's death throes in an exclusive look at some of the single-player campaign.

Red Dead Redemption has been on our radar for some time now, briefly piquing our interest back in 2005 before slipping into the night for a full four years and resurfacing before the Electronic Entertainment Expo last year. For the uninitiated, it's an open-world third-person action game set in the dying days of America's Wild West, in a massive expanse of wilderness straddling the US-Mexico border. You play as John Marston, a reformed bandit who has been blackmailed by The Bureau into hunting down some of his former partners in crime.

You don't want to mess with John.

This is no small deal, either. The world open to you in Red Dead Redemption is the largest that Rockstar has ever created, and it's teeming with life, both human and not. As you ride around the wilderness, you come across everything from significant towns to deserted shacks, runaway carts, damsels in distress…and even the occasional bunny. The game features 40 different types of creatures, including vultures that circle over dead bodies, lions that roam in the hills, and smaller creatures, such as rabbits, deer, and coyotes. Not only do these various beasties interact in a natural way with each other, but all of them can be killed and skinned (or plucked, in the case of birds), and various bonuses are promised for avid hunters through sharpshooting challenges and collecting skins for clothing.

To track down your former colleagues in this massive world, you need to ride your way through what remains of the West, rounding up a ragtag bunch of ne'er-do-wells to acquire the information, skills, and hardware that you need. The first of these we met was a drunkard by the name of Irish, "a compulsive liar and braggart" who is "rarely without a bottle in his hand." The Rockstar reps on hand explained that this mission is one of the later ones involving this colourful Mick, as was evidenced by the repartee between Irish and John as they galloped to their destination, with John expressing his disapproval at Irish's previous behaviour--he has "an uncanny knack of disappearing at the first sign of trouble"--in the sort of colourful language one might expect. This is typical of the world of Red Dead Redemption, according to Rockstar, as John is forced into allying himself with a number of unsavoury types he would rather not have anything to do with.

This mission was relatively late in the game's first section, so John was equipped with a fairly decent array of weaponry and had the full benefits of the game's Dead Eye system. At first, this is a combat element that just slows the world down when activated, but later in the game, it turns into a system that resembles a slimmed-down version of Fallout 3's VATS system. Once Dead Eye is activated, you move the reticle around the screen and paint targets on your foes, and then a single press of the trigger results in a lightning-quick volley, taking down multiple foes. This can be precisely applied in various interesting ways. If you're feeling particularly sadistic, this mode is useful for incapacitating your enemies--if you target their kneecaps in Dead Eye, you can saunter up to them at your leisure and finish them off with a wide range of executions that vary from weapon to weapon.

The Dead Eye system is particularly useful when you're in motion. The end of our adventure with Irish included a brief ride downhill on a mine cart, with a number of angry miners and one booby trap to take out on the way. The Dead Eye system made it much easier to take potshots while hanging off the back of the speeding cart. The same goes for attempting to shoot from horseback; it's possible to use the regular aiming system, but the Dead Eye system makes it easier. You do need to pick your moments, however, since your Dead Eye meter will recharge only as you make kills, and you never know around which corner you're going to find a particularly large group of outlaws out for your blood.

Having wrapped things up with Irish, we moved on to an exclusive look at one of the game's more unsettling characters, Seth Briars. He is, to put it bluntly, completely insane. He's a prospector driven mad through a combination of too much sun and an obsession with finding buried treasure. When you meet up with him for this mission, he is in an animated conversation with a long-dead corpse, and things just go downhill for him from there. Fighting your way through a set of bandits with the madman on your tail--and quite often charging out in front in his lust for his treasure--is a fairly tense affair, and the game's Ennio Morricone-style music adds to the atmosphere.

One very pleasing touch was that on exiting the house, the sky was thick with vultures looking to snack on the outlaws we had to fight through outside. These vultures could in turn be killed as part of one of the game's sharpshooter challenges, and their feathers looted, which should lead to rewards further down the line.

Sometimes the battles between old and new technology become more than metaphorical.

Thankfully, not all those people whose help you need are drunk, insane, or just out for a quick buck. One character who we've met before is the marshal of Armadillo, Leigh Johnson. He's a grizzled old lawman, keen on keeping the peace in his patch of the west. His local knowledge and firm grip on Armadillo mean he's an important character throughout much of the first part of the story, according to Rockstar, and the mission we got to play was one of the later encounters with him.

