Friday, May 21, 2010

The Good, The Bad (Ass), and the Ugly

I've been a fan of Rockstar games for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed Max Paine (one of the few PC games at that time that I played through to the end--ignoring family that had come to visit during Christmas). But what really got me hooked was when I picked up GTA: Vice City back in the summer of 2003 for the PC. The sandbox feel, the music, the missions, the gritty story with lots of dark humor. This was my type of game.

GTA San Andreas really expanded on the notions that I loved in Vice City, with three distinct cities to unlock and explore. The sheer size of the state of San Andreas was mind boggling but awesome. There were many nights where I'd simply get into a car and drive, just to find random things to jump off of and listen to the fantastic variety of music.

GTA 4 came out 2 years ago and I was again drawn back into the new world that had been created. So much time was spent re-creating a living breathing video game version of New York City, that you couldn't help but want to spend time just messing around with all of the various modes of transport. Car, truck, motorcycle, helicopter and to even some extent subway cars. The city was vast and ripe for exploring and exploiting. I've played through the game two times (the first time I played through without trophies and a second time more recently to try and earn what I could before the next big Rockstar title would consume my play time).

The Good.

That of course is Red Dead Redemption. A western tale crafted by the folks at Rockstar in the manner in which they know best. Open world sandbox with so many things to do that trying each one you find a new favorite past time each night. The single player story revolves around John Marston who previously was a wild west gang member turned legit, trying to perform services to help clear his past and ensure a better future for his wife and child. Marston is a mix of old world cowboy faced with the modern technological society trying to educate and civilize a part of the world that perhaps is better off not being brought into modernity.

The Bad Ass

As I've mentioned above, Rockstar's draw (at least for me) is their ability to craft a world so richly detailed with random people, events, animals, and everything else under the sun. The beauty of this world is the fact that you can do pretty much anything you want without actually playing the story. I've played a little over 3 hours of single player and have done only 7 story related missions. The rest of the time I've spent roaming the world, hunting wild life, playing poker, and playing horseshoes. For a game that comes from a company that puts out such wonderful stories you may be asking, why then are you not playing for the story? The answer is simple. There are so many little things to do that flesh out the world to complement the story that it is easy to get lost in the little things. Riding horses is clumsy at first, but once you get the hang of it, then it becomes second nature and you have to wonder why no one has been able to bring this type of game to the masses before (Of course there have been several attempts--but nothing before now on the current gaming consoles). Shooting is very natural, plus add the Dead Eye (think slow-mo bullet time) feature and you can be a very deadly wild west gunman. Random encounters in the wild from prairie folk asking for help, running from bandits, hunting game, each event feels fresh and unique and deftly created. So much of this is what makes the game more than just a single player game. Plus all of the free play activities available in the single player game are in the multi player side of the game as well.

The Ugly

Rockstar has traditionally focused on single player gaming. When San Andreas came out there were mods available to get multi player working much to the enjoyment of many gamers. Then GTA 4 was released with multi player features baked right in. The evolution has seen great strides in what a player can do in both single player and multi player functionality with each Rockstar game. One of the most tauted features of Red Dead Redemption is the ability to "posse" up with 7 other players and then wreck havoc with all of your friends. First night of multi player mayhem, I joined up with members from BPC to have fun and suddenly I can't see my character. Oh. There's my character, but where's my horse? Oh. There's my horse, but where's my character? There's his hat and his gun....WTF is attacking me? There's nothing there?

Sadly this was the reality the first two nights of playing RDR online. Either the models would appear and then disappear or folks in your posse would be disconnected without being kicked from the PSN. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about.

At this point Rockstar has fixed the issue. Which is fortunate. Who likes to look at ugly when there is so much beauty with the rest of the game?

While the game has some fairly graphic blood (during the skinning of animals especially), a fair amount of foul language (to be expected from Rockstar) and lots of gun fights, this game won't be for everyone. But if you want to experience a grand vision of beautiful landscapes, awesome story telling and addictive mini games, do yourself a favor and pick up Red Dead Redemption asap!

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