Red Dead Redemption Preview (Xbox360)

We’re at Rockstar’s London HQ to get our first look at this long awaited sequel to Red Dead Revolver and the first thing we’re shown to set the mood is a vibe trailer – a short selection of clips from seminal Western movies that outline the kind of atmosphere the dev team is hoping to emulate. It’s a great collection of classic snippets, including everything from Sam Peckinpah’s violent Wild Bunch to the elegiac Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. Rockstar San Diego has clearly done their homework with a clear vision in mind for Red Dead Redemption.

Once we get to the game proper, it’s clear that the team are well on their way to creating a genuinely evocative open-world that bears all the hallmarks of an unforgettable movie Western. Redemption is currently Rockstar’s biggest project, swallowing up over 200 members of the team across several of the company’s studios. The first Red Dead was refined from an IP that Capcom had abandoned, but the sequel is an entirely different beast and is shaping up to be what we’ve always wanted - the exact fantasy we’d always imagined for a game based upon the Wild West.

Marston – as you’d hope – is a mean son of a gun. Better believe he eats his morning cereal with lashings of whiskey. This screen suggests that pistol duels will indeed feature, although Rockstar are playing their cards close to their chest about this for now.

Redemption is set at the turn of the twentieth century in the hostile American Frontiers where a civilised, law-abiding society was slowly beginning to take shape with all of the teething problems that ensued. Utilising the proprietary RAGE Engine that powered GTA IV’s Liberty City, this particular iteration of the software has been optimised to specifically render the expansive rural locations for Red Dead. We’re told that Redemption is actually larger than any GTA, and although a great deal of what is shown during our demo turns out to be inhospitable plains, there’s a huge amount of incidental detail in the topography and random, procedural events occurring at every turn. Journeying on horseback towards a distant frontier town, we see lawmen chasing an escaped bandit, a woman screaming for help while being attacked by a pack of wolves, a band of travellers sat around a smouldering campfire and a criminal being dragged through the dirt, tethered to a galloping horse.

Each of these occurrences is completely unscripted, but you can intervene should you so wish. So you can save the poor woman from the marauding wolves, help the lawmen catch the bandit or even sit around the campfire and share stories. There’s also an entire animal ecosystem that exists in the game too, with rabbits, coyotes, vultures, snakes, bears, armadillos, cougars and much more besides, all given their own individual behaviour traits as well as Euphoria-driven physics and animation. In fact, the game shares all of the same technology GTA had, with NaturalMotion’s Euphoria applied to almost every facet of Redemption’s world, creating an added dose of unpredictability. You can even attempt to tame a wild horse if you want, although there are a variety of well-trained horses that you can ride. Staying on the subject of animals, you can also skin them and sell their meat if you like, although it’s not advisable to try this with a bear. You can if you want though – lassoing a bear could be a personal challenge to set for yourself. Just don’t expect it to be easy.

The scale and majesty of Redemption is incredible to behold. We can’t wait to get our hands on the finished game. Marston puts on a kick ass fireworks display.

Redemption’s central protagonist is former outlaw John Marston, who is visited by The Bureau (the group that went on to become the FBI) and presented with a horrific ultimatum. It turns out that Marston must track his former partner in crime who is still at large as a wanted outlaw in order to protect those dearest to him. Rockstar are promising a dark and gritty storyline that will feature some truly dramatic and shocking moments in keeping with traditional cinematic Western themes. The plot unfolds across three distinct areas – The Frontier, Great Plains and Mexico – each providing a series of story-driven missions (with mid-mission checkpoints) to complete.

One such mission we’re shown sees Marston working with the Mexican Army to defend a train from bandits. Galloping on horseback alongside the train as it trundles along belching thick, acrid smoke into the air, it immediately becomes apparent that you need to use Marston’s deadeye skill to slow time and get an accurate shot at your target. This is the very same ability you had in Red Dead Revolver, which was used to take out multiple enemies in quick succession. Whether we’ll see Marston take his paces for dueling moments is yet to be confirmed, but you can still use deadeye to paint red crosses on your target before unleashing a rapid deluge of pinpoint accurate bullets. There’s even a solid cover system in the game, which proves invaluable when shootouts occur on a larger scale. While in cover you can move, blind fire and any health you lose automatically regenerates over time a la Gears of War.

A drive-by, cowboy style. Breathtaking, non?

Like GTA, Red Dead Redemption encourages complete freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want and there’s always plenty to do. A visit to Armadillo, one of the game’s frontier towns allows Rockstar to demonstrate one of their many mini-games called Five Finger Fillet (better known as that knife thingy from Aliens) – a QTE that requires quick reactions on the face buttons to prevent you from stabbing yourself in the fingers. The town is also host to a population that goes about its daily business, with banks, shops and saloons all filled with different people who have their own unique, procedurally generated behavior. Should the compulsion to kill everyone take you, it’s entirely possible to wipe out the population creating a ghost town in the process. This will steadily regenerate over time, but it’s still not good for your reputation, especially since you’re meant to be helping to bring the rule of law to the turbulent Frontier towns.

Red Dead Redemption is looking as though it’ll be our dream game when it’s released (hopefully) early next year. The world is not only visually stunning with vistas sprawling towards the horizon as far as the eye can see, but it’s also full of life, buzzing with compelling things to see and do. Online multiplayer is also on the cards too, making this the complete package as far as we’re concerned. All we can do for now is wait with baited breath before we don our Stetson and spurs, pack a six shooter and ride into the sunset with Red Dead.

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By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 02, 2009
Might be the Western I've been looking for, as CoJ wasn't quite the one.
By fredyzg (SI Core) on Sep 02, 2009
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 02, 2009
Now all I need is Clunk "The Man in the Black Hat" Eastwood doing the voice-over. Unforgiven, if they don't:)
By Hunter_Raj (SI Member) on Sep 02, 2009
O Man I am waiting for this game
By breakdancingindian (I just got here) on Sep 03, 2009
looks great. gotta love every western game
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Sep 03, 2009
^ except Helldorado I think.
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Sep 07, 2009
GUN is the best western shoot-out game. Dunno with this one, but looks promising.
By Richie82 (SI Member) on Sep 07, 2009
This will be 568 million billion times better than GUN. Seriously.