While the marshal is sympathetic to your goals, he's not too keen on taking any action that might disturb the somewhat fragile peace he's helped to bring to his district. In order to get his help, you need to first help him clear up a few of the current pockets of nastiness in his district. The mission we saw was quite a long way through this particular story arc and involved riding out into the wilderness with Johnson, as well as his deputies, in order to put down some cattle rustlers to rescue hostages they had taken.

After an initial cutscene and the banter we've come to expect from Red Dead Redemption, we rode out with the marshal alongside and the deputies following close behind. The outlaws around the place had to be dealt with as we arrived and dismounted, which required a combination of close-up kills with long-range executions, thanks to the mix of snipers and close-quarters enemies to dispatch. This chance to play around with the various weapons on offer was entertaining; those enemies crouching behind rocks really didn't enjoy our choice of fire bottles--proto-Molotov cocktails, effectively--to flush them out of their cover, judging by their anguished screams. The accuracy possible in the sniping combined with our itchy trigger finger also led to a lucky escape for at least one sniper as he simply got his hat shot off before we had to take cover ourselves.

Shortly after this point, though, we had the choice of accompanying the marshal down one path or following the hapless deputies down another. Deciding that the deputies could probably cope by themselves we followed the marshal to help him deal with more snipers and tougher outlaws attempting to pick off those aforementioned chinless wonders. After rejoining the deputies, we finished off the final few rustlers in pleasingly brutal fashion. Some of the finishing moves, which vary from weapon to weapon, will certainly please the more bloodthirsty among the audience, though the ability to kneecap a cattle rustler then execute him at close range with a shotgun might raise some eyebrows among the Daily Mail--or Fox News--fraternity when the game hits stores in May.

The marshal is one of the more level-headed characters in Read Dead Redemption's crazy world.

The combination of the fast-paced combat, fully realised open world, and great characters looks likely to be a winning one for Rockstar at this point. The Dead-Eye system is plenty of fun for combat--the joy of kneecapping someone shouting god-fearing abuse at you cannot be overstated--but the combat outside of that seemed to be working well too. The build we saw still had a few rough edges, but we're looking forward to seeing the final product and the post-launch downloadable content that Rockstar San Diego has planned.

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Discussion

432 comments
presgore
presgore

i already reserved for this game. hopefully rockstar games will come out with a demo, it's about we gamers coulld play this game at home and then buy.

MW2geek
MW2geek

dang that sucks i have had this game pre-ordered for a while now

Venom341
Venom341

This sucks. I'm gonna be out of money if games like this keep coming out. Curse you urge to pre-order!

thetomato13
thetomato13

Out right in time for my exams. S#%*.

JoeDivision51
JoeDivision51

this one plus halo reach , fallout vegas , prince of persia , lost planet 2 , crackdown 2 ... man im gonna have a busy year , my GF is going to be pissed

game-on-man
game-on-man

This game looks really cool, I shall pick this one up......love western games

Broadcloak
Broadcloak

well, another sixty dollars for me to spend this May.But I'm sure it'll be worth every penny!

King_Giles_III
King_Giles_III

Finally a real cutting edge sand-box style game which offers excitement over and over. I'm still not bored of GTA IV and to me this looks like it will be even better. i was so disappointed with just cause 2. hopefully this will restore my confidence in action packed 'free-roamers'. cant wait.

WoodzHorizon
WoodzHorizon

Customization is key to games like this, im hoping guns n clothes and stuff are majority customizable. Then again im buying it anyway.

Jeebes007
Jeebes007

I can't wait to go hunting, escpecially with my friends. I hope though there isn't much lag, i owuld hate to be shooting a bear from 100m away and i thens appears 2 feet away about to shred me to pieces.

jonreiner
jonreiner

whats better is pre order at gamestop cuz ya get weapons pack and awesome in game outfit...thats where i preordered mine

jefferson1964
jefferson1964

Just put my Pre-Order in with Amazon...ya get a $10 gift card plus the weapons pack with pre-order...not too bad...cya in the wild west....

jefferson1964
jefferson1964

this looks like its going to be great...really luv the open world and getting together gangs and have gang wars or hunting down bandits or playing as one...lots of potential with this game

Khaos_Kiwi
Khaos_Kiwi

This game is going to be the new benchmark for 'free-roam' games. Other dev's better be able to jump high!!!

danisthatyou
danisthatyou

Im so pissed that they pushed the release date back 20 days!

diskodebaux
diskodebaux

I love that it's being sold as "from the makers of Grand Theft Auto!!!!!!", even though it isn't. "From the publishers of Grand Theft Auto!!!!!!" is okay, but please don't have the audacity to outright lie to my face. Rock Star North and Rock Star San Diego may collaborate on elements of the GTA franchise, but San Diego are not "the makers". Sorry, got out of bed on the wrong side today :)

