Almost everything you'd expect from a Grand Theft Auto--a huge open-world, an assortment of memorable characters, stand downs, shootouts, and enough distractions to keep one busy for quite some time--are here in full force, complete with an old-timey twist.
Of course, any similarities between Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV aren't exactly coincidental. The two games share the same core technology--RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine)--and while Rockstar San Diego helmed this particular project, the Grand Theft Auto IV veterans at Rockstar North helped.
Obviously, the major difference between the two lies with the setting--Red Dead Redemption occurs circa 1910, whereas Grand Theft Auto IV takes place in the modern-day--and that's exactly where Red Dead Redemption truly distinguishes itself.
A far cry from the concrete trappings of Liberty City, Red Dead Redemption presents players with a sprawling vista populated not by roads and automobiles, but rolling hills, dusty trails, and that wavy haze of the rising mid-day heat off in the distance.
Placed in the role of reformed outlaw John Marston, I found myself smack dab in the middle of nowhere, my only clue a mini-map icon--"S" for Seth--that directed me northward. Fortunately, producer Rich Rosado recognized my mostly aimless wanderings, pulled up the full map and set up with a waypoint that, a la GTAIV, resulted in a guiding red line on the mini-map and a joking reference to old-time GPS.
After summoning my trusty steed with a whistle--up on the d-pad--I took off for my destination, inadvertently gunning down a few horse-riding civilians on the way.
What can I say, I thought they were bad guys. How was I supposed to know they weren't bad guys? Wasn't everyone in the wild west a bad guy? And while dead men tell no tales, survivors do, so I had to hunt down the one that got away before he could make it to the nearest town, rat me out, and cause the bounty on my head to go up.
Eventually, I made my way to Seth, a grave-digger turned grave-robber whose treasure was in the hands of outlaws. They had holed up at a nearby mansion, so Seth and I took off to get it back, which meant gunning down the lot of them. Taking cover behind wagons and buildings--as with GTAIV, you tap RB/R1 to take cover--I picked off the various sentries with my six-shooter, and even hogtied one with my lasso.
Here I was also reminded of the game's Dead Eye aiming--a returning feature from the original Red Dead Revolver that sees time slow down and any foes "painted" with the targeting reticule subsequently gunned down--which proves to be extremely useful when up against a large group or a small, fast-moving target.
A fair amount of bloodshed later, we arrived at the mansion, only to find the front door locked. So we went around back, snuck in through the cellar door, and proceeded to lay waste to the remaining foes. The best part? When one of them took cover behind a crate, a crate that just happened to have an old lantern on it, and a stray shot caused the lantern to explode in flames and burn them alive--sweet, flaming justice.
The rest of my time with Red Dead Redemption was simply wandering around the wilderness. I came upon a cliff with a beautiful view of the countryside, and then later, a lawmen in a gunfight with an outlaw. I didn't realize he was a lawman until I saw the glare of his badge, at which point I'd already fired upon him and had to finish the job, else he brought back reinforcements. I came across (and killed) all sorts of wildlife, gaining such goods as feathers, rabbit meat and snakeskin in the process.
At one point, I came across what seemed to be a broken-down wagon in the middle of nowhere. Sadly, the promise of doing some actual good turned out to be a trap--as I approached the seemingly stranded woman, other gunslingers emerged from the caravan and tried to take my hard-earned cash.
As my time with Red Dead Redemption came to a close, Rosado stressed that outside of the mission, my experiences had been dynamic, not scripted. In other words, the wilderness is, to some degree, actually wild and never exactly the same.
He also teased that whatever sort of multiplayer component is included in Red Dead Redemption, it'll be unveiled within the next week, was made with both casual and hardcore players in mind, and takes the various criticisms of Grand Theft Auto IV's multiplayer modes taken into account.
Me? All I want is to keep playing. May 18 can't come soon enough.
Developed by Rockstar San Diego, Red Dead Redemption hits PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 the week of May 18. The Xbox 360 version was on display at PAX East.