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Reviewed by Rich DeWester
ockstar wants to return you to a simpler time. A time when a hard day's work earned you a good night's sleep. A time when you could shoot a man in cold blood in the middle of the street because he challenged your manhood. I know that last bit is pretty much like every other Rockstar game, ever, but this one takes place in the Wild West! While our noble reformed criminal protagonist might not cross paths with Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday, the fictional events certainly have a strong authentic feel. Rockstar has done their homework with this one, and have yet again provided a deep and polished title for their adoring fans.
You might think "Red Dead Redemption" is a sequel to 2004's "Red Dead Revolver," but you'd be wrong. The two have very little to do with each other. Gone are the days of Red, and instead you play John Marston, a man with a dark past forced into running down one of his former brothers in arms to save his own family and future. Much like Niko Bellic, John seems like a good guy who is just put in some rough spots and forced to make difficult decisions.
Those who are familiar with the more recent "Grand Theft Auto" games will find themselves right at home here. The game puts the mission giver icon on the map so you know where to progress the story and mission replay options as well. "Red Dead's" plot is very well written and never feels one-note. At times, some of the dialogue can get a bit hokey, but it's nothing unforgivable. While you're enjoying the story there is a nice set of challenges to help extend the gameplay a bit further.
There is certainly a huge and gorgeous environment to explore here, but not obnoxiously huge like "San Andreas." Occasionally along your travels, you might encounter someone who needs your help saving someone from being hung, or someone might challenge you to a duel in town. It's things like these that help keep the game from ever really feeling stale. "Redemption" also has some of the best music and voice acting I've heard – and maybe best of all, none of it tries to beat you over the head with the fact that this is a western game. The soundtrack seemed to flow smoothly into the background, and even though the game doesn't have box office stars in its main cast, it's masterfully done.
If you're done playing "Redemption's" campaign mode, there is a surprisingly well-done online mode to enjoy here. Posse up with some buddies and take on a gang's hideout, or just roam the trails gunning down the other online players. There is an experience system set up here which unlocks other characters, mounts, challenges and weapons to use. Or if you and your friends find yourselves on the wrong side of the barrel a few too many times, you can also jump into a private map.
I know Rockstar games have a stigma for focusing on the most disgusting parts of humanity. While the story might force you to take a man's life from time to time, it doesn't force you to run around shooting up a town like a jackass, and it certainly didn't force you to tie up that chick who tried to jack your horse and then leave her on some train tracks while you twist your mustache. You made those choices, and you're an awful person. In all seriousness, though, "Red Dead Redemption" is a deep and very enjoyable game. One could even make a case for it being Rockstar's best game yet.