Nearly every action you take in Red Dead Redemption will result in a change to one of three meters - Honour, Fame and Bounty - and these in turn will govern most of your experience with the game.
All three meters are pretty self-explanatory, but provide some pretty interesting differences over Rockstar’s previous games. Honour gauges your internal view on your actions, while Fame monitors how the populace see you – killing lawmen, for example, will make both Fame and Honour take a dive, while slaughtering the random groups of bandits that assault some towns will increase both.
The plentiful minigames that fill the game, the best of which is Five Finger Fillet, give you a chance to increase Fame too, which is handy for giving the townsfolk a good impression of yourself before you visit the shop.
Bounties meanwhile are a far more interesting mechanic and one of our favourite things about Red Dead Redemption (aside from having pistol duels) is that it punishes criminal behaviour far more than Rockstar’s previous games do. It’s not as simple as just running away from the police or giving your horse a new paint-job.
Breaking the line of sight helps you escape Marshalls
Now when you commit a crime the game doesn’t automatically summon the police - not unless a citizen is specifically able to raise the alarm – so you can kill people in the outback with no worries, for example. You can even watch people run to raise an alarm and, provided you take them all out, you’ll get away with only a decrease to Honour and Fame. If the Sheriffs do find out though then they’ll come after you hard and you’ll have to kill them or escape their sizeable search radius.
Even if you do dodge the law once though, the hunt is still on and it’s here that Bounty comes in, with a figure in top of the screen telling you how much you’re wanted for, dead or alive. If it goes high enough then Bounty Hunters will start to show up, but it also means that more police will be after you next time you commit a crime. You can visit a train station to pay off the bounty and reset the situation, but if you don’t then you’ll find out difficult it really is to commit to the life of a fugitive.
Take our advice though; go and find out, because it’s things like that which Red Dead Redemption does really well, plunging you into the role of a frontiersman even when you’re deliberately veering away from the main plot and embracing your anarchic side. The gameplay options for those times when you want to mess around have been reined in now that there aren’t sports cars to race around in and skyscrapers to jump off of, but somehow the act of hunting for cougars and bears among the tumbleweeds has replaced it brilliantly.
Marsden has got plans for that chicken
Still, Red Dead Redemption isn’t a perfect game and while it manages to brilliantly summon up a sense of loneliness and violence that’s so closely attached to classic Westerns, there are some obvious weakpoints. The controls are all over the place, for example, with hammering X to speed up being a particularly annoying addition. Getting used to controlling your horse and learning to shoot accurate from horseback without relying on your bullet-time ‘Dead Eye’ mode or the heavy-handed auto-aim can be a pain in the arse.
To boil things down to their cynical minimums again, it’s hard to get away from how dangerously familiar Red Dead Redemption is to Rockstar’s previous games too – the déjà vu sets in hard sometimes and you’re left wondering if Red Dead Redemption really represents anything truly new over the likes of the Grand Theft Auto games.
Many of the missions are repetitive or samey too and what could have been a fairly simple, direct story is obviously fluffed out beyond what it needs to be. Once that suspicion settles in then it’s easy to question if the game isn’t built out of distractions – not that the minigames aren’t fun and all that.
Still, no matter how annoying it is when you steer your horse off a cliff for the umpteenth time or how superfluous some of the content is, there’s no getting away from the simple fact that Red Dead Redemption offers the single biggest, best and most stunningly complete emulation of Wild West life yet committed to digital format. That alone makes it worth picking up, even if graphically, it can look pretty ropey on the PlayStation 3.