Red Dead Redemption Hands-On PreviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Jan 28, 2010
After months of showing off the tech, the physics, and the heat effects of Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games provided me with the most important step that it could do pre-release: Passing the controller over to me. After Rockstar’s last presentation in late November -- which I noted for the impressive landscapes of Nuevo Paraiso and aesthetics that will feel familiar for Grand Theft Auto players, but not so much that the “Grand Theft Wagon” nickname is quite fair -- I was about ready to take down some outlaws and get the lay of the land myself.
Although I had the chance to test out RDR for myself, the controller exchanged hands on several occasions, as X-Play’s Abbie Heppe and G4 Editor-in-Chief Adam Sessler also tag-teamed on the RDR missions that Rockstar had on display for us. So while I wasn’t able to play every mission, I had the chance to observe Rockstar San Diego’s efforts on display.
If you haven’t followed RDR until now, the sequel follows John Marston, a reformed gunslinger who is thrust into the moral ambiguities of the West just as the US government is trying to transition “wild” to “mild.” The days of lawlessness are behind men like Marston, but in Peckinpah-esque nature, he’s being called in for one last big job.
In the first mission, Marston is in pursuit of a former colleague. But uttering the man’s name strikes fear and hesitation into the hearts of anyone who hears it. Therefore, Marston gets roped into a “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” scenario with a marshal who’s not afraid to help, but needs some assistance of his own with an outlaw gang leader. For me, the mission served as a good display of “vehicular” navigation as I hailed my horse. It’s reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus, since you can summon your equine pal from near anywhere. If you time it right, you can even jump on the horse while it’s in motion.
Upon arriving at the gang hideout, I sided up against a wall and began picking off bandits, one by one. Although the cover system resembles GTA4, there’s no auto-aim to help you pick off enemies. There is, however, Dead Eye, a slow-motion effect which lets you target body parts and surgically strike them down. It’s good for those moments when you aim to maim, which usually gets you a better payout when you’re out on a bounty. I discovered that it’s especially useful when you’re stuck in a nighttime scenario and your target visibility is low. I discovered that during a minigame in which I picked off buzzards languishing outside a shootout under the stars.
Immediately following the bandit takedown, I rode to a small ranch, where bandits had taken the rancher’s daughter hostage. Yet again, a good chance to test out cover and Dead Eye. It also provided a glimpse into the potentially dynamic in-game moments you can get from side missions. I shot my way through several gang members -- as pointed out in my last preview, close quarters kills are rather violent and nasty -- before making my way into the rancher’s home, where the gang leader had his daughter hostage. One of my cohorts failed to save her during another playthrough, but I found that cover and Dead Eye allowed me to dispatch him easily...and shoot him in the crotch several times for some virtual schadenfreude.
Side note: After playing through Assassin’s Creed II, I’ve coined the term “squirrel moments.” These are dynamic and random elements in an open-world game that, like Dug, the talking canine in Pixar’s Up, cause you to immediately stop whatever you’re doing and chase them. Upon hopping aboard my trusty steed again, a Rockstar rep mentioned that Marston can earn extra cash by killing and skinning wild animals. This revelation was the “squirrel moment” of the demo. Suddenly, I steered the horse toward a pack of wild deer. After blasting the tail off a white-tailed elk, I was able to skin it for cash. And no, it’s a “camera fades in on flayed carcass” presentation, you sicko. The real problem was when I attempted to skin other creatures for money. During this point of the demo, I discovered that neither horses, dogs, nor squirrels can be skinned for money. I was also told repeatedly that I am a horrible person for trying.
I watched the final mission hands-off, which features an alcoholic Irishman who Marston saves earlier in the game (and including a snippet of menacing dialogue that’ll go down as one of the best one-liners you’ll hear in a game this year). Marston needs a Gatling gun to invade a military fort. Irish knows where it is. Unfortunately, he’s as trustworthy as he’s a teetotaler and the gun’s nestled in the gold mines of very hostile terrain.
At this point, Dead Eye is upgraded to the point that Marston can hit multiple targets, and sure enough, my co-worker was able to take down armed miners with ruthless efficiency. Ultimately, Marston liberated the Gatling gun and got out of the mine in one piece. Irish managed to procure a mine cart to easily transport the weapon out of the mine and into the clutches of mutual parties. At this point, the term “on-rails shooter” took on its most literal form as Marston clung to the back of the cart and picked off gunmen while he rode along the tracks to safety.
After getting my first hands-on time with Red Dead Redemption, I’m much more excited and interested in playing it. Yes, the tech on display is impressive, but I saw that during my last presentation. It’s the promise of a vast world that’s teeming with activities off the well-traveled dirt roads that holds a lot of promise. And while some of the controls are still being fine-tuned, I sense that it’s all falling into place as I type this, and mostly for the better. I’m usually quite averse to Westerns, but after this first-run, I have a feeling that early May will be spent skinning deer and shooting bandits in the nether regions. Perhaps you should consider getting on board, too.