Reviews – Red Dead Redemption Review

This review is courtesy Michael Brewer of MadBrewLabs.  Check out his blog for his thoughts about RPGs, game design, running campaigns, and more.

Platform: PS3
Also available on: XBox 360
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San DiegoRockstar North
Release date: May 18, 2010

Red Dead Redemption[1] is an action-adventure 3rd person shooter that is set in the late (1911-1914) Old West. While it’s set in the Old West, the open game world locations and people are actually fictitious. Red Dead Redemption (RDR) is the spiritual successor to the PS2 game, Red Dead Revolver, but doesn’t share any common characters in the story lines (though you can unlock Revolver models for online play).


I’ll try to keep from spoilers, but the primary storyline for RDR follows former outlaw, John Marston, who is strong-armed into tracking down and killing his former gang members when the newly formed FBI kidnaps his wife and son.

Marston must obtain allies (by rendering services for them) in the Territory of New Austin and the Mexican province of Nuevo Paraiso in order to track down and incapacitate his former friends. Then Marston must face the law that shanghaied his life.

The voice acting is superb and the story and dialog do an excellent job of illustrating the underlying themes exemplified by the Old West. Civilization conquering the Wild. Law subverting Freedom and all the little grey areas between. The plot handles the moral and ethical ambiguity rooted in the myth of the American Frontier very well.

For a more complete synopsis of the plot (as well as detailed information about every part of the game), I highly recommend the walk-through provided by the Red Dead Wiki.[2]


Red Dead Redemption is built on RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine), so it shares a lot technology with Rockstar’s other game built with the same engine, Grand Theft Auto IV, such as a sandbox game world and the third person shooter perspective.


Transportation across the open world is done primarily with a horse (along with carts, wagons, or stagecoaches if you steal one) or train, but once a place has been “unlocked” you can travel there instantly when you’ve set up camp or when you’re at a save location. You can always travel to waypoints you can place on the world map using this method. Some online games and story chapters have unique modes of transportation such as by river raft or automobile.


The controls (at least for the PS3 version) are pretty intuitive and easy to master. Firing a weapon consists of pressing and holding the aim button and then firing with another. You have three modes of aiming: Casual, Normal, and Expert. The difference between Casual and Normal are not that obvious at first, but they both snap-to-target (with Normal you have to be near the target for auto-aim to work). Casual aiming also increases heal speed. Expert removes all auto-aiming feature (and gives an XP bonus in multi-player).

Damage is represented by blood splatter and red transparency that overlays the screen. Health is regenerative, and once you quit taking damage you quickly heal. However, it is still possible to be sniped in one-shot, especially in multi-player.


The RDR team did a healthy bit of research for the weaponry found in the game. While some of the specs are inaccurate (Henry rifles held 16 rounds, not 12; original Evans repeating rifles held 34 rounds, not 22; Mauser pistols were not fully auto until after WWI), I think they were modified for game balance. Below is a list of available weapons and links to their real-world counterpart:

Weapon List:

My only real gripe is that the infamous LeMat revolver wasn’t able to fire the grapeshot center barrel the Confederate sidearm was famous for. Other than these small inconsistencies, I think the weaponry is dead-on for this western shooter. Indeed, I think the weapons used may have actually determined the timeline the story is set in.

Breaking Horses

Horse breaking is a mini-game in Red Dead Redemption. You can either break horses at one of the ranches or break horses in the wild. There are several breeds of horse that can be obtained (Welsh Mountain, Quarter Horse, & American Standard-bred being but a few), each with different qualities. Attributes for mounts include Speed, Stamina, and Health and each has a rating of 1 to 4 stars. Most of the breeds must be found and broken in game.

Gambling Mini-Games

There are several gambling mini-games available to play in both single-player and multi-player. Each mini-game has it’s own unique mechanics and/or controls. You can lock hands in Arm Wrestling, try not to exceed 21 in Blackjack, slice up your hand in Five Finger Fillet, test your luck in Horseshoes, prevaricate about faces in Liar’s Dice, or bluff your way to the pot in Poker.

