Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption” is an upcoming action-adventure sandbox game from Rockstar San Diego, due for release in May 2010 on the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Set in the lawless Wild West of the U.S.A at the beginning of the 20th century, it follows the story of lead character John Marston, whose primary mission is to hunt down and kill the members of the gang led by his former friend Bill Williamson. Marston himself is a retired member of the gang and is blackmailed by the U.S. Government to embark on this mission and establish law and order, so that the progress of government and technology can continue.

A series of trailers was released by Rockstar for this game. The official trailer was released on December 1st, 2009, and provided an insight into the lead character. It can be found at the following link:-

The trailer:-

The trailer is modelled on the 'spaghetti' Western films of Sergio Leone. It starts off with the protagonist riding into a town, against the vast backdrop of the old West. The music is reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's scores for Leone's Clint Eastwood films and 'Once upon a time in the West’ (especially the harmonica). The scene-freezing and red-black colour schemes employed at the beginning, in the moments when John Marston announces his name and mission to the sheriff of the town and the sheriff looks at him with amazement, also hark back to Leone's films. The trailer indicates that Marston's mission to capture or kill Williamson is going to be an epic journey, filled with travails, trials, tribulations and pitfalls. Marston must ally with the town's law enforcement officials in his war against Williamson. In the process, he also encounters a Mexican revolutionary trying to lead his people into an insurgency against the Mexican army. How Marston manages to achieve his mission in the midst of all this forms the storyline of the game.

The game seems to be a multilayered epic tale of the lawless, rural West, judging by the trailer. The setting is painstakingly accurate, with the people, technology and culture of the day represented extremely authentically. The railroads, houses, bandits, revolutionaries, vehicles and weapons of the era show up in the trailer and are strikingly realistic. Particularly, the attention paid to the physics of the game stands out as the horses run, horse-carriages bump along on the dusty roads and people shoot each other in gunfights and skirmishes. Red Dead Redemption uses Rockstar's RAGE game engine and NaturalMotion's Euphoria and the results are highly impressive.

The trailer also gives us the idea that this mission is tied up with Marston's past in Williamson's gang, since he says “If I don't stop him, great harm will befall my family” and we see what appears to be a flashback scene with a house burning and some people wailing.

Ars Technica:-

Technically, it is a slick, well-made traler, with a cinematic feel to it that rivals any of today's film trailers. As mentioned earlier, scene-freezing, garish colour schemes and slow-motion action are employed to add a feel to the trailer rather than just for snazzy showmanship. Tributes are paid to Sergio Leone through the music and some of the action and, we may speculate, the overall feel of the game itself. The slow-motion action recalls scenes from Sam Peckinpah's “The wild bunch.” The story and characters of the game are introduced nicely and the objective of the game is explained sufficiently. In addition, it is also apparent that the game involves a great deal of shooting and explosive violence. Also, honour and justice seem important elements in John Marston's progress. The sheriff is presented as a morally upright person who is determined to hunt down Bill Williamson and Marston is depicted as a man making amends for his own dark past. Another element of the trailer that is impressive is the technology shown. Rifles, then-new revolvers, handguns, cannons and the 'cutting-edge' Gatling machine gun can be seen at various points. Trains, then making their way across the American continent, can be seen in full glory as they chug into and out of towns, often being attacked by bandits. The trailer is thus quite comprehensive, informative and technically advanced.

