I’m honestly not sure what to talk about first with this title. I don’t anticipate this to be a very long review, mostly because I’m so far beyond frustrated with the game that I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. But this information needs to be heard, and this game is in desperate need of some real criticism. The fluffy scores dished out by the various review sites seem evident of publisher buy-in. I guess that works, "I pay you enough money to advertise the game, you’d better give it a damned good score!" Not in my books! You don’t pay my bills, so I can bash the shit out of this sorry-ass game!
OK, that might be taking it a bit far. I can’t make such a dubious claim without presenting some sort of reason for my scrutiny, right?
Red Dead Redemption takes place at the dawn of the Mexican Revolution, and your character, *says in a Western voice* Mister John Marston, is stuck in the midst of a civilization that can’t seem to make up their damned mind about anything. I felt there were some strong tie-ins to the political climate of today, which wouldn’t be atypical of Rockstar, but there just wasn’t enough for me to rant and rave about the story much more than that. A majority of the dialog takes place on horseback or riding a carriage, which blends already screaming voices with the constant patter of hooves and dirt. Sure, it helps set the mood of the game, but I’m not sitting right next to the fart who’s squeaking, and I had a hard time telling what the hell they were talking about. No, I won’t turn captions on, for the same reason I don’t text and drive. Duh.
There is something to be said of the graphical genius Rockstar has moved to, though. Their game engine allows for some serious draw-distances and detailed environments, all the while keeping their textures simple yet brilliant. No doubt the strongest aspect of the game is its visual presentation. Some of the cutscenes are deserving of their own praise for the ridiculous amount of facial details and movements. Throw some excellent dynamic lighting in the mix and you’ve got one badass-looking cinematic experience.
The sound department paid their dues as well. Sound effects are on-spot, from revolvers and bolt-actions to carriages and horse feet. Rockstar seems to have a knack for picking up voice acting talent less huge résumés like some of the other publishers shoot for. The music also does a great job of keeping up with the mood, picking up the pace when things get heated, and applying subtle distorted string plucks during quieter parts of the game. The soundtrack deepens into a more spaghetti-western feel as you move into Mexico, and it becomes very evident that you’ve crossed the border.
Now comes the juicy part of this review: the fucking glitches. Now, mind you, I would’ve probably enjoyed this game much more had it not been for the constant taunting of what other sites have referred to as "visual hiccups" of the game. It seemed just when things started to straighten up and act normal, something else would happen to break my attention. This intolerable nonsense happened frequently, too frequently for that matter, and helped very little with my immersion in the game. Don’t get me wrong, glitches are quite funny, often hilarious within context. But a ‘glitch’ moves into the realm of a ‘bug’ when it’s easily duplicated. And ‘bugs’ are just downright annoying when they actually hinder my ability to play the damned game.
Here are a few of the
glithces annoying frustrations I encountered during my play-through:
- Non Playable Character (NPC) stuck in the ground — Not even ten minutes into the game I hear "HYEA! HYEA!" over and over. Come up the hill and there’s some guy’s torso sticking up out of the ground. Looks like he’s riding a horse, but he’s stuck... he could be doing anything under that ground!! Get out of that ground, silly!
- Infamous "rocket horse" — Head out of my "apartment" in a local town and all the horses and their tows are bouncing like they’re on pogo-sticks. Get in one and it starts to bounce higher, eventually (and literally) launching into the air and flinging John across town.
- Random horse death — Galloping on the horse headed back to loot the bodies of my fallen victims after a completed mission. I jump off the horse and John runs into a rock and hits the ground like a sack of beans. Next thing I know my horse is following suit, only... he’s dead? Failhorse.
- Duplicate NPCs — An NPC shares screen time with its doppelganger. While only one of them interacts in the scene, the other stands there like a stricken puppy.
- Menu breakage / disappearance — Initiated a transaction with a shop owner and, to my amazement, no menu comes up! I can’t back out of it, but I can still hear the clicking from normal menu selection. I pause the game and again there’s no menu! So I remembered the steps to reload a game and did just that.
- Horses / carriages getting stuck — This one had me ready to rip the game out and trade it in that very second. Right after the previous glitch, I decided I just wanted to mess around for a bit. A great sandbox title like Red Dead is perfect for that, right?! I steal a carriage and ride off into the plains, sheriffs’ guns-a-blazing. I elude the authorities yet I am still being shot? My horse & carriage get stuck in the ground, where I am pummeled until I die. Marston’s body falls to the ground and instead of the screen wiping to the ‘continue’ prompt, the camera continues to eye him like some perverted necrophiliac. Turned the game off.
- Random mission failures — Multiple occasions, mostly roaming the map, and without doing any sort of activity prior. I’d receive messages like "Poppycock mission failed." Or "You failed to deliver the horse to its owner." More like, THIS GAME HAS FAILED TO IMPRESS ME!
- Improper NPC placement — Instead of sitting on a porch bench like a normal damned person, the lady I’m speaking to is sitting in mid-air, and backwards facing the house. Appears normal during the cutscene, then wrong again afterward. Creepy bitch.
Even the dueling system is flawed. At the draw, you’re required to lock targets for every bullet in your piece before actually firing, even if every single round is deemed straight for the opponent’s face. Just when you’d think hot lead to the noggin would kill someone, the semi-automatics earned later in the game leave you pumping round after round into a limp corpse. It can be somewhat entertaining — like spraying lizards with a hose — but at the same time it’s just silly, and in no way evident of Rockstar’s reputation for polished gameplay.
Perhaps my expectations were set too high for this game. I’m not sure how this could be a fair assessment, though, considering that I hold Red Dead‘s urban counterpart, GTA IV, on the highest pedestal of the video-game-greatness hierarchy. I’ve been told that the game just hates me. That may be true for the glitches, but my frustrations with the controls, flaky story, and poor gameplay mechanics & interactions leave me thinking otherwise. Maybe my expectations were set correctly, only to be obliterated by an ultimately unpolished experience.