It's been almost five years since the release of the original Red Dead Revolver, so it's been a long wait for a sequel. That game is called Red Dead Redemption, and it is currently being developed at Rockstar San Diego, the outfit responsible for Midnight Club, Table Tennis and Midtown Madness. We managed to sneak a look at a work-in-progress build of the game at Rockstar's London office, and can report back on what we saw.
Redemption takes place roughly 50 years after Revolver, just after the turn of the twentieth century. The story follows John Marston, a reformed career criminal, who is forced to do the bidding of the newly-formed Bureau of Investigation thanks to an apparently deadly ultimatum. Rockstar was deliberately vague on the details of the plot, but we do know that Marston's quest will take him to three areas in the game: the frontier, Great Plains, and south of the border to Mexico. Rockstar has always had desires to return to the Wild West according to Hamish Brown, Rockstar London's PR representative for the day. He claims that Redemption is just as ambitious as any of the Grand Theft Auto games, with wide open plains and a bigger world than any Rockstar game to date.
Our demo of the game started out in a typical western setting: brown dirt, scrub bushes, distant monoliths, and some suspicious-looking cowboys loitering around the outskirts of a ghost town. It seems that a friend of Marston's, Bonnie, has been kidnapped by outlaws, and in exchange he needs to deliver a sheriff and his prisoner over to them. Somewhere along the way, the deal goes sour and Marston and his posse need to shoot their way through town to rescue Bonnie before she‘s hanged. Thankfully, you have a healthy range of weapons at your disposal, including six shooters, shotguns, carbines, rifles, knives, axes, Gatling guns, and TNT.
Fans of the previous game will be familiar with Dead Eye, which makes a return appearance in Redemption. This bullet time mode allows you to take precise aim at enemies whether you’re on foot or in the saddle. When using single-handed weapons you'll also be able to line up several targets on one or multiple enemies at a time. Redemption features a regenerative health system, so hiding behind cover for a few seconds is enough to heal your wounds. We're told the cover system will be similar to the one in GTA, and the natural environment will provide protection including rocks, vegetation, and even dead carcasses.
While you'll be able to traverse great distances thanks to coaches and trains, horseback will also play a major part. Each horse will have different abilities; if you steal one from town it should be in fairly well-kept condition, or you can choose to rough it and train a wild stallion instead. No game set in the wilderness would be complete without some wildlife and Redemption features plenty of varmints to shoot. A dedicated "ecology" system ensures you'll encounter snakes, armadillos, cougars, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, buzzards and even bears along your journey.
In addition to randomly generated animals, we're told there'll be hundreds of procedural events as you explore the world. On our journey into another town we saw a woman whose stagecoach had broken down. On closer inspection, however, it was actually an ambush with several bandits appearing from behind the coach. Heading down the road, we saw a man being mauled by a pack of coyotes--you can choose to help him, but you risk having the pack turn on you instead. These events take place randomly around the clock but they're not all dangerous--expect to get the occasional friendly invite such as sharing a campfire meal with some pilgrims after dark. If you fancy human companionship, you'll be please to know that a multiplayer mode has been confirmed, although no details were revealed during our demo.
You can trade with merchants in towns, buying and selling a variety of goods including general supplies, weapons and even animal skins you've collected. We strolled into an abandoned saloon during the day, which turns into a rowdy, honky-tonk location at night once the townsfolk have knocked off work. While the sun's up, however, they'll get about their business and you can observe them going about their daily chores if you so desire. While you’re in town you're able to play a range of mini games and gamble your money away in poker. In one mini game, we saw Marston try his hand, quite literally, in a wager of good ol' five finger fillet. Using the A and B buttons for knife stabs, each round gets subsequently faster, and harder, which can easily result in a painful flesh wound. As with all the best Rockstar open-world games, Marston will be able to wreak havoc on the towns, but Redemption will have a robust law enforcement system in place to stop any law-breakers.
Next, we saw Marston take a trip south, where his services were requested by the Mexican Army to protect a supply train. Riding alongside the train, the aim is to take out rebels while defending the train. You can jump off your trusty stead onto the moving train (and back again) or even highjack other horses on the move. The scenery south of the border looks splendid, with rivers, palm trees, ridges, gorges and huge valleys showing off the Rage engine's technical prowess. The draw distances look particularly impressive, spanning huge valleys and finishing in the far distance with majestic mountain ranges. The world will also be populated with forests, rivers, plains, bustling towns, small outposts, Indian reservations, and possibly even some snow. There’ll also be a dynamic weather system and day/night cycle in the game.
The game will also boast a physics engine that's a hybrid of Rage and NaturalMotion's Euphoria, which will be applied to Marston, NPCs, and even animals to make their animation more lifelike. Anyone familiar with GTA will instantly recognise the health/map gauge in the bottom-left corner of the screen. However, this time around it comes complete with an added horse life gauge. The sounds of Redemption appear to be just as authentic as its graphics, and we heard plenty of ambient western-themed music and effects which helped to create an atmosphere of tension.
Red Dead Redemption is riding into town this year on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. We're certain to get behind the reins soon, so keep an eye out for more coverage in the coming months.