Red Dead Revolver Preview

Find out how the West was won in our hands-on preview of Capcom's Red Dead Revolver.

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Traditionally, Western-themed games don't sell that well. After all, LucasArts most assuredly isn't funding its wide range of Star Wars games with profits from the ill-fated PC shooter Outlaws. Nor is Activision reaping any great reward from the remains of its now-defunct Gunslinger project, which was slated to be one of the first PlayStation 2 games. But apparently this news never made it to Japan--Capcom's been cashing in on 10-gallon hats and tomahawks since 1985's Gunsmoke. Ever the risk taker and boundary-pushing pioneer, Capcom will soon be responsible for both the reason-defying Steel Battalion and the unique Red Dead Revolver.

Apparently this town wasn't big enough for Red and this other fellow.
Apparently this town wasn't big enough for Red and this other fellow.

As essentially a tongue-in-cheek tribute to spaghetti Westerns, the game is a sometimes sentimental but usually satirical glimpse at the life of cowboys and Indians. It's also a far cry from a product that began life as a SWAT simulation--or the game you may have seen at this year's E3, for that matter, having been delayed until March 2003 for some serious overhauling. A joint project between Capcom's internal teams and their American compatriots at Angel Studios, Red Dead Revolver has a distinctly Asian and occasionally tasteless sense of humor, despite its US roots. Even so, it should be one of the most interesting games of the coming year for PlayStation 2 owners, who'll hopefully benefit from its transition into a full-fledged action adventure with an especially gory presentation.

You won't find too many friendly faces in Indian country.
You won't find too many friendly faces in Indian country.

The game is set in 1881 and stars Red, an orphaned lad who was raised by a mysterious figure known only as the Indian Master. In a flashback sequence set 10 years before the game picks up and reminiscent of a Young Indiana Jones intro, this wise old shaman will lead you through a tutorial that breaks down the basics of Red Dead Revolver's gunplay. Why? Because this game is primarily a straightforward two-fisted third-person action shooter (although stealth missions, escort runs, and ample conversation with NPCs are promised). During this opening sequence, practicing against pop-up dummies will improve the hero's aim, which is a good thing, because at one point the poor outlaw will have a dream that prompts him to spend his life seeking revenge on the newly revealed killer of his parents and sister. It's a novel approach to setting the stage for a rather typical tale, but thankfully Red Dead Revolver's story will not be the only compelling feature it will have to offer.

The game's single-player campaign consists of a number of wildly varying scenarios set in distinctly defined levels. Some of the game's early missions will take place in a town (at day and night) and in a trading camp, and later missions will see you galloping alongside a train on a horse, fending off unforeseen ambushes, trying to prevent an assassination attempt on the president, and sneaking out of an Army compound after being captured by unsympathetic soldiers. Additional objectives range from collecting bounties (your chosen trade) on various lowlifes' heads to rescuing damsels in distress as chivalry demands. Perform well enough and eventually you'll even begin to assemble and watch over your very own town. While city-building elements like the ones featured in Dark Cloud aren't incorporated into Red Dead Revolver's design framework, you will wind up policing the new outpost and catering to its citizens' specific needs, which provides you with an assortment of additional mission goals and side quests.

A Sick Sense of Humor

Though, the thing Red Dead Revolver focuses on above all else is its frenetic firefights. When you enter a given stage, you'll be provided with a brief intro and overview of enemy placement, and you'll then be thrust immediately into a hectic gun battle. Every level is populated by a cast of colorful characters, all of whom sport curious names like Gigolo, Ugly, and Scrooge. You'll spend most of your time battling standard enemies, but there's also a troublesome boss character thrown into each level for added effect. While the conceptual undertones of the battle sequences are fairly sophisticated, the jokes and action that ensue as combat unfolds are entirely lowbrow. You'll watch in stunned silence as captured cowpokes run around with sticks of dynamite protruding from their bare bottoms, for example. In one scene, outlaws dressed as ghosts confront Red, and supposedly they were originally intended to be members of the Klu Klux Klan. Scrapping that idea was probably a wise decision, but you shouldn't infer any negative connotations from this nixed attempt at humor--it's just another part of the bizarre comedic vibe permeating the game.

The game is able to render impressive lighting effects--a scorching high noon sun is depicted in this picture.
The game is able to render impressive lighting effects--a scorching high noon sun is depicted in this picture.

