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.

Controls

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.

Gameplay

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.

Story

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.

Weapons

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.

Overall

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.

Score
  • 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).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

when i got to a certain point it wouldnt let me save at all. do you know why?

commorancy said...

I have not run into this. At what point in the game are you? I do know that when you're in the middle of a mission, you can't save without aborting the mission. In some cases, the game may not let you abort the mission. But, if you quit out of the game and then restart the game, you should be able to save your game by camping outside of town or by sleeping in a house.

If you are not on a mission and you still can't save, it might be a game glitch. Where are you in the game?

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