Review: Red Dead Revolver (XB)

Finally, a western game! Red Dead Revolver has to be the best western game I’ve played in years. Actually, it’s the only western game I’ve played in years, so that isn’t really saying much. But to its credit, I haven’t played a game that has so faithfully recaptured the feel of a good western since I popped my lunch money into Sunset Riders. Fans of the western genre (all ten of you) should rejoice that two (yes two) western games have come out recently. Atari’s Dead’s Man Hand offers a FPS take on the Wild West, while Red Dead Revolver is straight up arcade shooter. Hopefully developers will take notice that western games are fun! Really, they are.

In a market saturated with sleek looking espionage thrillers and countless war games, Red Read Revolver is certainly refreshing. I can only sneak through so many corridors and shoot so many Nazis before I want to bang my head against the wall from the monotony. Capcom, realizing this, originally took on the task of developing a premier western title, and with their experience with Gunsmoke on Nintendo, it was likely they would have succeeded. Unfortunately, Capcom scrapped the project and left it in a developmental ghost town. Luckily for us however, Rockstar Games snatched up the project and created what is now Red Dead Revolver.

Story: Red Dead Revolver begins with our hero Red practicing with the new pistol he received from his father. Everything is fine and dandy until those gosh darn bandits arrive and murder his parents. Red, though a kid, valiantly attempts some retribution, and ends up shooting off the arm of the Colonel responsible for the killing. Incase you didn’t read that straight, let me say it again: he shot off his arm with a pistol! Now I am no gun expert or anything, but I don’t think a pistol is capable of dismembering a man’s arm. A shotgun maybe, or powerful rifle, but a dinky little pistol? It just came across as silly to me. After Red manages this amazing feat, he burns his hand in the fire, scarring his hand bright red making his ambiguous name make so much sense in that completely cheesy way. (So that’s why they call him Red! Oh, I get it!) For the rest game, Red is on a search for vengeance, taking up bounties to make ends meet. I bet you haven’t heard this story before—oh wait, you have, about a thousand times before. The plot is exact same as the Arnold classic, Conan the Barbarian, except Red isn’t a meaty Austrian walking around in a loin cloth. There are probably numerous other movies that borrow this plot, but I’m too lazy to think of them, which is about as lazy as Rockstar must have been when they came up with this clichéd idea.

As you progress, the game breaks up Red’s story to introduce supporting characters that you meet during your journey. While it is a good idea to offer players a chance to use different characters, I didn’t think it quite worked as well as Rockstar intended. Not only did the optional characters break the flow of Red’s story, but they also added very little to the plot as a whole. Sure, it was fun to play as different characters, but aside from the aesthetic differences and special moves, they play exactly the same as Red. Their missions usually only lasted one or two chapters, making them almost pointless. The best example of this comes with you play as the evil General Diego in a side mission. Not only is this mission difficult and frustrating, but it is completely unneeded. It seems like Rockstar only added it in to break up the repetitiveness of the game. I think it would have better if Rockstar stuck with the main story at hand, Red’s retribution, and possibly included these side missions as secrets to be unlocked.

3/10

Graphics:

The graphics in RDR are nothing special, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. While this game doesn’t push the graphical boundaries of the PS2, it succeeds in creating the feel of the Wild West. Rockstar obviously did their homework, as RDR looks and feels like a popular western movie. The characters and environments, from the gun slinging bandits, to the obligatory saloon, all enhance the game’s presentation. There are many different environments too. You will battle bandits and the like across mountains, mines, ghost towns, and even a moving train. The cut scenes even go as far as to utilize this western theme. Each cut scene is shown like an old movie, with a sepia color tone and scratches on the screen to give it that old movie feel.

While the graphics weren’t all that impressive, I was impressed with the character physics. Not only are there a variety of different character models for all the enemies, but they also move very fluidly when they are shot, spinning around and the like, in that overly dramatic western way. In a nice touch, Rockstar added a nice graphical effect to know when you have a successfully killed an enemy. After a well placed headshot, or after you pumped a sucker with enough lead, their hat will fly off their head as they fall to the ground. It took me a while to release this animation meant an enemy’s death, but after knowing this, it made the game spotting deaths a little easier.

