With the recent furore over alleged working conditions at Rockstar San Diego, questions could obviously be asked about Red Dead Redemption's development. Thankfully, our recent visit to Rockstar's London office revealed that the game was looking not only very polished at this stage, but every bit as promising as we'd seen before. We watched as Rockstar walked us through a mission in Mexico, and then we were let loose on a couple of missions in North America.
Red Dead Redemption takes place in the early 1900s, and you take control of John Marston, a reformed criminal now living happily on a farm with his family. Marston is faced with an ultimatum when the Bureau, a forerunner to what will become the FBI, forces him to track down his former gang members. They take his family as insurance, and while reluctant, Marston takes the journey across New Austin and West Elizabeth in North America and across Nuevo Paraiso in Mexico to hunt down his former partners in crime.
Rockstar introduced us to the game via a short demo, which took place on the Mexican side of the border. It was quite far into the main game according to our representatives, and Marston was helping the Mexican army take back a fort from some insurgents. The rebels had the advantage as they were on higher ground, but our Rockstar rep was able to take most of them out with the rifle. The combat is cover-based and not entirely dissimilar to Grand Theft Auto IV's--no surprise, given that the two games are powered using the same engine.
Red Dead does have plenty of its own refinements, though. For instance, the health system is regenerative, so all you need to do is take cover when you're beginning to approach death. The weapons are also authentic to the period, with Marston able to carry up to six different sidearms from a selection of shotguns, sawn-offs, sniper rifles, and pistols. The signature move is dead eye, where you can slow down time and take precise shots at multiple assailants. You can unleash dead eye at any time, but you need to kill enemies in order to fill up your bar.
As our Rockstar man fought his way up the hill towards the fort, he encountered a number of opportunities to show us the close-up kills. Using a pistol, you can make Marston shoot someone point-blank in the chest; and with a rifle, he'll point it upwards at the enemy's head and blow his brains out. It was a fairly tough battle overall, and it looked as though the Rockstar representative was close to death a couple of times, but he made it up the hill intact to recapture the fort. A cutscene ended the section with Marston meeting an obnoxious mid-ranking general called DeSanta. The general had his men murder the remaining rebels before boasting to Marston of his success.
Thankfully, when we got to play, we were introduced to a much gentler section from earlier in the game. We got a chance to familiarise ourselves with the controls, which on-foot are very similar to those in GTAIV. However, there's a huge emphasis on using horses in this game, and you need to learn how to ride a stallion, tie him up when you stop off at places, and whistle for him when he gets lost. Once we were acquainted with our steed, we picked up a mission to kill Bill Williamson and the Walton gang, enlisting the help of Sheriff Johnson to do so. We escorted the lawman on horseback, and the game features a one-button follow technique to allow you to maintain pace with another rider.
The gang battle was a much simpler affair than the Mexican encounter and clearly acted as a tutorial for the combat in the game. It was fairly simple to take out the majority of enemies using shoot and cover, but when it came to Williamson, we were instructed to injure him or kill him outright. Killing him will win you the mission and earn you a reward, but injuring him and tying him to the back of your horse will earn you more cash. There are many ways that you can approach each mission, and all your activity feeds into the fame and honour system. Your actions will make you more famous in the gameworld, but your moral approach to each situation will affect non-player character responses. If you're evil, then you'll probably earn more money, but the law will be less forgiving towards you, while do-gooders will see the police turning a blind eye to the occasional infraction but will earn less money overall.
Just as GTAIV captured the buzz of a real-life city, Red Dead Redemption looks to have captured the Wild West. While there are large expanses of desert, they're filled with an incredible amount of activity, from civilians in carriages getting held up, to wild animals roaming around looking for food. Of course, this being a Rockstar open-world game, you can interact with everything. For instance, you can save the civilians to earn a reward, or you can kill them and steal their property. You can also kill the animals and skin them for goods to sell in town, and these towns also look to be highly interactive. You can spend money in the stores, upgrade your weapons, or wipe out the entire population to turn it into a ghost town, only to see it slowly repopulate over time.
Our hands-on also allowed us some free time to play around in the world, seeing how it reacted to our actions. We sat down at one of the campsites, which act as your save points in the game, and talked to the other people there. We helped a farmer who was being terrorised by a gang, but arrived too late to save his daughter. In the resulting scene, the man cowered over the young girl, so we ran outside to leave him to his mourning. Thankfully, more entertainment was provided by shooting the vultures that began circling over the dead bodies outside.
The final mission we played was certainly the most entertaining. We met a drunk called Irish who helped us steal a Gatling gun. The gun was stored securely in a nearby mine, and once we fought through a large number of enemies, we found it was conveniently stored in a mine cart. So we grabbed hold of the mine cart and rode it back out aboveground, all while popping out of cover to pick off the remaining enemies. Once we'd gone through an Indiana Jones-style chase, we made it out with the item and took it to a getaway wagon to use on a later mission.
Red Dead Redemption is looking very promising, and our taste of the single-player game has left us itching to discover what Rockstar has planned for the multiplayer. Rockstar promises that all will be revealed before release, and with only a couple of months left before it lands on April 27 (April 30 in Europe), we don't have too long to wait. For more on the game, be sure to check out our video preview, and check back soon for more on the game.