Monday, May 24, 2010

Xbox 360 - Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption by Rockstar

Parental Rating: Mature Themes, Violence, Gore

Plain and simple, this is Grand Theft Auto with a new setting in the old west. Nearly all of GTA4 is in Red Dead Redemption (RDR), with exception of a few omissions (swimming, modern vehicles, modern weapons). Instead of jacking cars, you can jack stage coaches, trains and horseman. You have all of the old weapons. Your character is Jack Marsten.

While Rockstar did a reasonable job converting GTA4 to an old west setting, there are a number of problems that plague this game.


The controls could be better. For example, the 'Dead Eye' mode is nearly impossible to activate on the right stick controller. If you press or wiggle the right stick enough times, you might just activate this mode at the last minute and make it work. Then again, you might not. This mode could be great if it would reliably activate. Yes, I realize there is a 'dead eye' meter, but even when it's full it doesn't always want to activate.

Walking through doorways can be an immense chore. Instead of walking through the doorway, he straddles the door frame, first on one side, then on the other. No, I'm not talking about the right button (RB) that activates Jack in cover mode. I'm talking about in free walking mode. I spent the better part of about 2 minutes maneuvering him to walk through a friggin door. Seriously, this part is exceedingly bad. This is also obviously something new for this engine. I'd never had issues controlling a character through a doorway in GTA4. I have no idea why he's that hard to control in RDR, but he is.

Breaking broncos can be a chore when you're near cacti or cliffs. When the camera gets anywhere close to a tall object or cactus, it focuses so tightly on Jack, you can't see what you're doing and the game will ultimately throw you from the horse. If you want to break horses, do it in open areas, not close to cliffs or cacti.

Jumping onto a train (or between train cars) can be near impossible at times. Other times, it can work perfectly.

Controlling a horse can be near impossible at times. When you move the camera to view the character from the front, pushing backwards on the controller should turn the horse around. It doesn't. Instead, the horse keeps going in the forward direction. You have to actually use the stick and swing (rotate) the stick so that the horse also swings and turns. This is very annoying.

Note that nearly every problem with the control system is because of the sluggish controls on Jack. Rockstar pulled the highly annoying slow-to-respond controls from GTA 4 into RDR and this system makes this game suffer and suffer badly.


The gameplay is reasonable, but nowhere near perfect. The problematic controls prevent this game from being anywhere near perfect. It's probably too late to re-engineer the controls for this game, but hopefully Rockstar can fix the control problem with RDR2.


You are Jack Marsten. You are an outlaw who has decided to track down an old friend-turned-enemy. Since Jack is a clean slate, how you choose to handle where you are is entirely up to you. So, if you want to become an outlaw, the game gives you that option. If you want to be a good guy, the game also gives you this option. As you progress, you make choices that add or remove honor and fame. The more honor you have, the better people like you. The less you have, the less they like you. If your honor goes negative, then you're an outlaw.

So, as you progress, you learn new things and get new items and weapons. The missions run much like GTA4 in that they begin and end. You must complete some kind of task and you get a reward. If you complete the task successfully, you may get additional General Store items or new game features.

It's actually hard to tell what's the main story and what's a side story. So, you'll just have to play the game to determine that for yourself or read through the Game Guide.


Various weapons become available as you progress. These include a pistol, a shotgun, a repeater, a lasso, a knife and your fists (among others you can find).

Game Map Sections

Just like GTA4, as you progress through the game, other parts of the map open. So, completion of key missions will unlock more map areas. Until then, the bridges prevent you from visiting those other areas.

Game Saves

There are two ways to save games. This has improved over GTA4, but is still not optimal for this game. If you purchase a house in a town, you can save your game by sleeping (just like GTA4). Secondarily, if you get far enough out of a town you can set up a campsite and save your game at the campsite. Once you save, the game's clock will advance by 6 hours.

Accidental Mission Starts

Unfortunately, there are far too many times in RDR where proximity missions start accidentally and, if you want the reward, you have to see them through to completion. But, there are times where you haven't even finished a previous mission and a new one starts simply by reaching a certain area. So, when this happens, you have to make the choice to abandon the new mission to complete the other one. It's also unclear if you abandon a specific mission whether it is restartable later. Note that the main missions start with a yellow X that Marsten must get close to. But, bandit camps are activated merely by proximity (and not close proximity at that).