I would have liked to seem more interactivity with the environments, such as breaking bottles or destroying walls. Rockstar did a little bit of this, such as allowing you to kick over a poker table for cover, but I don’t think it was utilized enough.

6/10

Sound:

This is where RDR really shines. Not only is the music exceptional, but it fits the game perfectly. Unlike most games that have music purely to have music, I felt like the music in RDR complimented the game well. Not only that, but it mimics the best of that classic movie western music that you’ve heard a million times in a Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie, and for a western themed game, this kind of music is essential creating a believable environment.

The dialogue is also realistic and done very well. Watching the credits of the game, I was impressed with how many voices actors were used in this short game. I wasn’t really impressed so much with the main characters of the game, but more so with the minor characters, such as the villains and the townspeople. I almost enjoyed hearing the dying words of all the bastards I killed more than actually watching them fall to the floor. I enjoyed this realistic approach to the enemies, as not only did they yelp out their dying wishes, but they also taunted you as well. You can even sneak by disgruntled guards and here them complain about their shitty job. With a wide variety of dialogue and accents, the enemies never got too boring, which is a good for a very repetitive game.

10/10

Control:

An entirely mixed bag this is. While RDR manages to do some things right, it also manages do things completely wrong. First, I must commend Rockstar for getting the most out of the PS2’s controller. Literally every button on the controller is used in the game, including both analog buttons, which is quite impressive. Shooting, the main aspect of the game, is done by holding down the L1 button, which brings up your target, while the right analog stick aims. Firing is done by pressing the R1 button, while the triangle button reloads. At first it takes a little time to get the aiming down, but after a little practice, busting out head shots shouldn’t be that difficult. The only qualm I have with this setup is the excessive amount of time you will spend holding down the L1 button to draw your weapon. Since you will be doing a lot of shooting in this game, most of your time will be spent with your weapon drawn, and it got rather tedious holding down one button for such an excessive amount of time. Rockstar could have easily solved this problem by having your weapon drawn by pushing the button instead of the arduous task of holding it down.

Red is also granted with a special move entitled “Dead eye” which is just a fancy way to say “bullet time.” Basically, when you shoot enough bad guys, you fill up bars at the bottom of the screen. Once you have a bar filled up, pressing the R2 button slows down time to allow Red to target as many hits as possible during the short allotted time. It’s cool effect that is helpful when you are surrounded by a hoard of villains.

While shooting is performed rather easily, everything else in the game is a mess. Melee combat, though seldom used, is almost impossible. In one level, a bar room brawl, you are forced to fight with your hands. Maybe Red was drunk, but I couldn’t land a punch to save my life, or the life of some damsels in distress, which was the objective of the scene. It makes me wonder why they even included this option if it was so poorly executed. Not only that, but it is completely unneeded, and almost tacked on just to say you can do it.

Another one of my big gripes is the many duels you will face throughout the game. Now, you can’t have a western game without a one-on-one duel, so it makes sense that it would be an essential part of the game, but it was done so badly. The explanation of this simple function sounds easy enough, but its execution is where it falls apart. The duels basically work in that Red’s back is facing the screen, while you are looking at your opponent. When the screen switches from the cut scene to the game (which could have done better with a time indicator or count down) you quickly push up the right analog stick up to draw your gun. If you were successful in beating your opponent, you have a short amount of time in slow-motion to target the enemy’s vital areas (chest, head, etc) and make your shots. Any of the vital spots will show up red, and by pressing the fire button (R1) you set off a number marks that Red will fire once the slow motion stops. Take too long however, and your opponent will fire first, so it’s all about placing as many successful marks in the shortest amount of time. Only problem is the controls are terrible. It is incredibly difficult to get the marker to accurately mark a vital area and by the time you do so, you will most likely be dead. This is something that should have been fun, but ended up being frustrating and annoying.

5/10

Balance: The balance is a mixed bag. While some levels are incredibly easy, others can be controller-bashing difficult. Most of the time, the missions are fairly easy due to the moronic AI. Most of the enemies must act like the gunslingers in the Nintendo classic Wild Gunman, and by that, I mean they just stand there and let you shoot them. This goes for bosses too, as some bosses stood casually as I unloaded my revolver straight into their head. I didn’t mind so much, but I found it a little strange that they were being so corporative, but I just took it as them repenting early for their sins.

