Ye-haw! Dagnabbit! You cotton pickin' varmint! And etc, etc from the Puffin Bumper Book of Cowboy Phrases.
I love Rock Star Games. Except for the odd bit of rubbish (Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, I present to you Manhunt 2, The Italian Job and State of Emergency) they're a producer of consistently fine video games; The GTA series (every last damn one of 'em), Manhunt, Bully and the fine cowboy game Red Dead Revolver.
Admittedly, they've never been ones to stray wildly away from a winning formula. Typically sandbox games dotted with vehicles and missions, but every one imbued with a level of atmosphere and playability second to none. Forget the controversy about Manhunt; It was an adult game with adult themes designed for adults and is still one of the greatest and most tense games I've played - and pre-empted the gorenography horror themes found in the Saw series of films by quite a few years.
Their latest epic is Red Dead Redemption, the next generation sequel to the aforementioned Red Dead Revolver. Some critics have labelled it GTA: The Wild West, but that doesn't do it justice. Said critics are a waste of skin and DNA and should be forced to hand their reviewing badge and gun in at headquarters.
You play John Marston, an ornery varmint with a shady past. Forced by the Bureau (the earliest incarnation of the FBI in the Old West) to hunt down and kill his former partners in crime, Marston finds himself between a Rock(star) and a hard place.
And thus the scene is set for one of the most entertaining sandboxes in a Rock Star game yet (and man, is there a lot of sand). A huge vista of towns, canyons, forest and mountains, the Wild West is a lethal place - and judging from the number of critters lounging about it (Cougars, skunk, wolves, deer, hyena and buzzards) it's certainly very wild indeed.
You're given free reign to play exactly as you want. Fancy playing the honorable Clint Eastwood-esque maverick? Shoot the bad guys in their stupid faces, rescue damsels in distress and defend Stagecoaches from robbery. Fancy playing as a despicable Lee Van Cleef rogue? Shoot the good guys in their stupid faces, leave damsels in distresses tied up to railroad tracks and steal everything you can find from every Stagecoach you find.
Every cliche from every decent western you've seen is here; Shoot-outs in dusty tumbleweed strewn streets, Train Robberies, Horse breaking, High stakes card games in smoky saloons and the occasional lynchin'. A fantastic support cast again ticks all the spaghetti western boxes; Mysterious men in black, drunken Irishmen, Insane graverobbers, whores with a heart of gold.
As with the GTA series, the main missions aren't the heart of the game - they're simply something that propel the story along. There is plenty to do in the gameworld - I've heard estimates from other reviews that there's a good 40 hours of gameplay if you want to uncover every single little bit of entertainment from Red Dead Redemption. If I don't find a dusty Delorean hidden inside a cave somewhere, I won't be happy.
Niggles? Riding a horse, although phonomenal (and rarely well done in games - Link and Epona is the only example that springs to mind), can be a little fiddly - especially in tight spots. There's also a lack of permanence in the game world - a farmhouse burnt down to embers in one mission is miraculously fully rebuilt in the next. It's also quite an easy game; a slow down ("Red Dead Sight") mechanic to enable you to 'paint' your target before resuming normal time lets you cut through swathes of enemies - still, if Clint Eastwood can do it, why can't you?
Overall though, Red Dead Redemption is bloody great and everything a decent cowboy game should be. There are few gaming experiences as well done as riding your horse through dusty terrain underneath a perfectly clear starry sky. I've only scratched the surface so far, but unless something I find something dramatically wrong with it - which I doubt - it's worthy of 877 FoldsFives out of 905.
Now, you'll have to excuse me. Some bandits are lynchin' some poor fellas wife and there's Western justice to uphold. Giddyup!