"Red Dead Redemption" review scores galloped into town this weekend offering some simple advice before the game's Tuesday release: Gamers, mount up.
Video game developer Rockstar holds a curious double honor in the industry. Adult gamers laud Rockstar for exploring intelligent, interactive storytelling with mature (not just bloody) plots, cultural criticism, and a freedom that movies can't deliver. Meanwhile, video game critics think Rockstar profits off everything that's wrong with the medium: a game structure that romanticizes violence and a plot that requires your character to perform illegal actions to progress.
To members of the latter group, know that "Red Dead Redemption" is for adults only. To members of the former, expect this game to deliver an immersive experience rivaled by few other titles.
"[The game's main character, John Marston,] stands between the Old West and modernity – between the celebration of the individual and the collective requirements of organized society – as he tries to salvage a family life from the smoldering legacy of his criminal past," says the New York Times in its glowing review. "Along the way, he and his creators conjure such a convincing, cohesive and enthralling reimagination of the real world that it sets a new standard for sophistication and ambition in electronic gaming. Like our own, the world of Red Dead Redemption – its cantinas, dusty arroyos, railway stations and cragged peaks – is one in which good does not always prevail and yet altruism rarely goes unrewarded."
"Of course, because it is a Rockstar title, Redemption doesn't completely stray from the company formula," says the five-out-of-five GamePro review. "While it strives to create its own legend, it still adheres to the open-world mission structure pioneered by Grand Theft Auto, with assorted letter-based waypoints serving as launch pads for any variety of optional and plot-progressing missions. These run the gamut from Rockstar staples like racing and playing cabby to more period-specific assignments like horse-breaking, saloon shootouts, or riding a posse on any number of ambushes. Gamers who had qualms with GTA's reliance on secondary fetch missions will likely take issue with Marston's recurring role of errand boy, but the sheer quality and unpredictable nature of the tasks at hand -- not to mention the much needed inclusion of inter-mission checkpoints -- helps make these side missions a rewarding diversion."
The open plains
"The journey there is the best thing Red Dead Redemption has to offer. It's a massive game. It's also massively empty, but that's okay," says CVG, who gave the game a 9.5 out of 10. "In a way, Red Dead Redemption works better than GTA because it's based on naturally sparser environments. [GTA4 protagonist] Niko Bellic was constantly bombarded with stressful, urgent urban surroundings. John Marston roams in simpler times which house simpler lives.... It's immersive, engrossing and superbly addictive. In fact, this review almost didn't happen at all; we were too busy playing cowboys."
"It's tempting to say that Red Dead Redemption is ahead of its time, but the reality is that this is a game of and for the times," says IGN's 9.7-out-of-10 review. "Rockstar shows an uncanny ability to hold a mirror up to society and remind us that present day hot button issues like racism, immigration, federal government power and personal freedoms are not only nothing new, they are deeply ingrained in American society. They are forces that helped to shape America into what it is, and their inclusion in Red Dead Redemption gives it a sense of authenticity that videogames in general lack."
Few "Red Dead Redemption" reviews listed any flaws – that should say as much about the game as its "universal acclaim" ranking on Metacritic. GamePro found room to fit a few niggles at the end: "CONS: Errand missions can get a bit tiring; occasional pop-in."