So as a tip, once you complete a mission, always immediately save before doing anything else. Because saving is so cumbersome in RDR, this part of saving is a chore. This is where RDR fails with game saves. Anyway, to save that means traveling to a house or setting up a campsite. If you don't do this, you will end up redoing missions over and over. Note that some missions (like duels), Marsten can end up dead several times before you figure out how to duel. So, save often.

As I said earlier, the save methods in this game are problematic because of this one issue described above. This game desperately needs a save anywhere system. Because it's so easy to trigger something by accident, RDR needs to allow the gamer to save anywhere at any time. Honestly, there is no real reason why you can't do this either. Without saving, you will end up redoing missions several times using trial and error gameplay to avoid the pitfalls.

Fast Travel

Note, you can fast travel to any destination on the map (including custom way points) when you are at a campsite. So, if you want to fast travel, leave the town you are in just far enough to set up a campsite, then select your destination and travel. Note that time will elapse the same during fast travel. So, if it would take you 3 hours to do it on a horse manually, when you fast travel it will also add 3 hours to the clock.

Accidental Death and Unknown Circumstances

Be prepared for accidental death by saving often. Because there are so many different ways to die in RDR (duels, falling off cliffs, falling into water, getting into accidental gunfights) or even simply just triggering things that shouldn't be triggered, Marsten could die, accidentally kill someone or end up with a hefty bounty. You might even botch a mission that might kill you or reduce your honor. So, save early and save often. There are too many times where the game triggered something that should never have been triggered.

For example, after I obtained the ability to break broncos, I activated a job by stopping on the yellow X and proceeded to hop into the coral. I drew my lasso and was trying to lasso the horse. In this process, the game said I had assaulted the ranch hand (who was outside of the coral) and the job ended. This is one perfect example where I had to reload a previous save to start this mission over again.

Failure and Game Loading

If you fail at doing something or die, the game reloads from the last save. Except, the game keeps state information from the last thing you attempted and won't let you do it again from that modified game load. So, that means you cannot attempt the last task again from the automatic load. This means you need to reload the game again from disk to reset everything so you can try that task again. Why the game has to modify the load to prevent redoing the last task again, I don't know, but it's annoying has sh**.

And further, the game load times are incredibly long. It takes at least 30 seconds to 1 minute to load a saved game. This is way too long. To reload the level where you are should take no more than 5-10 seconds.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics are reasonably well done, but surprisingly there is some screen tearing that happens. The audio is reasonable enough, but it's not cinematic by any degree.


Red Dead Redemption could have been a much better game if the designers had thought through the design to accommodate the mission design. Instead, the game designers decided to pull in GTA4 almost completely and simply change the scenery without thinking through the way things work. Further, it doesn't really appear the game was truly play tested as these issues should have presented during play testing. Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption suffers as a result of the lack of proper design.

If anything should be taken from Red Dead Redemption, it should demonstrates that merely pulling a game engine forward from a previous game is not enough to accommodate a major game paradigm change. In the case of RDR, this game would have been far better served with a save anywhere design, with much more clearly defined missions (always used Xs to denote the start) and a far better control system. The sluggish GTA4 controls need to go away in lieu of controls more like what's in Saint's Row. The character's sluggish control (on or off of a horse) is just too problematic to make the game truly fun. A game's controls should easily become second nature. When you're fighting with the controls instead of playing the game, the game has failed the controller, the game and, ultimately, the gamer.

  • Sound: 7/10 (not outstanding)
  • Graphics: 8/10 (good, but not great, lighting works, skin surfaces flat)
  • Gameplay: 6.5/10 (needs some help, accidental mission starts)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (could be better, but works)
  • Bugginess: 4/10 (three lockups, one during at the first boss battle)
  • Controls: 5/10 (needs work)
  • Bang-to-buck: 2/10 (might replay)
  • Play Value: $10 (story and mission length will make this title)
  • Overall: 6.5/10 (needs better save system, needs better design).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Xbox 360 - Ironman 2

Ironman 2 by Sega

Against my better judgement, I decided to buy this game. I knew that it was a movie tie-in, but I had heard they made the suit controls better. Ok, so this game started out like it might actually have a chance to be something unique. It's unique alright. It's unique trash. This game is no better than its predecessor. The suit is still completely uncontrollable, especially War Machine. Effectively, this game is crap on a stick.


Based on the movie. So, this is effectively a movie tie-in. Nuff said about that.