While the AI can be moronic at times, some levels can difficult when you are rushed by a herd of bandits. Hiding behind cover makes disposing of a large group easy, but the clumsy mechanics behind hiding will often lead you wide open for shots, making it pointless to even seek cover half the time. To get past this, Rockstar made head shots instant kills, so if you’re a crack shot, plowing through enemies shouldn’t be a problem.

If it weren’t for the dreaded duels, I’d say the balance was pretty good. Like I’ve stated earlier, the duels are completely hit or miss—you’re either good at them or not. If you’re one of the fortunate ones capable of mastering it, you shouldn’t have problem progressing through the game. Those of you out there who are inept (me), might want to pad your wall, because odds are you’ll be pounding your head against it after repeatedly losing these ridiculous duels.

5/10

Replayability:

Rockstar definitely made sure players would have an incentive to replay RDR. Aside from the multiplayer mode (which I’ll get to later) there are many obligatory secrets to unlock. If you are capable of exceeding the Rockstar’s intention for a “good” play through of a mission, you are rewarded with the title of “excellent” and some sort of previously locked goody. The goodies range from extra characters/stages for the multiplayer mode, to new weapons. For those who love to read, there are also a large amount of journal entries that can be purchased as you progress through the game. Since you are not likely to have enough money to purchase all the entries at once, Rockstar encourages you to play through the game again to acquire everything. After a mission is completed, there is even an option to play through it again if you are not satisfied with your ranking.

And that’s not all! Once you complete the game, you open both the hard mode (for those who really want to drive yourselves insane) and the bounty hunter mode. The bounty hunter mode is interesting in that it makes you repeat past missions, only with a certain quota that must be met in order to proceed. Some quotas are as simple as finishing missions in a set amount of time, while others may ask only for head shots. The reward for finishing a round in the bounty hunter mode is—you guessed it—more fun goodies! The goodies in the bounty hunter mode are a little more enticing in that the later levels offer certain cheats, like unlimited Dead Eye, so the incentive to hone your gun slinging skills is high for those who like to cheat.

9/10

Originality:

Just for being a western themed game, RDR ranks high on my list. Take that away from the game and it’s really not all that original, but let’s not think about that, and focus once again on the fact that you’re a cowboy fighting bandits, rebels, and Indians. Woo! It’s just like playing cowboys and Indians with your friends, only without the physical activity and human interaction.

8/10

Appeal:

Do you like cowboys? If you said yes, I demand you play this game. If you said no, I demand you find out what the hell is wrong with you. Cowboys not only make for a great gaming experience, but they have been so neglected for the past few years that it should make RDR’s appeal that much more inviting. It’s really simple, you if like western themed games, you’ll like RDR. Those who aren’t interested in shooting revolvers or riding horses, and instead fancy machine guns and cars, go play one of the million of generic games out there that offer this.

8/10

Addictiveness:

As I mentioned in the replayability section, there are tons of things to unlock which will keep you playing. Since RDR has a very arcade feel to it, I found myself playing for hours, as the missions are short and satisfying. And while there is a multiplayer mode, it isn’t that special. I commend Rockstar for offering a bevy of playable characters, but aside from their appearance, there really isn’t anything to distinguish them from any other character in the game besides their special move. The multiplayer mode itself is kind of confusing (you’re supposed to make a poker hand from the cards dead players leave behind) and would have been better suited if it had a simple death match. You would think that Rockstar would have offered different multiplayer options, but that would have made sense, and sometimes common sense is no where to be found in the development of video games.

7/10

Misc: I know this doesn’t really mean much in terms of whether or not you should buy this game, but hot damn, where the menus in this game not gorgeous? From the second I turned on the game, I was just so impressed with the amount of detail put into the menus. From the start, there are three choices on the screen (story/journal/multiplayer) and all are situated on a desk. When you choose an option, the camera zooms in to your desired choice. Each choice has a little theme (the journal is—get this—a journal, the multiplayer menu is a group picture of all the selectable characters, etc). To complete the coolness, a little scorpion crawls around the floor while you’re making your decision. It may be small, but it shows the amount of work Rockstar put into making this game rememberable.

9/10

Final Scores:
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 10/10
Control: 5/10
Balance: 5/10
Replayability: 9/10
Originality: 8/10
Appeal: 8/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Misc: 9/10

70/100