Red Dead Redemption Hands-On

We got to sit down for several hours with a very late build of Rockstar's upcoming brutal Western epic Red Dead Redemption.

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Red Dead Redemption may be set in the wilderness of the Old West, but among the tumbleweeds, cacti, and ghost towns, there's a surprising amount of life. Wild horses roam, prostitutes vie for customers in the saloons of New Austin, and gangs of outlaws battle for control. The farms, towns, and hamlets all have their own character, and as you travel through the countryside, the flora, fauna, and people change with you as you make your way from the Mexican mesas to the bear-hunting grounds of the north.

Poker games can often be found in the rear of establishments that serve liquor in the front.

If you stay in one place and wait for night to fall, the whole picture changes too. Small campfires spring up around the wilderness, providing refuge for all manner of ne'er-do-wells and simple travellers, and the wildlife changes, with nocturnal creatures coming out to play. The same thing is true of the weather: violent thunderstorms can break out, changing the complexion of the land and the behaviour of pretty much everything living off it.

The breadth of the living world in Red Dead Redemption is something to marvel at. Wander into the saloon of an evening, and you can have a drink, listen to some music, and see the locals carousing with the resident ladies of the night. Hang around for a little while, and fights will sporadically break out; it's not uncommon for the local hoodlums to set upon one of the aforementioned ladies of easy virtue. You can just ignore these fights and let them run their course, or you can step in and hand out some old-fashioned justice through whichever weapons you have to hand. Killing troublemakers once they've kicked off won't earn you the attention of the local law enforcement, thankfully--you simply get credit for the kill and have the privilege of looting the body of the fallen miscreant.

This sort of encounter was typical of the first few hours we had with Red Dead Redemption. Riding through the wilderness, a distressed-looking fellow flagged us down at the side of the road, asking for help. Assuming this was a side quest in waiting, we pulled our trusty steed up and trotted over to him, only to be pulled off our horse and onto the receiving end of some rather unpleasant language. Thankfully a bullet to the back of his head solved the problem of the stolen horse, but the sorry episode served to underline how rough and vibrant New Austin is.

The lasso has more uses than just reeling in errant horses.

However, it's not all violence and bloodshed. During our first few hours, we were also taught in one of the game's very early storyline missions how to herd cattle and then wild horses. This was more fun than you might imagine; the game was fairly forgiving as we attempted to drive the cattle around the place, and it provided a nice break from the darkness and violence that pervades much of the rest of the game. After the mechanic is introduced, you eventually get a lasso through the next mission, in which you need to corral and break some wild horses. After lassoing the horse in question, you need to get off your horse and jump onto the wild beast. This triggers a balancing minigame where you have to work hard to not get thrown off. Thankfully, after around a minute of this, the horse is deemed to be broken and is then yours to keep.

Not all horses are created equal, though--the game features a huge range of different breeds roaming its wilds and available at various shops throughout the world. Different horses have varying stamina and top speeds, so you can pick whichever suits your needs, but you can have only one at any given time. Or, if you're feeling particularly coldhearted, you can just shoot the poor filly, skin her, and then flog her flesh and hide to the nearest merchant. The West is an unforgiving place.

The skinning process itself is fairly gruesome, especially for larger animals. The sounds in particular may unsettle the stomach, as may the blood spattering the screen as you see John struggle with his blade. If none of that does, then the sound of flies buzzing around the pink and skinless corpse on the floor shouldn't trouble you either. Killing and skinning the variety of creatures roaming the world also earns you respect as you work through the game's challenges. Killing a bird in flight, for instance, opens up the first level of a sharp-shooting challenge. Kill a few more, and level two opens up (along with a small but significant fame reward), which involves finding and shooting rabbits. Progressing through the various challenges (we also found hunting and flower-picking ones in our time with the game) earns you fame and access to new missions and items.

The game also features a number of out-of-game rewards. We unlocked only one during our few hours with the game--in a gunfight, we managed to take a non-player character's hat off (deliberately, of course) and were rewarded with a nice sombrero for our avatar. For more in-game rewards, there are a range of different activities to undertake. There are 15 in-game outfits to unlock, buy, or find, sometimes through long multistage processes. Among them is a sharp suit that allows you to cheat at poker, another that lets you pass yourself off as a gang member, and many others with bonuses we didn't get far enough through the game to see.

There are more-scripted side missions you can take up as well. These take the form of, among other things, wanted posters and random strangers asking for your help. Wanted posters are fairly simple affairs; bills are posted with bounties and information on the whereabouts of various criminals. Most of the criminals we tracked down had gangs around them, which made taking them down that much harder. If you try to take the criminal in question alive, your job is even harder, as his compadres have a habit of riding after you as you attempt to lug his trussed body back to town on the back of your steed, and they take potshots at you as you attempt to escape.

The stranger-based quests are slightly more interesting. The nature of the missions you get depends on your standing in the world--the more well known you are, the more missions will open up, for instance--and how honourable you are seen to be. A couple of the ones we picked led to mysterious bloody patches of ground, with hints of a greater subplot involving cannibalistic outlaws. The same mechanic that opens these up also leads to duels in the streets of the various towns you find yourself wandering through.

