Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Red Dead Redemption mini review

Prior to the PSN shutdown I picked up Red Dead Redemption going cheap; damnit will I ever learn to resist the sweet siren's call of cheap games? No I doubt it. I managed to download my free goodies the Deadly Assassin outfit, the Golden Guns, and the War Horse just before everything went phut and started a new game some time later post-phut.

None of my extras showed up. I checked online and saw conflicting information. Some said they only appeared in multiplayer (which I couldn't check) some said they needed certain tasks to be performed to be unlocked; some unhelpfully didn't understand and kept stating they should be there; with others recommending downloading them again (which I couldn't do). Annoyingly I couldn't even check that they were properly installed because to access the downloadable side of the menu you had to be logged in.

I persevered anyway.

The story is simple - It's the Wild West you've been sent out to bring down a bandit gang, but they're too much for you. Enlist the aid of the locals by performing tasks or scare them into working for you. To that end you have a fame and honour meter. Rescue people and get positive honour; shoot them and lose honour. Perform tasks and gain fame which depending on your honour may be a good or bad thing.

It's a sandbox game and it's a big sandbox. Missions are split into three types Story, Stranger, Random. The former are fixed items the latter are, well, random. Head into town and someone might be stealing a horse; beating a women etc. and it's your choice if and how you deal with it. Sadly they do jump out at you. In one instance I had someone yelling about a stolen horse; by the time my own horse had arrived for me to give chase the robber was out of range and I was informed I'd failed to catch them. Well duh! Luckily these encounters never occur when you're in the middle of a story mission; if you have have to travel from point A to B with someone you'll never be interrupted.

This leads me to the tutorial side of the story missions. It's quite possible to just leave them alone and strike out into the wilderness. This would be a bad thing as the tutorials unlock certain abilities; shame you're not told this though. It took much searching to discover why I couldn't capture any of my bounty targets despite being able to do so in the first Sheriff story mission. The answer was I hadn't completed the Bonny story mission to gain a lasso to tie them with. While I have no objection to a game allowing me to set out under-equipped for a task I do when there's no way I can know I am. As an aide I was three missions in before I discovered L3 would make me crouch.

In terms of not knowing stuff there are also challenges, but you'll only be notified them once you've performed the task to unlock them. If you've been wondering why the game offers you the ability to pick flowers and been ignoring the temptation you'll never unlock the Survivalist challenge. Ignore the guy being held up and you won't start the Treasure challenge. It's fine that a game offers all these extras just be nice if it informed you of their existence.

Onto the mechanics and this has its flaws. The first comes as a triple - the game doesn't pause when you bring up the weapon wheel. I can see why they wouldn't want to change the mechanic from single player and multiplayer but this ties into the second part - you don't know what weapon you have equipped until you draw it. This leads to the third part - the weapon equipped may change without you knowing it. Yeah sounds bad, but in-game it makes sense. Shoot a coyote with the rifle, walk over and skin it with your knife. After finishing what weapon do you have equipped? In theory the last one used was the knife, but I've pulled out knife or rifle after this. I can see no consistency and as I've no way of telling I've gotten into the habit of pulling up the wheel afterwards to see which is highlighted.

Which in itself brings delay because you can't bring up the wheel while the game is telling you what you've just obtained from the dead animal or if it's saving because you've completed some challenge.

Another problem is the lack of a dedicated map button. The mini-map shows everything within its radius as well as the direction of story mission points outside it. However one of the nice things is that you can mark one of those items or just an arbitrary point and the mini-map will project the shortest road path to get to it. Indispensable given the size of the playing area. Except to do that you have to bring up the main map and that means pressing Start then X on the map; then Start to get back out. Select is tied to showing your provisions menu, but come on holding down select to bring the map up directly is something other games do; why miss it out here?

The Start menu also allows you to equip weapons. As mentioned the weapon wheel doesn't pause the game, but in single player the start menu does. Another immersion breaker if you get into the habit of using that instead. Its also where you can check your journal which shows what you last did; the current status of any on going mission and challenges; and boy is this tedious to use. The journal is pretty useless, the challenges tell you your current level what you have to do to increase it and a status bar; but to get actual numbers ("You've killed 4 out of 5 coyotes") you have to select that challenge and shift to the information page.

Want to know your current fame and honour rating; that's hidden under Stats.

It's just untidy. I suspect on the PC with 100+ keys each of these can be mapped to be brought up instantly, but on a console this is just a bit messy. You've paused the game with Start so just put the most relevant bits of information on that main screen fame, honour, current cash, weapon equipped, current mission. It's not difficult.

Out of the mechanics onto the graphics. Lush; better yet the various areas can be identified by differing landscapes and vegetation without having to bring up the map. Some pop-up but noting major.

So yeah it's a good (and huge) game that just needs some tidying around the edges. Oh and after the PSN came back online I discovered that I did have my extras loaded and upon starting a new game while signed in they all appeared in single player. How annoying.