At least Sega could have tried. But, this feels very much like a game that was written in a weekend. Literally. They couldn't have made a worse game if they had actually tried.


So many problems with this, it's not even funny. Where to start. The weapons are weak, the weapon cool down is too slow, the rate of fire is minimal, you're constantly out of ammo, the suit is uncontrollable (especially when you're hit). I mean, there is so much wrong with this game, I don't think there's really one thing that Sega managed to get right.

And when it comes to War Machine, the game is simply pathetic. Not only is War Machine about a quarter of the strength of Ironman, he has crappy weapons and effectively no defenses. Yet, the game throws about twice as many enemies at you as it does Ironman. It's effectively impossible to win the higher levels when playing War Machine... especially the carrier levels (where the game forces you to play as War Machine).


The main problem in playing each of the mission levels is that the suit is completely uncontrollable. You're constantly being thrown in random directions.

There are these basic enemies:
  • Ground crawlers: Big boss sized enemies that end the level when dead.
  • Suited attackers: Their attack style is to just constantly melee you. Their attack style does nothing but kill the suit shield and eventually kill you. They gang up on you and attack you en masse to intentionally kill your shield.
  • Drones: Drones fire laserbeams from a distance and use distance attacks against you. These are usually teamed up against you with Suited Attackers
  • Ground Suited attackers: These guys are bigger and fire missiles at you from a distance.
Combining all of this with War Machine's incredibly lame suit which you are FORCED to use on some missions means that you are destined for frustration.

Frustration Central

The attack styles of the flying suited attackers is completely frustrating. All that they do is get close and melee your suit about 10 times with a super fast melee attack. It not only stuns you, but it prevents you from any kind of retaliatory attack while they are doing this. Worse, they throw at least four of these enemies at you at once on top of the six or so other type enemies on the level also targeting you. Ultimately, the suited attackers are the most single frustrating enemy in the game. They're not hard to kill, they just like to hide behind you so you can't see them and also gang up on you so you can't defend yourself and you ultimately lose health. The only defense from these attacks is running away, and even that's only temporary because they follow you at the same speed your suit can fly.

The second most frustrating thing is that when you're hit with a missile, the suit drops downward. When you're defending the flying carrier, it ends up throwing you below the carrier. Once you're down there, it's a b*tch to fly back up because the suit is uncontrollable.

The most problematic part of this game is that the Ironman suit should be able to fly supersonic. Yet, when you turn the jets on full, you're flying about as fast as a person walking. So stupid and unrealistic. If you turn on the jets on that suit, you should not only fly exceedingly fast, you should be able to control the speed to go well faster than anything else around you. Unfortunately, you can't use the jets to evade flying attackers. They just hang right behind you at the same speed. So, when you stop, they're right there attacking you again. So stupid.

There was even one time when, for whatever inexplicable reason, the suit decided to careen downward away from the carrier which ended the mission because it said that I had 'abandoned the carrier'. For whatever reason, the game didn't return control of the suit to me so I couldn't even control the suit to make it fly back up. Again, stupid.

Upgrades and Research

Sega wasted this part of this game. To include such a detailed upgrade system in a game containing such incredibly poor gameplay is immeasurably stupid and an insane waste of time. Because even though you get points to research upgrades, the upgrades do nothing to improve the suit at all... especially not War Machine. Worse, there is only one (1) War Machine suit to Ironman's 10 suits. Yet, at two levels of the first 6 levels force you to use War Machine negating the use of Ironman. This is supposed to be Ironman 2, not War Machine. Let me choose the character and suit I want to play. Don't force me to use a weak character!


For such a cool suit, the textures are too low res. The game feels rushed and incomplete graphically (and in all other ways too).


This is a bad game with basically no redeeming value. If you like wasting money, feel free. But, if you feel you really must play, then you should only consider a rental or buying it on clearance for about $5 (or less).

  • Sound: 7/10 (average)
  • Graphics: 5/10 (poor, cutscenes best part)
  • Gameplay: 2/10 (weak, suits too weak, ammo too weak)
  • Story: 6.5/10 (watch the movie)
  • Bugginess: N/A
  • Controls: 1/10 (uncontrollable)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10 (no replay value)
  • Play Value: $2 (recommend renting)
  • Overall: 2/10 (Absolute garbage. Nothing redeeming here).
Sega, with this game, you've failed. This is probably one of the last Sega games I'll ever buy.