Unfortunately for concerned parents, another running theme is excessive violence. Although the game's characters are comically exaggerated and portrayed in as lighthearted a manner as possible, there's no masking the spray of gore and flying hats that accompany a direct headshot. Red Dead Revolver features location-based damage (although single-shot kills aren't the norm), and it allows you to operate under a manual or an automatic targeting system. The analog sticks are used for movement, aiming, and evasive maneuvers, and so far, the combat seems to be a fairly fluid affair when using automatic targeting systems. It becomes significantly more difficult if you have to go into manual mode for greater accuracy. What's more, in both scenarios, players can power a "tough" gauge that, when full, lets you send bullets spraying in every direction. And once the lead starts flying, it doesn't stop until all adversaries are stone-cold dead.

Some missions will task Red with riding alongside a moving train.
Some missions will task Red with riding alongside a moving train.

It comes with the territory, though, as boisterous battles are the product's main selling point. Picture a Western town at high noon. Bullets begin to fly as sombreroed snipers stand upon rooftops and issue taunts while showering rifle fire down. Horses whinny in the distance as masked riders come charging into view, pistols ablaze, charging the hero's position. Red ducks, dodges, dives, and rolls for cover while blasting foes out of hand or aiming for specific parts of their torso, watching health gauges drop all the while. When it's time for a quick exit, he shoots an opponent out of his saddle, takes his steed, and then makes for a handy health power-up. Once a fight is completed, you'll see an ending cinematic sequence that's appropriate to the order in which you eliminated foes and dependent on the degree of success achieved in that regard. Afterward, cash earned by killing troublemakers is spent on six-shooters, double guns, shotguns, and various weapon stocks that'll take the edge off the next firefight. And that's just the barest glimpse at the opening stages.

Details make the game. Shoot a hulking ogre of a man in the leg and he'll limp like a wounded dog, threatening to keel over. Pop a tall, slim foe in the arm and he'll staggers backward, stunned and in obvious pain. Chaining hits together is half the fun, with location-based hit animations causing enemies to writhe and dance in sick fashion, and you're encouraged to brutalize opponents as effectively as possible. This technique isn't just for face value, either--fail to juggle troublemakers into oblivion and certain members of the enemy entourage will flank your position, commence head-on blitzkriegs, or seek cover and wail upon the hero. As tactics go, your adversaries aren't stupid.

Style Meets the West

The game's backdrops explode--sometimes literally--with the force of these assaults, and hired hit men will attack in waves, often presenting severe roadblocks to your approach to their leader, who is usually the fattest, most grizzled one of the bunch. You'll even recognize one by his beet-red skin tone and signature sneer. Because the game's focus is on the small touches, it's only natural that the animations appear to be of great quality, even this early into the production phase, and watching Red and friends dash about and exchange fire should prove highly satisfying. Then again, what else would you expect from a game in which the loading screen features a pleasant depiction of the hero flipping his gun around his hand like a seasoned 'slinger?

Clint Eastwood's likeness clearly inspired Red's design.
Clint Eastwood's likeness clearly inspired Red's design.

On top of a sizable solo campaign, Capcom and Angel also promise multiplayer support for up to four participants at any given time. Final decisions haven't been made just yet on what specific modes will make the cut, but basic deathmatch options are a given. The design team is also considering battle royal and team variations on this theme that would see players choosing from more than 100 available character skins and taking to the streets, deserts, and canyons that make up the game's territorial backbone for some serious mayhem. According to a company spokesman, those preparing the multiplayer features are looking to preserve the fast-paced feel of the lone-wolf outing and then add to it by introducing subtle variations on the basic play mechanic.

In the same vein as the humorous high jinks depicted onscreen, the theme song and featured audio tracks are as goofy as they are adorable. A distinct south-of-the-border flavor highlights their melodic verses, with most tracks parodying the traditional fare you've become accustomed to from cinematic sojourns into California and Mexico. Many of tunes are distinctly hummable, and players are encouraged to sing along--not that you'll have much choice once these cute compositions get stuck in your head. The soundtrack hasn't completely come together yet, but it looks as if it will be impressive when it's finally complete.

The game's cast of characters is certainly a colorful one.
The game's cast of characters is certainly a colorful one.

The graphics, too, will likely win audiences over with adequate texture work and lighting effects and a distinct sense of personality. All your foes are a unique individuals, from their facial expressions down to their styles of dress, and this little design trick helps make the play experience that much more immersive. Likewise, the zany animations that help set the stage in the periodic in-engine cutscenes and accompany direct hits also give the title character. Laugh out loud funny the whole affair isn't thus far, but it does elicit a few chuckles here and there.

Right now, seemingly no other games aim to contend with Red Dead Revolver's setting or subject, which is perhaps both a positive and negative for its creators. Even though there's opportunity for great success, the situation just reinforces what hard-core gamers already suspect--the launch of this game is a grand experiment that could reinvent an entire genre or blow up in its progenitors' faces. For now, stay tuned for more info. We'll see if this actually proves to be how the West was won.

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