As far as anyone can remember, Western-style shooters of some kind have graced the videogame area. Whether it was Custard's Last Stand, Desperado, Freddie Farkas, Gunsmoke, Sunset Riders, Mad Dog McCree
, or even Lethal Enforcers 2
, the good old Western has been a staple gamers' could rely on, until recently, that is. When Surreal Games and Activision demoed Gunslinger
at E3 in 2000, the fever for the dusty, relentless Western rose once again, only to be cut brutally short. Now, after acquiring Capcom Entertainment's once promising Red Dead Revolver
from a sure hanging, the master of all things mafia, guns and style is giving us its take on the Western, revitalizing not only the game, the shooter theme along with it.
Red Dead Revolver is a third-person shooter set in the Wild West with all sorts of quirks. You'll take on as many as six different characters, ride horses, bulls and trains, converse with a wily bunch of Western varmints, and learn the greatest tradition in the West, the quick draw. As far as Westerns go, Red Dead Revolver offers, style, color, depth and humor. It's a unique take that fulfills one's needs to become a dirty western cowboy bad-ass, a Clint Eastwood-like bounty hunter with a grudge against corruption, greed, and power. It's also far from a perfect game, delivering awkward mechanics, rough visuals, and some very unpolished moments. But it's certainly worth your while.
It's become monumentally clear that Rockstar Games has a fascination with infusing popular culture into the videogame spectrum. What's more, the company is dedicated to delivery each of its games with its own particular sense of style. Red Dead Revolver is no exception on either front. It's unclear how much of the game was styled out before Capcom handed it off to Rockstar, but the final product beams with a keen eye and a slick delivery.
While the core graphics themselves aren't impressive, Rockstar San Diego's wide-ranging techniques have given this game a feel unique to, well, a Western. The game itself is an ode to Sergio Leone's mid-1960s spaghetti Westerns starting with Red, the grizzled bounty hunter whose family was brutally attacked and murdered in front of his eyes. Red grows up, becomes a skilled shooter and bounty hunter, and returns to seek vengeance on his family's killers. He's squinty and bright eyed, with scratches across his face, and he only says the bare minimum.
After Red's looks, the cutscenes, Quick Draws, and bleak, dry, sun-scarred scenery give this game another visual punch. Rockstar San Diego layered on a technique providing scratchy, old-film sensibilities, and it often slows down the camera for the quick draws, offering tension and dramatic effect. The menu system is stamped with great western typefaces, a back journal that mimics old fashioned newspapers, and a soundtrack that feels as if it was stolen straight from any one of Clint Eastwood's western films from the 1960s.
The presentation, however, doesn't hide the visual groundwork beneath it. At its core, Red Dead Revolver is an average looking game. There is no question about the game's idiosyncratic, atypical looking characters, its excellent dynamic lighting system, its slickly animated loadscenes, and the purposefully designed slowdown sections. The quantity of character types, selection of body shapes and costume designs give players the perfectly imagined Western feel in a game. The introduction itself is a beautifully designed intro collage, mixing 30 years worth of Westerns into a whole, as Rockstar San Diego has borrowed techniques and visual patterning from both well-known movies and TV shows to fashion this game. So, on several fronts, it's a slick looking game with a whole lot of style.
On the other hand, the engine isn't terribly robust. What's visually noticeable is this player's frequent confrontation with stuttering framerates, fudgy collision detection (in just about every level), and a good dose of aliasing and even flickering on both the PS2 and Xbox versions. These things aren't all prominent, but they add up to become a noticeable whole that detracts from the otherwise keen looking exterior. Underneath all that lovely presentation, the visuals aren't bad, they're just not all that good.
As for differences between the PS2 and Xbox, the Xbox pretty much takes the cake, supporting HDTV 480P and 480P Widescreen, and running at 60 FPS, versus the PS2's 30 FPS. The Xbox also loads much faster than the PS2 version (two to three times faster), and the Xbox version supports one more Multiplayer mode (Coliseum).
After the training level where you witness your family's murder, a cutscene brings players into the future, where Red is a fully grown man, a bounty-hunter with a steel hand and grim outlook on humankind. The story is a little choppy, giving you the minimal basics to progress -- we'll just say it's not a story-driven game -- and it leads you from mission to mission, unveiling tidbits behind the Governor's corruption and the leagues of filthy folks in his yolk. The game structure is linear, not open, and each save point saves over the last one, so players cannot select from any level they want afterward, but they do have infinite continues, so if they die, there's always another chance. Which is very necessary, and something I'll get when I cover Dueling.
The story usually sticks with Red, but in a unique and likeable touch, it strays from the basic plot to give color and life to other characters, each of whom is affected by Red's actions in the past or present. These missions are central to progression, and they bring a great sense of variety to what is otherwise a pretty basic gun-slinger. When you play as Annie Stokes, Jack Swift, the Buffalo Soldier, Diego, and Shadow Wolf, you become more invested in each character, so when they appear later in the game, there's a feeling of community and endearment. This weaves a more emotionally meaningful story. Unfortunately, the narrative is totally predictable and developmentally thin, so all the build up feels wasted. It's pretty clear Red Dead Revolver was a game that, in its many years of development, took several directions and was remolded many times over. The final product feels that way.
A third-person shooter at its core, Red Dead's shooting mechanic is varied and interesting. It's also a tad clunky. Players use shoulder buttons to fire, and face buttons to reload, and to stick your back to an object, such as a crate or wall for cover. Players can peak from behind said objects to perform quick fire, but they also put themselves, for a brief moment, in harm's way. They can strafe with a lock-on mechanic and can use the analog control to maneuver the camera; and they can punch enemies when they're up close.
