Red Dead Redemption
When we went along to Rockstar's London HQ to get our first look at this long awaited sequel to Red Dead Revolver, the first thing we were shown is a vibe trailer - a short selection of clips from seminal Western movies that outline the kind of atmosphere the game wants to achieve. It's a great collection of classic snippets, including everything from Sam Peckinpah's violent Wild Bunch to the elegiac Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. Rockstar San Diego has clearly done their homework with a clear vision set out for Red Dead Redemption.
Once we get to the game proper, it's clear that the team are well on their way to creating a genuinely evocative open-world that bears all the hallmarks of an unforgettable movie Western. Redemption is currently Rockstar's biggest project, swallowing up over 200 members of the team across several of the company's studios. The first Red Dead was refined from an IP that Capcom had abandoned. The sequel is an entirely different beast - it's shaping up to be what we've always wanted: the fantasy we'd always imagined for a game based upon the Wild West.
Redemption is set at the turn of the twentieth century in the hostile American Frontiers where a civilised, law-abiding society was slowly beginning to take shape with all of the teething problems that ensued. Utilising the proprietary RAGE Engine that powered GTA IV's Liberty City, this particular iteration of the software has been optimised to specifically render the expansive rural locations for Red Dead. We're told that Redemption is larger than any GTA, and although a great deal of what is shown during our demo turns out to be inhospitable plains, there's a huge amount of incidental detail in the topography and random, procedural events occurring at every turn. Journeying on horseback towards a distant frontier town, we see lawmen chasing an escaping bandit, a woman screaming for help while being attacked by a pack of wolves, a band of travellers sat around a smouldering camp fire and a criminal tethered to a horse being dragged through the dirt.
Each of these occurrences is completely unscripted, but you can intervene should you so wish. So you can save the poor woman from the marauding wolves, help the lawmen catch the bandit or even sit around the campfire and share stories. There's also an entire animal ecosystem that exists in the game too, with rabbits, coyotes, vultures, snakes, bears, armadillos, cougars and much more besides, all given their own individual behaviour traits as well as Euphoria-driven physics and animation. In fact, the game shares all of the same technology GTA had, with NaturalMotion's Euphoria applied to almost every facet of Redemption's world, adding an extra dose of unpredictability. You can even attempt to tame a wild horse if you want, although there are a variety of well-trained horses that you can ride. Staying with the topic of animals, you can skin them and sell their meat if you like, although it's not advisable to try this with a bear. You can if you want though - lassoing a bear could be a personal challenge to set for yourself. Just don't expect it to be easy.
Redemption's central protagonist is former outlaw John Marston, who is visited by The Bureau (a group that eventually became the FBI) and presented with a horrific ultimatum. It turns out that Marston must track his former partner in crime who is still at large as a wanted outlaw in order to protect the things dearest to him. Rockstar are promising a dark storyline that will feature some truly dramatic and shocking moments in keeping with traditional cinematic Western themes. The plot unfolds across three distinct areas - The Frontier, Great Plains and Mexico - each providing a series of story-driven missions (with mid-mission checkpoints) to complete. One such mission we're shown sees Marston working with the Mexican Army to defend a train from bandits. Galloping alongside the train as it trundles along belching smoke into the air, it immediately becomes apparent that you need to use Marston's deadeye ability to slow time and get an accurate shot at your target. This is the same move you had in Red Dead Revolver, which was used for one on one duels. We've yet to see Marston take his paces for pistols at dawn just yet, but you can still use deadeye to paint red crosses on your target before unleashing a rapid deluge of pinpoint accurate bullets. There's even a cover system in the game, which proves invaluable when shootouts occur on a larger scale. You can move while in cover, blind fire and any health you lose automatically regenerates over time a la Gears of War.
Like GTA, Red Dead Redemption encourages complete freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want and there's always plenty to do. A visit to Armadillo, one of the game's frontier towns allows Rockstar to demonstrate one of their many mini-games called Five Finger Fillet (better known as that knife thingy from Aliens) - a QTE that requires quick reactions on the face buttons to prevent you from stabbing yourself in the fingers. The town is also host to a population that goes about its daily business, with banks, shops and saloons all filled with different people who have their own unique, procedurally generated behavior. Should the compulsion to kill everyone take you, it's entirely possible to wipe out the population creating a ghost town in the process. This will steadily regenerate over time, but it's still not good for your reputation, especially since you're meant to be helping to bring the rule of law to the turbulent Frontiers.
Red Dead Redemption is looking as though it'll be our dream game when it's released this Autumn. The world is not only visually stunning with vistas sprawling towards the horizon as far as the eye can see, but it's also full of life, buzzing with compelling things to see and do. Online multiplayer is also on the cards too, making this the complete package as far as we're concerned. All we can do for now is wait with baited breath before we can put on our Stetson and spurs, pack a six shooter and ride into the sunset with Red Dead.
Red Dead Redemption is out on PS3 and Xbox 360 this autumn. Hot dang.