Red Dead Revolver
The videogame Western, finally done properly. Full review, new screens and massive new gameplay video.
Rockstar San Diego
When the most notable examples of a videogame theme are a live-action arcade shooter and a Japanese RPG series, you know that there's room for improvement.
The Western has fallen out of fashion these days. The dependable movie mainstay has been kicked to the ground, rising only now and again for a choking breath of dust-filled air. The genre never fared too well in videogames, which is odd, considering the rich tapestry of imagery to pluck from. There have been a few examples--the Wild ARMs series comes to mind--but there has been no videogame equivalent of Unforgiven. With Red Dead Revolver, developer Rockstar San Diego has attempted to fill this gaping maw. The finished product is a good title that could've been even better.
Things start off promisingly. As young Red Harlow, you welcome your prospector father back from a successful survey of the land. His hard work has paid off and untold riches sit glistening in the mountains of the Wild West, aching to be unearthed. Predictably, some baddies arrive soon after at the Harlow homestead, demanding to know the location of the gold. And then the shooting begins.
This opening scene works on several levels. Your character's motivation is instantly recognizable, and we can empathise with his desire for revenge and his disdain of evil later in life, during the bulk of the game. First-hand experience with pain has that effect on a person. While this is one of the more abused plot devices in entertainment, in this setting it feels right. At a more basic level, the opening scene brings you up to speed on the mechanics of the game. The targeting and moving systems are explained in simple, yet contextually realistic, exercises. Unfortunately, this able opening is marred further along by serious diversions from reality.
For a game as simple as a shooter, Red Dead Revolver has overly intricate control systems. There's a system for regular gun fights, one for using the slow-mo Dead Aim technique, and a four-phase quick-draw, and that's discounting the panoply of sundry actions available. This complexity makes for a relatively steep learning curve, but the developers have done their best to ease players into the game. As new systems or actions are first encountered, a brief on-screen tutorial guides you through the button presses and options.
Story mode is the centre point of Red Dead Revolver. The script is fragmented into 28 chapters, each made up of one-to-several engagements with enemies or a boss. While such a large chapter count could easily become monotonous, Rockstar provided for this by including portions where you play as other characters integral to the story. It's not enough, though. Swapping your avatar doesn't change that you're essentially gunning down clone enemies stage after stage. Of course, all shooters can be distilled to this essence; what's important is whether it remains fun despite this inherent flaw. In this case, the answer is 'sort of'.
The controls--even once mastered--lack finesse. The manually controlled camera occasionally whirls around you, most obviously when you're in enclosed spaces. This is merely cause for an eyebrow-raise of disapproval for the most part, but at the odd times when it affects your ability to shoot it out with some of the trickier bosses, it is patently unacceptable.
Bosses are refreshingly tough, though there is an element of cheapness to several of them. This is mostly due to unrealistic patterns required to beat them. There is simply no logic in, for instance, the decision to allow body-specific damage during the majority of the game, and then to suddenly turn it off for a specific boss battle. Inconsistencies like this only serve to extract you from the experience. Another disappointing aspect is the highly scripted nature of enemy appearance. There are very pronounced triggers that summon rivals to the front, and they're not at all subtle. Sometimes enemies literally pop up onto the screen as you cross a specific threshold distance.
If your knowledge of the Wild West is limited to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood flicks, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the arsenal in Red Dead Revolver would be limited. Thankfully, that's not the case. There's all manner of revolvers, pistols, rifles, shotguns and projectiles like dynamite and fire bottles on offer. Better still is the--albeit limited--strategic elements of weapons management. Guns are damaged during skirmishes, demanding repair during inter-mission sections. The effects are quite subtle, but their presence speaks of the developers' attention to details.
As a bounty hunter, Red is dependent on bringing in bad guys. This is most obvious from the Wanted posters for the bosses, but cash is earned from regular enemies as well. Increasing dollar amounts are rewarded for more deadly hits, with head-shots being the most profitable. Successive hits increase a combo multiplier, which rapidly raises your bank balance. This money is used to purchase new guns and consumables and also to unlock characters for use in the multiplayer modes. Your skill during each level is judged and you're rewarded a grade; better grades unlock better items. It's not hard at all to earn a 'Good' grade, but you're going to have to replay the levels several times if you want to bring in the coveted 'Excellent' grade.
It's not all about the singleplayer experience though. Up to four players can have at each other in three multiplayer modes. There are standard deathmatch-style modes with minor variations in the rules governing victory, and there are also two types of card games. So what, you might ask, do you do if you have no friends around? No problem. The computer will fill that void temporarily. It doesn't put up too much of a fight, though, so this really is for you and human competition only.
Adding to the above-average gameplay are the equally accomplished graphics. The barren canyons, farmhouse fields and ghost town dilapidation of the Old West have been perfectly captured. And Red's character design doesn't look nearly as much like Clint Eastwood as you would imagine. There is a fair amount of aliasing, but that's to be expected from a console entering its fifth year on the market. Widescreen owners will be able to configure the game to take advantage of their superior sets, and the PAL version of the game offers a 60 Hz mode too.
Sadly, the audio fares significantly worse. The voice acting ranges from laughable to cringe-inducing and the in-game effects become tedious within ten minutes. The various arms do have a good aural kick to them though, which thunder through your living room in Dolby Pro Logic II-goodness.
But by far the most irksome of the game's technical flaws are the excessive load times. While long pre-mission load times can be forgiven, having to wait up to 30 seconds for the game to calculate your stats after a multiplayer match seems a tad much. And speaking to residents of the towns is an exercise in frustration. To get the most out of the intercourse, you need to speak to each person several times, but instead of a smooth flow of conversation, it is broken up into fragments, each requiring load times that compound to make you not care about the process at all.
So, it's no Unforgiven then. But what Rockstar has produced is a quality Western game with lots and lots of shooting. Almost debilitating amounts. The story and interesting mechanics, while not perfect, do manage to keep you interested through the ten or so hours it'll take you to mow through the game. The game could certainly have been better, but for such a neglected sub-genre, this is good enough.
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Red Dead Revolver
Massive gameplay video - direct feed, hi-res, various levels and characters. (640x480, 1.5Mbps)
Red Dead Revolver
Final trailer - hi-res direct feed (640x480, 1.5Mbps)
Red Dead Revolver
Some gameplay scenes from throughout the game (480x360, 1300kbps)
Red Dead Revolver
Fully aweosme direct feed, hi-res trailer. (480x360, 1476kbps)