Red Dead Redemption

Not just GTA with cowboys

Red Dead Redemption is so much more than GTA with cowboys. That much was clear when we last visited Rockstar to get a first look at the game and during our second look - lamentably still hands-off - the GTA comparisons seem lazy and increasingly less relevant.

Set at the turn of the 1900s, Redemption's setting marks a time in America where amid massive turmoil; great change was beginning to shape the nation. Burgeoning technology and communication meant word traveled fast and smoke belching trains chugged along the country's railroads moving people and resources up and down America.

But whether you come down on the side of law and order or wild, unhinged anarchy is entirely up to you. It's this duality that takes centre stage during our demonstration, where your fame and honour acts as a moral barometer, tracking your actions, both good and bad.

Our hands-off begins with protagonist and former outlaw, John Marston squatting by a makeshift campsite, which acts as a mobile save point that you're able to deploy anywhere at anytime. As dawn breaks, Marston kicks out the fire and saddles up on the horse which is handily spawned whenever you set up camp.

Riding out into the badlands, Marston has a treasure map that is nothing more than a vague line drawing, mapping a distinctive curved rock formation. For the purposes of our demonstration, said sedimentary shape is just a short canter away and just beyond lays a small, unassuming pile of rocks. Carefully lifting the stones reveals a hidden chest containing a cache of gold and another primitively scrawled treasure map for us to track down.

Moving on, Marston makes his way to a distant settlement, distracted by intermittent emergent events such as a pack of marauding coyotes or the corrupt military holding up an innocent vendor's wagon. Whether you choose to get involved in these situations is entirely at your discretion, but will add valuable Fame and Honour points to your gauge. Our man decides to intervene, rescuing the trader from the heavy handed soldiers, adding positive Fame and Honour to his reputation as a result.

Next, an apparently injured man limps towards us beckoning for help, only to then pull us down from our horse and make off with it. Luckily, this particular horse has been well-trained meaning a whistle is all it takes to make the horse buck the thief from the saddle and return to its rightful owner.

Further down the trail, Marston reaches his destination - a thriving Mexican market town called Chuparosa. As the day reaches mid-morning, the market is at its most active, buzzing with activity as shopkeepers gut fish and decapitate chickens as the town's inhabitants go about their daily business. Like Assassin's Creed, the locale is alive with local colour that truly adds character and personality to the game's settlements.

After perusing the stalls, Marston sidles up to the entrance of the local cantina where an official is busy nailing up a wanted poster. Naturally, we approach and tear it down, examining it before folding it up and tucking it into our pocket. Opting into a bounty hunt mission sets us off on the trail of the wanted felon, marked on the map as a red skull icon.

While it's possible to fast travel to locations via stagecoach, riding through the evocative landscape on horseback is invariably the preferable option, simply to soak up the majesty of the Old West. After a picturesque journey to our waypoint, we find a group of bandits harbouring the quarry in a burned out safehouse in the middle of nowhere. With his quickdraw gunplay skills, Marston is a lethal shot, and once he's racked up enough kills, he's able to unleash his slow-motion Deadeye function, which highlights targets with red crosses before letting rip with a deadly accurate bullet barrage.

With the accomplices duly dispatched, the target makes a break for it, making a futile run down an isolated dirt trail to nowhere. Marston quickly reacts, putting a bullet into his leg as he flees. Still trying in vein to limp away offers us the perfect opportunity to throw a lasso and hogtie his sorry ass before dumping him on the back of our horse to transport him back to the Chuparosa lawmen.

Returning the bandit alive grants the full reward, even with the nasty leg wound we inflicted. Chalk up another boost to the Fame and Honour progress bar. The more bounty missions you do, the tougher they gradually get, but the bigger the rewards are. You can even loot the still warm corpses of anyone you kill while you're at it to gain some extra dollars if you like.

Upon our return to Chuparosa, night has fallen so the market stalls are packed away and all of the activity has moved into the cantina where poker games, blackjack, alcohol and hookers are in plentiful supply. Of course you can gamble, drink and mess with the prostitutes if you want to, even protecting or abusing the ladies depending upon what kind of moral path you want to follow.

Once we leave, the starry sky is a breathtaking sight and it's under a blanket of stars that we set up camp for the night. Campsites can be upgraded by purchasing various accoutrements from the stores and these different additions will appear alongside your campfire, granting extra supplies to take into missions.

When at the store, you can also pick up ammunition, weaponry and clothing items like bandanas. Covering your face with a bandana allows you to adopt a veil of anonymity enabling you to commit crimes without giving away your identity. Donning the disguise, we help out a group of freedom fighters who tear into Chuparosa first thing in the morning, causing all kinds of chaos. Our actions earn us a bounty upon our head as well as unwanted attention from the local law enforcement.

Once out of the city walls, removing the disguise reduces the heat and the extent of the wanted radius on your mini-map, although you'll still be regarded with suspicion when you go back to Chuparosa. There are ways to clear your name, such as being granted a pardon letter or by wiring money from the nearest telegraph station. Failure to shift your wanted status means you'll be relentlessly stalked by posses and law, making life exceedingly difficult for yourself.

After aiding a sheriff on a mission to kill Augusto the Pimp (wanted for obvious reasons - his name presumably), we're granted a pardon letter even though the lawman dies during the mission. After the intense shootout, the vultures circle overhead waiting to feed on the carrion below. All of the tasks we've seen thus far have been entirely off mission, away from the game's central narrative, so for the final few minutes; we're shown a story objective.

Meeting up with famed and charismatic rebel leader Abraham Reyes, we head to a fort in Nuevo Paraiso to retrieve a valuable weapons cache. What better way to get into the fort than riding a trailer full of dynamite into the front gate? Exploding into the compound, dozens of guards crawl out of the woodwork, but Marston targets the TNT crates, blowing up the bad guys in the process.

Once the coast is clear, the last thing to do is climb up to the fortress walls, manning the cannon to defend the weapons. An entire army descends upon the fort, with horses and wagons plaguing the open gates. A few well-aimed cannon balls reduce the horses to glue and the wagons to splinters in mere minutes, ending the mission and maxing out Marston's Fame status.

Amazingly, everything we've detailed in this preview has taken place over just one day in-game. During the space of just over an hour or so, we've seen a whole array of activities, but have yet to scratch the surface of what Red Dead Redemption has to offer. We can't wait to go hands-on with the game - the gunplay looks heavyweight and satisfying with body specific damage and realistic reactions. There's hand-to-hand combat and knife fighting to look forward to, as well as countless mini-games and distractions to keep you occupied.

As open-world games go, Redemption nails the Wild West setting brilliantly, providing a genuinely captivating and visually stunning sense of time and place. With a confirmed date of April 2010 finally pinned down for the game, it's time to start getting excited. Red Dead Redemption looks like it's going to blow you away for sure.

E3 Trailer