RTUUMM
RTUUMM

OH WOW I knew of this game for a while now but never payed any attention to it, but HOLY HELL I am hyped for this game.

memtee
memtee

Yeah i loved Gun for the PS2. Been waiting for more than 6 years for a better Western open world game. This looks like the winning number. Cannot wait Rockstar, thankyou for your amazing inventions.

stan_boyd
stan_boyd

i liked GUN and this looks 10x better i am stoked

grasshopper6
grasshopper6

oh yea this is gonna be next big thing for rockstar along with GTA oh man can't wait gotta start saving

rpgnutt
rpgnutt

RDR does not need a co-op this is for u nd u only live the game on ur own beside its only one person JOHN whose ya buddy gonna play.

LeMarfanz
LeMarfanz

@omegacy relax, its a quote from the southpark episode with Pioneer Village, not a direct assault on your mother, or the game for that matter. I just get a kick out of it, but my deepest of apologies if I offended you.

omegacy
omegacy

@LeMarfanz Have you read up much on this game at all? RDR is not set in 1864. It's set at the turn of the century in the years leading up to the first world war, as in World War 1! So this game is set at some point between 1900-1912 or something close to that. Im ready to hear some multiplayer announcements though. I'm perfectly fine with hunting grizzlies with my bare hands but if i can do it with friends? Sweet! Bait!..........I mean friends!

Amauris96
Amauris96

Looks amazing, obviously. I hope they take there time and work out glitches,lags,etc. I am sure they won't have any considering GTA 4 never really had any unless you wanted to get into one, but yea I hope they add lots of extra details,gameplay,charaters actions,etc. No doubt this'll be one of my favorite games.

KoRniTo
KoRniTo

I just have to watch this preview everyday. Epic thing going on.

UKMustard
UKMustard

So this will be similar to a GTA set in the Wild West? If this is the case I want it badly, not sure I can wait until the end of May!

9pc
9pc

Cant' wait, it's gonna be awesome.

ottolopez84
ottolopez84

I wonder what the soundtrack of the game will be like? I expect to listen at least one song of ennio morricone.

dougk23
dougk23

My friend I can't wait for this to come out

Arab-man666
Arab-man666

It may have taken forever, but this is Rockstar. Their worst is most developers best, and their putting a LOT of effort into this one.

LeMarfanz
LeMarfanz

What do you mean, "back then?" Don't forget, it's 1864

Dwarf_Archer
Dwarf_Archer

As a casual Wild West-era history enthusiast, I can't help but feel afraid that they will butcher the facts in favor of a fun game. Hopefully they'll include a lot of different firearms. I would prefer that the fights looked and played more like the gutter-brawl shoot-outs of the era rather than a western-themed gears of war. Here's hoping.

ace3507
ace3507

the games looks like it's coming out to be super polished, wonder if u can train a bear to do tricks? lol

finallyalex
finallyalex moderator

@Alex_09 Yes, you can. There are a range of outfits unlockable through various means; hunting and skinning creatures will get you a wild man animal skin outfit, for instance, or visiting various shops will give you the opportunity to get yourself a sharp suit. There may also be unlockables through in-game challenges to, though I don't have precise details yet.

wondernova
wondernova

"hunting was vital for survival". the vid gave the impression that this game is a documentary on the west!

nabed4t
nabed4t

anyone know if it will be released on pc? Game Informer Magazine this month stated that it would be but I wasn't sure if that was an error. I suppose sooner or later it will, like GTA 4. Either way, shaping up to be a great game.

pwc3107
pwc3107

@Alex 09 Yes, there are several outfits to choose from, and they all give certain stat bonuses. The gamestop pre-order bonus simply offers a unique outfit.

Alex_09
Alex_09

By the way does anyone know if we can change our outfits? I'm not expecting much but it would be nice to have some options without preordering from gamestop.

Alex_09
Alex_09

@Psi-tan I think it's meant to describe something horribly painful that leads to death. So if you were shot in the stomach and left for two days you would be "in death throes". Pretty outdated English if you ask me.

classic7
classic7

finaly a western game i actually wanna play. Rock Star really out did themselves this time. Their not half assing this one like the original.

mattinavat
mattinavat

Hmmm...maybe I'll buy this instead of Cabella's Deer Hunter...

ermac1986
ermac1986

Well thanks a lot cousin, that's $60 bucks down the toilet for me because of you informing me of this game. I'm a slave.