Monday, June 20, 2011

Latest Addiction: Read Dead Redemption

Few games have the ability to push the line of "No, they won't do that. They can't. Can they?" But in 2010, there was at least one game that left such an impact on this gamer. An interesting storyline, unique characters, and general badassery makes this game. Grand Theft Auto meets the Wild West meets... Kill Bill? This is Red Dead Redemption.

Now, while this game did have a nice emotional impact, that's not saying this game didn't have its faults. At times the story telling can be a bit weak and some controls take a bit getting used to. It can also be pretty preachy throughout the game, to the point that it becomes more of a political statement than a realistic story plot. So let's dive into this game and take a good hard look at it.

Overall Plot
Enter John Marston. There is no clean voice over or fancy opening that sums up the plot of the story; rather, there is an air of some mystery around this man that you control around the untamed West. There's a long amount of time spent watching John sitting in a train. Yes, the intro is essentially watching him listen to different people talk on the train about people who will have little bearing on the plot. Perhaps RDR is trying to set a tone of suspense, but it falls a little flat. I often found myself asking my friends, "Okay, so when is the game going to start?"

After a very long intro, the game quickly picks up. After the introductory chapter you learn that John is a former outlaw trying to reform his life. However, the federal government didn't just want to grant him immunity after killing rich folks (shockingly) and decided that he must round up his former gang members and, one by one, put a stop to them. If he doesn't, they will execute his wife, another former gang member, and his innocent son. The task of taking down these notorious outlaws is daunting in itself, but he also must do a series of tasks to get strangers on his side and help him. Sometimes he makes unshakable bonds, like with the MacFarlanes, and other times he makes horrible enemies, but you can pretty much see their heel-face turn coming a mile away.

While the whole redeeming one's self bit isn't exactly original and neither is having a morally ambiguous character, where RDR truly is original is that it's willing to go a step further than other games. It's realistic where others are more fairy-tale-esque; graphic where others are more vague. It isn't afraid to kill off characters central to the plot and doesn't make much of a side-show to drag out one's emotions along with it. The way the game plays to your emotions is very subtle, and it works. And of course, the ending was both expected and unexpected at the same time-- you suspected it was going to come, but you weren't sure if RDR had the balls to make it happen. Long story short: it does.

Fucking gov'ment scum.
However, for all its emotional subtlety, there are certain points that the story just drags out. You could make a drinking game out of RDR for everytime someone mentions how the government is interfering with people's lives. Granted, it IS interfering with John Marston's life, but he used to be a murderer, and technically still is depending on how amoral you play him throughout the game. But with everyone else it begins to get pretty annoying. In the final chapters, you also get a bunch of new points beat into your head, but I won't spoil it for you.

All in all, RDR's storytelling is varied. Too understated in some areas, and too strong in others. However the story still manages to tug on your heart strings (assuming you still have one).

Grade: B
Good story, but doesn't come without its own share of problems.

Alright, the reason why I was so forgiving with the bash-you-over-the-head points is because I realized most of the problems ultimately laid with the script. While some of the points were stretched so far they became plot points, ultimately they were just a collection of problems with the script. For some reason the writers thought it was appropriate to repeat certain points over and over. One could argue that it was because these points were "important" and needed to be driven home, on the other hand it came off as pretty annoying and unoriginal.

The script's saving grace, however, is when the characters aren't trying to come off as innocent country folk, it's just fun to watch them interact with each other. I had so much fun I almost want to replay the entire thing; it's like wanting to watch your favorite movie over again. Luckily, this makes up for a majority of the machinima cut-scenes.

Side Note:
The side quests range from hilarious to down right disturbing, but they were all fun to do. Not many of them take a lot of time to do, either, so it's just a silly detour.

Grade: B
Some points are annoying, but it's generally fun to watch the characters interact with each other.

While RDR does have some problems with its script, the greatest problem it has is with its lack of challenging gameplay and awkward controls. Now, I am not very good with shooter games, and yet I breezed past most of the levels. Truly, if you have enough medicine, you can survive any encounter pretty easily. That is, after you get used to the awkward controls. When I say awkward, it's sort of hard to nail down what exactly the problem was. But once you play, you'll notice it from the moment you begin to move John around. And this isn't standard RockStar controls-- I started playing immediately after finishing Bully, another RockStar title.

Another problem I had was the amount of button mashing required to move around quickly. Was there really any reason to have a button to make the character run, and repeatedly tab to have them sprint? Can't you just have someone run that fast from the beginning, and hold down that button to sprint? I was genuinely worried about getting carpal tunnel at some point because of this.

But once you get used to how the controls move, the way you play is relatively simple: shoot your way through the bad guys and save the day. There isn't much of a challenge to it. So while it isn't broken, I can't say I actually enjoyed the actual gameplay of it. The collection and ambient challenges were neat, but what RPG doesn't have collection and in-game achievements nowadays?

Grade: C
Not broken, but not even really that good.

I have to say, I really did like the look of this game. The starlit nights in Mexico were absolutely beautiful in HD, the animals looked realistic, as well as the people. However, there were a few glitches here or there, but for the most part, I was able to enjoy the story and not be distracted by bad graphics. The blood while skinning animals were a bit unnecessary but, you know. It's RockStar. It's going to be exaggerated.

John Marston. Cowboy. Vigilante. Flower-picker.
I almost stopped and said to someone, "Isn't this beautiful?" Before realizing it was a completely fake reality on a number of occasions. This is by far one of the best points RDR has to offer.

Grade: A

Ahh, another point I really loved about RDR. Again, it was subtle, but when it was used, it really added to the tension. Instead of going into too much detail, I'll just share a song that was played as the final chapter began:

Grade: A

Yes, this game is not without its problems. But in the end of it, it was an excellent game. It'd hard to summarize what an emotional experience it was... so for once, I'm turning to a simple youtube comment, because it captures the feelings I had for it in a way I can't top.
Literally I pushed my horse so hard to get to Beechers Hope when I heard this song. One of the few times you just become full entangled in a game and the experiences of the character you play. I honestly, felt a desperation to get back to the Wife and child that I didn't have. -- PatInferno, from the video above.
I'm having a hard time returning this game back to the rental, because it means this journey will finally be over.

Overall Grade: B+/A- 

Final Verdict: Buy it.