The duelling mechanic is an interesting one. Draw first, and you'll find yourself on the receiving end of attention from the law, but draw too late, and you'll find yourself taking an unscheduled dirt nap. Thankfully, the Dead Eye slow-mo mechanic works in these situations, making the early duels relatively easy to win. However, there is more to Red Dead Redemption than exterminating wildlife, protecting the virtue of filles de joie, and hauling bad guys in to the local sheriff's office. The main plotline progresses at a relatively leisurely pace as John recovers from his wounds and attempts to ingratiate himself with various locals who need his help.

Among the more interesting characters we met was the local snake-oil merchant, who needs you to help him hoodwink some locals into buying his products in exchange for help. His highfalutin ways may not be to John's taste--as he makes evident with a number of caustic comments in conversation--but the nature of the encounter and the mission help to break up the brutality of much of the rest of the game.

Brutality is never too far away, however. In one mission slightly later on, you get reports of a gang of outlaws causing mayhem, including graphic descriptions of murder and rape. Chasing them down, you scout their position by following circling vultures and coming across camps of slaughtered travellers. Eventually you reach a farm to discover some survivors--including some deeply traumatised women--as well as some who were not so fortunate. One of those less fortunate whom you briefly see naked and hanging from some rafters is an indicator of how few punches Red Dead Redemption pulls.

Unlike many of Rockstar's protagonists, John Marston has impeccable manners.

Red Dead Redemption is out on May 18 in North America and May 21 in Europe and Australia. Some texture pop-in and non-rendering objects were something of a blemish in the build we saw, as were a couple of technical issues that made a few missions a little harder than they needed to be. Hopefully Rockstar will use the time between now and then to sort out a few of the game's lingering technical issues, and we'll be cleaning up the West in a few short weeks.

Discussion

402 comments
MAXrat320
MAXrat320

preordered this game @ gamestop need to go pick it up tonite but in class reading all the news of it. looks really good. epic western brutality is perfect for my mood rite now

nate4545
nate4545

great multiplayer i love the beginning shoot out

nate4545
nate4545

dude this game is epic its the first really good western game cant wait

chizco_chizy
chizco_chizy

Thumps up to Rockstar game, this game is really nice, much better than call of juarez. GTA liberty city is f*CKED, but GTA NICO'S is good, can't wait to get this, Chizy say so (SWA)

Serious
Serious

sound like an awesome game. I just have to wait for the official reviews before I go get it.

throwback8
throwback8

Sounds awsome, I can see myself losing hours just skinning, hunting, picking flowers, and getting boligerant at the bar. Not to mention what will surely be an amazing and deep single player experience, accompanied by the awsome online lobby system and gametypes. Anywho, this is a day 1 buy for me along with Alan wake. Both pre-ordered and paid off and will be picking up at 12:01 tonight. Eighteen hours and counting. Will be on around 12:45am PST. XBL Gamertag: throwback8

fero4real
fero4real

like the sound f this game rockstar has always doen a good job and i cant wait to see this game first hand

Blayzino
Blayzino

The only thing Im worried about with this game is the graphics. everything else is sounding delicious though.. skinned corpses, naked women hanging... yummy.

Arnofactor
Arnofactor

im gonna have to wait a month after this game comes out :( cant affored it brand new :,(

EllisLad
EllisLad

Just pre-ordered this game, looks mint

Memoryitis
Memoryitis

all this talk about red dead redemption. Now its got be interested

thefireflame
thefireflame

every time i read about this game it is looking better and better

bugbag
bugbag

Interesting, I don't think I'll be getting it but it sounds alright.

Alex_09
Alex_09

I don't think I'm going to even play the story. GTA's action is nothing compared to this.

ParaBellum71
ParaBellum71

Have never been played a Rockstar game that I did not like. I go in with an open mind on each one, and come out astonished every time. They are one of the few gaming companies that I believe will never disappoint, and from he looks of this article, they will have another great game under their belt.

Bam-Bam-
Bam-Bam-

Can't wait.. So close, but yet soooooo da*n far away.. Waiting for great games is the worst. The last month is agony! Same with GTA IV.

breadisgood
breadisgood

Yeah you can, several of the achievements are related to public free roam matches.

waterdragon222
waterdragon222

Looks real nice. I wonder if if you don't have friends that you know that play the game you can just randomly join some guy's game?

italiano72
italiano72

@ GrimJesta just to let you know that the Spaghetti Western were the cool ones with Clint Eastwood, the cheesy ones with John Wayne were the Hollywood productions ;)

jodoxx
jodoxx

rockstar is like medas.. everything they touch turns to gold..i can't imagine what they'll do with the next gta or even the next red dead...they are the biggest developers at the moment..and think that they have internal problems or something...they surely deserve our money;p

sp1der81
sp1der81

so cant wait to get this game. the day i get this game my wife goes to her parents for the weekend how good of a coincidence is that!!! YEEEEHAAAAA!!!!!!!