The basic shooting mechanics are solid, but the movement mechanics are a little wonky. For instance, in the level when you jump a train from your moving horse, the game is very unpolished. The action to jump to the train isn't consistently clear, or always do-able. In another instance, when your character is hit or shot down, he or she sometimes rolls, staying down on the ground for some time, occasionally becoming vulnerable to punishment. It's only a few seconds, but it seems like eons when you're in a fight, and it could mean life or death. Lastly, when using corners to hide behind and shot from is also awkward, as the collision detection doesn't always enable you to shoot past a wall's edge. An enemy might be able to, but you cannot always. Mechanically, this game is not very smooth nor polished.
Borrowing from Max Payne, Red Dead Revolver enables Red to shoot at enemies in what's called Dead Eye, or in common speak, Bullet Time. This works a little different than what you'd expect. Players build up a segmented meter by shooting enemies, and when it's filled they can press down on the analog to enact the slowdown. Once triggered, they target an enemy or enemies and tag them with red marks. You tag an enemy with as many tags as you have bullets loaded in your gun. Once complete, you'll unload on him and watch him keel over like the stupid thug he is. The unique thing about Dead Eye is that it's Red special move. The other five characters have their own special attacks. With Annie Stokes, you've got a special rifle shot; with Buffalo Soldier, you've got a massive Elephant Shot; with Diego there is a neat flare gun that leads his army cannon man to target an object, and with Shadow Wolf you've got Flaming Arrows. Jack Swift has his own special attack too.
The arsenal of weapons is as progressive as the time was, so players will get their hands on some old-fashioned goodness. However neat and antique the weapons are, nothing is automatic, and there are no flame throwers, kids. Stupid old timers, what did they do without flame throwers? There are several different kinds of hand guns (Scorpion, Pacificador, Twin Revolvers), rifles (Owl Rifle, Bayonet Rifle), shotguns (Sawed Off), as well as three hand weapons, archery items, hand knifes, and dynamite. Each weapon is measured by range and reload times. No weapon has a zoom, but the rifles do provide a better look at long range enemies. You start a mission with whatever gun you have picked from the past and add cumulatively as the game progresses, but can only choose three weapons per level (a hand-gun, a rifle or shotgun, and a hand item).
The game is also filled with unlockable items. After each level is complete, players are awarded a bounty for the boss or lead enemy they killed, and two kinds of unlockables: Earned and Purchasable items. Earned ones are enemies. Beat a level and its boss, and you can now play them in multiplayer mode, usually in that area, which is also unlocked. Players are judged on time taken, hits taken, accuracy and one other measure. If they do a "Good" job, they'll unlock the basic enemy. If they do an "Excellent" job, they'll unlock two enemies. The purchasable items are narrow in kind, but plentiful. Players unlock tons of things, guns, levels, journal entrees, and the like. Most of them continue to unlock either another level or another enemy for multiplayer mode. Once complete, the game rewards you with Bounty Hunter mode (beat the game within a specified time) and more levels.
Red Dead is packed with Multiplayer options, characters, levels and weapons to select from. Up to four people can engage in multiplayer games on both PS2 and Xbox, of which there are three modes: Bounty Hunter, Sundown and High Noon. There are also 2-card games. For Xbox owners, Rockastar's game is Xbox Live Aware, so you can communicate with friends, but not actually play online. The technical differences in multiplayer are pretty significant, since the PS2's framerate suffers far worse than the Xbox.
The Duels are both the best and worst part of Red Dead Revolver. Duels give Red Dead another level of authenticity and skill. Frequently within the game, your character confronts an enemy or enemies who want to quick draw. The game slides into a drama-inducing cutscene that then slips seamlessly into realtime gameplay. Like Dead Eye, this mechanic works in slow motion. When prompted, players press down and then pull up on the right analog button, drawing and aiming their gun in that order. They then must wrestle to control a slowly moving cursor that drags over the opponent's body, showing yellow and two colors of red, indicating increasing levels of damage. Players press the right trigger or shoulder button to time the shots, which appear as tags on the enemy's body. When they're ready, they depress the right analog, and let her rip. At the same time, the enemy is doing the same thing.
The idea is great, and the mechanic is pretty fun. It works, but it's difficult to master no matter how much one practices. Each enemy seems to have different spots, which makes each Duel confrontation either an agonizing trial and error experience, or a surprise success. I spent many frustrating hours trying to beat Mr. Kelly in a Duel, and several other folks as well, whereas with some other enemies -- sometimes you face two or three simultaneously -- I smoked them the first time. My biggest complaint about the Duels is not their difficulty, but the lack of a save option after you win a Duel. After beating Mr. Kelly in a Duel (he's the best Dueling enemy you'll face), I then had to chase him through a level filled with civilians and beat him in a boss fight. When I died, I had to do the Duel all over again. This happened so many times, I can't even count them. AGHHHH! And after fighting the Governor in a fight, I then had to duel with him, only to repeat this several times more.
The voice support here is average. The voice actors in some cases are good, even funny, like Jack Swift and even Annie Stokes. Red is only OK, which is a bummer, because even though he's meant to be pretty quiet, his voice just isn't as kick ass as it could have been. It's not nearly as good as Eastwood's own voice, which he is clearly modeled after. But in classic Rockstar fashion, the supporting cast dialogue is excellent. One memorable moment, which I heard about 30 times after dying in a Duel against Kelly, is "Congratulations! You finished second!" Or, "Have a nice life, now that you're dead!"
The Xbox is also superior to the PS2 version in sound. With the Xbox's increased sound memory, Rockstar San Diego has twice as many variations of most sound effects at higher quality than the PS2 version. There are all sorts of great whistling tunes and gun ricochets in the menu systems and during the game itself. Additionally, the assortment of Western style songs, again clearly borrowed from Sergio Leone movies, gives the game a good, if borrowed, sense of authenticity.
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