I played a few hours of RDR (Red Dead Redemption) at Lisa’s house so this isn’t a true “first impressions” post. But considering the size of the game and the relatively few hours I’ve had with the game so far, I’d safely consider this an “early impressions” post. Without further ado, here are a few random thoughts on the game so far:
- I love horse-back riding. That isn’t surprising, but it is comforting. And what I mean is that I loved driving around town in GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas. But I the new vehicle physics threw me off in GTA IV and I found myself cabbing it as often as possible. Thankfully, RDR is a return to form and I once again enjoy traveling about the country-side. Yes, there is a quick-travel option but I would rather make the trek.
I love the setting. I don’t have a thing for cowboys or the Wild West, but it really works here.
Let me put it this way. In GTA, you have to make an effort to suspend your disbelief when you’re clearing out a den of drug-dealers and you’re wondering why the police don’t handle it, etc. But in the Wild West, when you find out some criminals on the outskirts of town are kidnapping towns folk, and there’s only one sheriff, I don’t think twice about going in with a rifle and a posse, trying to rescue people.
Additionally, I love seeing America in this youthful stage. No roads. No cars. Small towns. Complete wilderness right outside of town. No one regulating behavior. Every time you are traveling down a path and see someone on the horizon, you wonder if there is going to be bloodshed.
Graphically speaking, I love the setting. The first time I hit the wilderness, I was in awe. I find that amusing since you’d think a game like GTA IV would be more impressive with its big city feel. But I love seeing the desert on full display. When you see mountains far off on the horizon and realize you can go there, it makes you feel like you can go anywhere and do anything. Plus, I love seeing all the stars at night. Maybe it isn’t the most realistic depiction of the heavens, but I appreciate sitting at a camp fire and enjoying the view.
Combat is also enjoyable. Squeezing [LT] causes your reticule to lock on any nearby targets. The target follows them for a second before stopping. The end result is a system that is newbie friendly, accommodates for the weakness of an analog stick for control, and still requires a little skill.
There are a few issues. Sometimes you’re on horse back and trying to target someone who rips past you. You spin the camera trying to keep up with them but now they’ve circled back and are heading the other way. As a result, you look like an idiot and never get the pointer close enough to activate the auto-targeting.
Compensating for that, dead-eye mode is another perk that makes things a little easier. In dead-eye mode, time slows down for a few seconds and allows you to make quick work of a lot of foes. I’ve only used it a few times and there have been hiccups as I figure it out. For example, sometimes I accidentally end up shooting one target two or three times when once was enough. Or I can’t remember how to activate it. Or I don’t know how much time is left until I can activate it again. Or I activate it and accidentally leave the mode when there were more targets available. But I get the feeling that once I use it a few more times I’ll lean on it much more heavily for those critical times.
- Breaking in horses is one of those activities that either make you feel like you don’t have enough fingers or that the developers didn’t do a good enough job of mapping the controller. You need to ready your lasso by pressing [LT]. Simultaneously, you need to move [RS] to aim the lasso and [LS] to steer your horse. You need to tap or hold [A] to control your horse’s speed. You need to press [RT] to throw your lasso. And you need to hold [RB] to maintain your grip on a successfully-lassoed horse. It can be a bit much. To be fair, as much as I feel overwhelmed by this, I haven’t had much trouble successfully doing it.
The missions and story have been enjoyable so far. Everything I’m doing is geared toward getting immersed into the land and it’s working. I’m learning a bit about my character (apparently, the feds have sent me out west, away from my kid and wife, to track down an old gang-mate who is causing problems; I’m guessing this is part of some plea-bargain deal on my character’s part), I’m getting into the rancher lifestyle, and I’m figuring out what life was like in the Old West. Examples of missions include such tasks as getting cows back to the ranch in the middle of a storm and getting a snake-oil salesman back to town in a horse-drawn carriage while being chased by thugs.
I also have to add that the GTA series mixes movie-like portrayals and humor, but GTA IV felt a bit more absurd to me. GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas had something of an intelligent subtlety to their, for example, radio commentary belittling conservatives or politically-correct actions, but GTA IV took it to a ridiculous extreme where the subtlety was lost and the criticisms were outright and unfair. So far, I see none of that in RDR. There have been a few interesting commentaries on the strong points of libertarianism in reference to the government sending me to assassinate a problem as opposed to allowing society to handle its own problems. Maybe it doesn’t have the same humor that the aforementioned GTA titles have, but it’s a welcome relief to GTA IV’s effort.
As I said, I’m not very far into the game. I’m still in New Austin and I understand there are at least three other major locations to which I’ll later travel. And I’ve also read each location has about 20 main missions and I doubt I’ve done more than half. But I have spent a lot of time helping people, exploring, picking flowers (…), collecting bounties, and, thanks to Candice taking over for stretches, winning at horse shoes. And so far, I am enjoying this much more than I ever enjoyed GTA IV. Again, these games are supposed to be about driving and shooting. With GTA IV, I felt half of that equation was broken. With RDR, I think the train is back on the tracks. I’m looking forward to seeing how the game continues.