Me with my Red Dead swag shirt (center), the Outlaw ScottyG, and my wifey Calamity Dawn.
When it came to the PAX '09 show floor, the big names of the fall were the belles of the ball. Games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Borderlands had huge lines of nerdy stalkers waiting hours outside the windows of their objects of obsession. Rightfully so -- those games and more looked and played amazingly. It seems that this holiday season has a lot of awesome in store for the gaming masses.
I, however, was not so interested in the fall/holiday lineup as much as I was games coming up in 2010. Prior to PAX, I had already done my homework and decided where my hard-earned monies were going to be spent for the rest of '09. I just didn't see anything on the showfloor that flipped my decision from buy to not buy, or vice versa. Mostly, the games on display just served to push the slider a little farther in the 'no' or 'go' directions for me. However, I did get a glimpse at a few games coming up next year that piqued my interest.
Tucked away in a remote corner of the exhibit hall was the Rockstar booth. They were there mainly to promote the upcoming Episodes from Liberty City and their do-it-yourself DJ simulator, Beaterator. I didn't have much interest in the DJ game, but you have to give them +1 internets just for making a game called Beaterator, don't you?
At any rate, my wife and I were walking the floor when my psychic swag-sense kicked in, and I spotted a pile of Red Dead Redemption t-shirts on the side of the Rockstar booth. When I asked how I could acquire one, the lady at the booth informed me that all I needed to do was see the live gameplay demo for Red Dead Redemption. I didn't even know that this game would be at PAX (other than the shirts, there was no signage for Red Dead at the R* booth), so I immediately dragged my incredibly understanding wife into the line, and we were the last two to make it into the next showing.
Red Dead 'staging' a coup for 2010? Don't worry, I'll slap myself for that pun.
Red Dead Redemption is the sequel to 2004's Red Dead Revolver, which was one of the few shooters I truly enjoyed out of the last-generation. When I heard that a sequel was being made I was naturally interested, but I have to say that after seeing the gameplay demo at PAX this game has moved from being a "keep an eye on it" title to my second most anticipated game of 2010 behind Heavy Rain.
Redemption shares a few things in common with its predecessor, but mostly it's a horse of a different color. While Revolver was a level-based TPS western, Redemption is an open-world game built with the same RAGE framework and Euphoria middleware used in GTAIV. Revolver had a cast of playable characters, whereas Redemption follows the story of one character -- John Marston. Also, while Revolver was squarely set in the untamed Wild West period, Redemption takes place at the turn of the century when both the government and technology are beginning to take over the West.
The gameplay demo was centered around a rescue mission in an old ghost-town. Bad guys had captured one of Marston's friends and strung her up, and it was up to Marston to come in guns blazing and save her before the life was choked out of her. Combat looked very satisfying, with an appropriate level of blood and guts for a western setting. Combat animations looked more fluid and varied than in GTAIV, which was a good sign to me that this game isn't just a Wild West re-skin. Returning to Redemption is the "deadeye" mechanic present in Revolver, but in the new iteration it will be useable throughout the game in all firefights instead of only boss fights. Also present was the classic slide through the dirt into cover move from old western movies, which got a great reaction from the screening group. Eventually the outlaws were mopped up and the friend saved, and the demo moved into a more general demo of the game world.
One of the biggest draws of Fallout 3 (Oblivion as well to a lesser extent) to me was the exploration aspect of the gameplay. There was always something to discover or stumble into, and the vastness of the gameworld really gave you that lone warrior feeling that kept me coming back for more. Red Dead Redemption looks to have a similar draw, but in the western milieu. There were some impressive vistas shown off during the gameplay demo, and the game promises to be expansive -- the demoers said that the land mass in the game exceeds that of GTA San Andreas, which put me squarely in squeeeeee-mode. The idea of having that much to explore in a western setting has me very excited.
I think I'll name you. . . . Horsemeat!
The demo also showed off one medium sized town. In the larger towns, you will see "modern" technology's influence (there are telegraph lines in the bigger settlements), while other areas maintain a frontier feel. All the buildings in Redemption can be dynamically entered with no load times, which is an improvement over GTAIV which had to be selective due to the sheer volume of buildings. Also like Fallout, there appear to be many things available to stumble upon in the wild. Find another cowboy camped out? You can sit down and share the fire and talk to him or put him down in cold blood and loot him. Run in to stagecoaches or outlaws and deal with them as you see fit.
The integration of animals into the gameworld was impressive. Firefights will quickly attract vultures to the area who will start circling, and eventually land and start feasting on any outlaw carcasses there. Rabbits, mountain lions, and even bears can be encountered, killed, and skinned for their pelts which can be sold. Horses, which are the main mode of transport for the game, will be realistically spooked by gun fire and bolt for safety. Wild horses can be encountered, lassoed, and tamed.
There was a lot to be excited about in the demo, but with an early 2010 release date, Rockstar North still has plenty of work to do. The usual texture-popping present in large open-world titles was definitely present in this build, and I'm hoping that the open rural environment makes it easier for them to polish the visuals over the next 4-6 months. Red Dead Redemption is currently set for a Q2 2010 release.
There was no story present at any point during the demo other than what the presenter narrated going into the mission. There was no voice-over integrated, and cut-scenes were choppy and unfinished. Knowing Rockstar's track record for solid dialogue and voice-over work, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one and trust that they will do right and deliver a presentation worthy of the lone gunman western theme present in the game. I'm really hoping they move away from the more cartoonish characterizations from Revolver and towards a mature story. I'm crossing my fingers for some Deadwood style dialogue and story. God, I loved Deadwood.
None of this. Conclusion
Even wifey walked out of that well obscured demo room excited for all the different activities on display in Red Dead Redemption. It's looking sharp for the stage they're at in development, and the gameplay looks improved and more varied than GTAIV. Plus, no annoying cell-phone calls to get in the way of the story or just jacking around the countryside. I'll be looking for a playable build at PAX East to see if it'll give me that genuine High Plains Drifter vibe I've been waiting for in a video game. With a larger game world than San Andreas, I personally can't wait to get my hands on this li'l filly and see how she rides.
LOOK WHO CAME: