Red Dead Redemption 2 is on the horizon and the hype train pulls into the station Spring 2017. It’s probably one of the most hyped up games to be released and the delay only keeps the hype going. But can it live up to its predecessor? The trailer, while short shows us so much of the American Frontier and how good the game is going to look, sadly not much of the story but it was enough to get us all ready to return to our cowboy fantasies.

We all have fond memories of Red Dead Redemption as most of us saw it as ‘GTA in Wild West times’ and it was a change of gameplay from what we were used to in GTA. No cars to steal, no assault rifles, no sprawling cities. It was the central character, Marston, your revolver and the great big expanse that was the frontier. It was an amazing adventure and we all enjoyed it, and we’re all looking forward to the new one. But I ask something important – we all remember the game amazingly well, but have we played it again since it came out just over 7 years ago? Is it still the amazing game we remember? With Red Dead 2 looming I had an urge to go back to the cowboy days, so I decided to play through the game again to see if it’s aged well, and if its as good as we remember.    

John Marston is still Rockstars best character

It was strange going back after so long and seeing John Marston make his way into Armadillo, the town you start in. The train ride in shows some of the minor characters, but also how they act and respond to the mannerisms of the time. As the game progresses the game does a great job in demonstrating how different life was for ranchers and people living in the frontier. Sure there probably wasn’t gun fights or stand offs like games and movies make them out to be, but how they act, dress and conduct themselves shows that Rockstar made a great effort into not making the world seem real and genuine.Within the first few hours the age of the game started to show, but I forgave it as it has been 7 years since this game was released and the were obviously limited by the power of the PS3 and X360. It did make me think about how this game never got a PC release, and how good this game could look on a high powered rig, but also mods that tweaked the engine to make the game look gorgeous, sadly it seems a PC release is unlikely at this point.

Character and facial animations have aged quite well, while they’re nothing amazing it’s still easy to see the stern look of Marston or the weak fumbling mess that is Mr West Dickens. The walking animations are a bit stiff in gameplay unlike cutscene animations which seem much better, but this is a given. I don’t remember this game being a groundbreaking title in the performance of consoles at the time, as it was taken by its predecessor GTA IV, but the games looks hold up quite well. Animations aside you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking title from the last gen era as some parts of the game, mainly the sunsets and landscape, look amazing.

Where the game truly shines though is the shooting and sound design. Gun fights in this game are fun. It’s important in shooting games for the connection of a bullet to an enemy to be felt by the player, it needs to have impact and Red Dead nails it perfectly. They all have a great sound and getting headshots is extremely satisfying, only more so with the rifles. The sound, the animation, you really feel the impact of the bullets as the enemy falls down. What makes this so much better is the ‘dead eye’ mode, which allows you to slow time, tag several targets, and then take them out all in succession. Linking several headshots up and taking out 6-8 enemies in under 2 seconds is the games best mechanic it has going, it makes you feel like a true Wild West legend.

The soundtrack and effects are also some of the best Rockstar has made. The fiddles, whistles and guitar work used to set the mood work perfectly and accompany your long rides through the frontier. But once the mood picks up, the bassline will kick in as your galloping to the big gun fight. Once you’re there a heavy guitar is added with some heavy twangs that make the action intense. Random effects, such as animals, other gun shots and random whistles and ‘wild west’ sounding guitars are just thrown in when there’s not much going on. It’s odd and done at random times, but works. It’s difficult to explain, but slowly riding through the frontier with this soundtrack is something I don’t think they expected to be one of the games best features. It’s relaxing when it needs to be, but energetic and exciting when the action picks up.

Shooting bad guys is fun

All was going as I remembered from my playthrough several years ago, it was a fun game with well polished mechanics and memorable music that was a huge amount of fun in the open world. But things started to hit a wall about 30% through. As I was finishing the first part of the game in New Austin, I realized that I recognized and remembered very few characters, in fact out of 4-5 major characters you meet in this part of the game, I remembered 2 and had pretty much no recollection of the other guys. I only remembered Bonnie because she’s the first person you meet, and Mr West Dickens because he was annoying. Other characters such as Irish the drunk, Seth the crazy guy and Marshall Johnson I totally forgot existed, and honestly I had to google their names even though I played through their missions only a few days ago. This problem continued into the Nuevo Paraiso segment of the game, I could only remember the Mexican captain De Santa due to his deception, and Landon Rickets as he was a classic cowboy. Abraham Reyes, the leader of the Mexican revolution I forgot existed and he is arguably the most important character in that section of the game. It’s a shame but it just seems that a lot of the characters, while each having their own quirks and personalities, just aren’t strong enough to be remembered in the long haul.

Who are these people?

The characters problems continue with the missions they offer, while each having their own style and personality, all the missions mostly boil down to the same thing, but presented differently. So you’ll find most missions come down to either a race, a shootout, or  retrieval. Obviously I can’t fault the game too much because of the setting. I don’t expect Marston to steal a submarine with a laser pistol but there really isn’t much variation. I often got bored because I found myself saying ‘oh its one of these’ and just wish the mission could be skipped. They need to be intricate and important to the game and story, but I just found a fair few to be a lot of padding that really showed this time round.

What adds on to the lack of variation is the map itself. Just like before, I can’t be too harsh due to its time period, so I can’t knock it for not having large sprawling cities filled with life and architecture or huge interesting landmarks in the middle of nowhere. It is a good map with many different areas of badlands, desert, great plains, woods and riverside, all filled with their own wildlife. But aside from that, there isn’t much there. Exploring isn’t too fun in this game as there’s really nothing to explore. Once you’ve got a glimpse of the area, that’s all there is to it. Yes there is wildlife to hunt and foliage to collect and these are fun side quests, I just found it a little boring of going back and forth between these areas again and again with nothing else to see, this is because travelling from place to place also isn’t worth the horse ride. Horses control alright until you get to a small fence, or need to turn around on the spot, or accidentally skim a wall because you’ve then got to spend the next few minutes getting the horse to face the right way, as the horse controls are really bad. Because of this I found myself using the ‘fast travel’ option of carts in game. Sure they cost money, but by the point you’re fed up of horses you’ve got enough saved.

Red Dead Redemptions huge map, with not that much about

After playing the game again I really started to think if Red Dead Redemption is actually nothing more than a subpar game that we only have fond memories of as there was nothing else like it at the time. With all the issues of characters, missions, and the large mostly empty map it sounds like I’d already decided. But it as I headed into New Elizabeth I started to look at the game as whole instead of the minor issues and take it for what it is. Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic game and one of Rockstars finest. The minor issues do add up and I implore anyone to go back and play it and see what I mean, but you’ll also remember what this game does right. The general adventure of Red Dead Redemption in the American frontier was like nothing we had played and I’d argue nothing since has come close to portraying that era in such great detail. The story is solid, the major characters that are memorable have their own quirks and personality built up so well, with Marston himself being possibly my favourite Rockstar character – He’s calm, polite and well spoken, but test him and he’ll make his issues known. The map, while mostly empty and lacking in exploration can appear beautiful at times with the sunrise and sunset, and for the times I was riding a horse, is a perfect backdrop to the adventure at hand. The shooting in this game is the most satisfying third person shooting experience I’ve ever had, with the shooting challenges only adding more to what you can do with dead eye.

Yes, this game has its problems, and I think some of these are definitely worth noting for anyone who remembers Red Dead as a perfect game, but added up they’re mostly minor. No doubt a fair few of these issues will be sorted for Red Dead 2, as most of them are simply down to the age of the game. But in any case Red Dead 2 is a fine game, and it’s sequel it’s on it’s way for Spring 2018 and the hype train is full steam ahead!