GrimJesta
GrimJesta

LOL @ Aizou's comment. The curing cancer part actually made me laugh out loud. For the people that hate Westerns, I think you've been watching the wrong types, i.e. those cheesy "spaghetti Westerns" with John Wayne. It's right and proper that Rockstar is doing this setting, finally, since the West (at it's worst) was just as brutal, deep, and interesting as any other period in history. I say, "game on". :)

Aizou
Aizou

omg.... Rockstar's style with a wild west setting. By all logical means this game should be so awesome that it will actually cure cancer, raise the dead, and bring peace to the Middle East just from it's raw awesomeness.

PLAYMOARNOTEZ
PLAYMOARNOTEZ

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

True_Chaos_UK
True_Chaos_UK

Loved Revolver so much, and with its open world and what appears to be more classic Rockstar story telling this looks amazing.

termadoyle
termadoyle

the wild west setting is a BIG turn off for me. I really hate westerns. BUT it's rockstar so I'm saying this will be an awesome beast of a game.

GamerLegend10
GamerLegend10

@ Philthy101 it reviews games just after there release

Philthy101
Philthy101

I can't remember does GS usually review a game just before release date or after release.. Just curious.. doesn't matter either way I'm getting this bad boy on 21st for sure.

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

I played this on pax and this is my goty for 2010.

SavoyPrime
SavoyPrime

I'll be looking forward to the review for sure. Keeping an eye on this.

mxgod
mxgod

@ IRISH_VANDAL Hey thanks for replying back, I like when people reply back either negative or positive long as its feedback! : ) thats all I wanted to say.

whfreddy
whfreddy

My God, the ides of May will surely deliver woe unto mine bank account.

Bruce_the_Ugga
Bruce_the_Ugga

This game looks wicked, but I'm afraid it might get banned in Australia. I hate this country!

Jhraxlin
Jhraxlin

I hate GTA, but this looks mad awesome.

IRISH_VANDAL
IRISH_VANDAL

@ Jeebes007 - The tech issues were minor from what sebFlyte replied to me. He also answered a question of mine, the hands on was last week and he was playing on a "work-in-progress" version. and from my understanding, the delay was for about profits(with all of RS Ips across the board, Max Payne, LA Noire, etc) hope that helps.

Jeebes007
Jeebes007

I can't wait for this game, its getting better and better. I really hope its not that glitchy though and that they postponed the relese date to do a full check over all of the maps.

IRISH_VANDAL
IRISH_VANDAL

@mxgod - from my understanding, It will have "Dead Eye". Not sure if this mech will be a slower "paint your hits"(really, watch the trailers, you will understand better) with no auto-aim(which I am betting on) or not. And multi should be alot like GTA4 with a personal option for auto or not. And knowing RS, you will get thru it decently enough, but you will replay it because you couldn't get enough done on the first pass.. I am hot on this title(since it was announced). And the pain is only getting worse the longer I wait, lol. Hope this helps . IV

CJK_04
CJK_04

Sucks theres no scalping. That would be an awesome addition to the game and a brutal finisher!

mxgod
mxgod

Wonder how how accurate the aiming will be, will it will have auto aim or not, I hope that there is no auto aim (especially online) and that an arm shot will look different then a leg shot, and different from a head shot ect. ect. Also hope its hard! Hard games last longer!

IRISH_VANDAL
IRISH_VANDAL

btw, I am a Older Gamer(40, watched the birth of gaming with "Pong", which was my first console, no I dont still own it), I am a Father of 4 GREAT children(20F,15M,13M,3F) and a Grandfather of 1(9months,M). And every one of them game. Responsibly. I even have my woman gaming. Sometimes we solo it, sometimes we roll together. But I stay involved with them. If anyone is a mature gamer and looking for the like, MyXBL Tag is "IRISH VANDAL". I do own(and still have) all of my titles. Hit me up if that Posse needs a Rifleman, lol.

Handsome_Joe
Handsome_Joe

at ZT3V3 its ur opinon and its a fair one...... but as the protagonist u could kill the guys that assulted her. may not be a solution but sometimes watching hardships in games make them more heartfelt and more immersive(in my opinion), think about heavy rain, just a thought.

IRISH_VANDAL
IRISH_VANDAL

@ZT3V3, I can respect your option to not buy the title as long as you understand that not all titles are made for minors. Games are just like Movies or any other type of media. Some is meant for kids, but there are projects out there for an older crowd(over 17to18 years old) and RDR seems to be one of those titles. I myself will play this b4 I even let my children see it, and I will be the judge as to what is right or wrong. A part all parents should take. IMO.

ZT3V3
ZT3V3

including assaulting women in a game or any entertainment is offensive and I won't be buying it, enough said.

IRISH_VANDAL
IRISH_VANDAL

still in development. good, very good. I only hope RS reads this hands on and responds to clear up these issues as I want to see RS carry away the Gold with RDR. --- and 360 or PS3 fanboys --- both of you --- POSSE UP !!!!!