Additional trailers:-

The problem with a lot of game trailers has been that, in their quest to be cinematic and sell the games as immersive and epic storytelling experiences, they mention nothing of the gameplay mechanics involved, thus leading sometimes to greatly disappointed users who buy the game with increased expectations after watching the trailer, only to find that the actual game falls several feet short of being immersive or interesting. Perhaps to remedy this, Rockstar released a series of other trailers to explain the gameplay, weapons and characters of the game better. The trailer “Gameplay series: Introduction” gives us more information about how the game was developed to convey a sense of authenticity and organic gameplay, how to play (including tips on shooting), how to increase John Marston's honour as we play (rescue trains and hostages from bandits, capture and deliver thieves and outlaws to the sheriff) and the various places to explore (Plains, Frontier and Mexico) in this open-world game. The possibility of hunting down animals (buffalo, horses, cattle) is also demonstrated in some scenes. Another feature of these trailers is that it demonstrates Rockstar’s RAGE and NaturalMotion's Euphoria's impact on the game. This was shown in the Introduction trailer and the subsequent one, “Gameplay series: Weapons and Death.” Horses run highly realistically and people limp, crawl away or fall down and die depending on where they are shot. The Dead-Eye targetting system is also demonstrated, wherein the player may target the enemy with pinpoint precision. While the method of zeroing in on the enemy to shoot might seem similar to, say, Psychonauts, the variant of this method, where we pre-aim shots at enemies and then fire all of them off, is an interesting one. This allows us to slow down the action, preset our targets and then return to real-time action and shoot continuously and accurately. This slow-motion precision targetting system is Rockstar cleverly injecting a bit of cinematic action into the game.

Rockstar also released trailers about the characters inhabiting the game world. “The Women : Sinners, Saints and Survivors” is the first of these and introduces the women Bonnie McFarlane and Luisa Fortuna, who will enter Marston's life as he moves between the plains, the frontier town and Mexico. Another trailer, “The Law,” introduces the law enforcers in the game, Marshall Leigh Jackson, his deputies and Agent Edgar Ross. They are shown as people determined to maintain law and order at all costs.


“Red Dead Redemption” is described as the spiritual successor to Rockstar's 2004 hit, “Red Dead Revolver.” That game was reviewed favourably and sold 1.5 million copies. While this may seem paltry compared to “CoD: Modern Warfare 2” which sold 4.7 million copies on its very first day, it is still a sizable number for 2004. Therefore, expectations from a successor to this hit game are high. The Western setting draws a huge number of people to it, since there are dedicated followers of the films of that genre. The storyline seems informed by both, the conventions of the genre and the rule-bending works of Sergio Leone. The homages paid to him and Ennio Morricone (who even scored the music for Revolver) will definitely warm the cockles of movie-buff gamers' hearts. The impressive physics and artistry only add to the allure of the game. Being an open world game, the opportunities for impressing gamers as they ride around the old West on horseback are limitless. This is a step in a different direction for Rockstar San Diego, the developers of the game. If this game proves to be a hit, with its seemingly great storyline and amazing tech (graphics and physics), it could well launch a new demographic for Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar's parent company, to exploit. Rockstar thus has an opportunity to create the genre-defining Western title (atleast till its sequel comes out). In addition, Take-Two is riding high on the success of “GTA: Chinatown Wars,” “Borderlands” and “Bioshock 2” and would, no doubt, have an assured audience for “Red Dead Redemption.”

The Western setting itself seems not as popular with game developers as science fiction or fantasy. There have been few games of note in this genre over the past few years, such as the “Call of Juarez” and “Desperados” series and Rockstar's own “Red Dead Revolver.” In addition, of the games announced for release in 2010, Redemption is the only Western; thus, it faces no genre competition. However, it could face competition from Ubisoft's “Prince of Persia : The Forgotten Sands” and Natural Motion's “Backbreaker,” both releasing on the same day as Redemption. “Forgotten sands,” set in between the events of “Sands of time” and “Warrior within,” is Ubisoft's first big release (across all platforms, that is) in the series after 2008's “Prince of Persia” and is thus a highly anticipated title that could surge ahead of its competition easily. The 2008 game sold 2.2 million copies and this game can be expected to sell as much, if not more. “Backbreaker” is NaturalMotion's first title and Redemption, coming from a well-entrenched, richer publisher with a greater reach and established market share, can be expected to sell more units than Backbreaker.

Red Dead Redemption is a creatively bold decision by Rockstar and Take-Two. They are looking to capitalise on a genre not yet fully explored by game developers and seem to have come up with the right formula. Most game review sites opine that the demos of Red Dead Redemption are simply astounding, with the level of detail breathtaking. Based on the expectations from companies of such repute, it could be estimated that Red Dead Redemption could sell in the region of 2 to 2.5 million copies worldwide. This is a conservative estimate; should the game be as impressive as its trailers and demos, it could well exceed that number and pave the way for more interesting titles in the genre. Which is a good thing for people who love Westerns.

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