Other Activities

Some other activities available in Red Dead Redemption include Bounty Hunting, Cattle Herding, watching newfangled film at the Cinema, commit Crimes & Murder, Drinking, Herb Collecting, Hunting & Skinning, and Train Robbing. There are also random mini-missions that you can accept like preventing hangings, escorting strangers, getting ambushed, dueling, and intervening with suicides.

There are also Gang Hideouts sprinkled across the map that bandits will repeatedly take over, but you can clear them out.


The single-player element of RDR could stand-alone as great game without adding online play, but Rockstar pulled out all the stops and included multi-player. There is no conventional lobby to enter the various types of multi-player games, instead you can select everything from Free Roam.

Free Roam

Free Roam is basically an online instance of the entire open game world of Red Dead Redemption that supports up to 16 players. Many of the activities available in single-player are available in Free Roam, the major exception is that you no longer have an inventory or economy (ammo can be obtained from slain players/NPCs or quasi-random ammo boxes that appear throughout the map).

Free Roam comes in three flavors: Normal, Hardcore, and Friendly. Player killing is available in Normal and Hardcore, but is removed in Friendly (though you can blow yourself up with dynamite and take nearby players with you or stun them long enough for enemies to kill them). In Hardcore, you must use Expert aiming.

There is also a Private instance where only invited players may join, but many of the achievements and challenges can only be accomplished in the above public Free Roams.

From Free Roam, you can form posses of up to 8 players and clear gang hideouts or just generally wreak havoc. Posses also allow you to stay together when entering one of the many game modes: competitive or cooperative.

The competitive game modes always begin with a Showdown, either a Mexican Standoff (free-for-all) or a Face-Off (gangs matches), and support 2-8 players. The Liars & Cheats DLC also allows you to play Poker and Liar’s Dice in multi-player.

Cooperative Missions

The cooperative game mode is available with the Outlaws to the End DLC and includes 6 coop missions that have both normal and advanced versions. Players can choose “classes” (classes merely define the beginning weapon loadout) and attempt to complete the missions in groups of 2 to 4 players.

Gang Shootout

A team deathmatch where the team with the most kills wins.

Gold Rush

The game randomly spawns bags of gold and you must capture more than the other players to win. The more gold you carry, the slower you move.

Grab Bag

Is much like capture the flag, but there is only one flag and it spawns in quasi-random locations as a bag of gold.

Hold Your Own

A classic capture the flag scenario.

Horse Racing {Liars & Cheats}

Players race against each other with mounted combat.

Land Grab {Undead Nightmare DLC}

This is like a free-for-all version of Stronghold below. Players fight to maintain control over sections of a town.


A classic free-for-all deathmatch where the person with the most kills wins.

Stronghold {Liars & Cheats DLC}

For those familiar with the Warfare mode from Unreal Tournament 3[3], Stronghold is very similar. One team tries to prevent the other team from capturing nodes on the map. Both teams take turns attacking and defending, and the team with the best score wins.

Undead Overrun {Undead Nightmare DLC}

This is a cooperative game that supports 2-4 players. Players are confronted with wave after wave of undead hordes and are scored by how many waves they survive.

Levels & Unlocks

Unlike the single-player game, multi-player has levels. A player may level from 1 to 50 (and do it again up to 5 more times to unlock Legendary stuff). A player’s level and how many times he’s passed into legend (i.e. started over at level 1) determine which mounts, weapons, character skins are available to him.Clearing gang hideouts, general killing, and participating in the multi-player game modes earns players experience.

Occasionally, Rockstar announces double and triple experience events on holidays and weekends. In order to be aware of when these things happen you have to follow them on Facebook[4] or Twitter[5] or catch the event on the Social Club.[6]

Achievements & Challenges

The achievement & challenge system is an addiction for me. I simply cannot rest until I’ve unlocked every trophy (what is awarded on the PS3 for obtaining achievements) and beat every challenge. It makes the achiever in me forgo sleep in order to mark a single challenge off the list.

There are two similar systems at play in Red Dead Redemption. Achievements (or Trophies on the PS3) are usually tied to the storyline or with single impressive feats. If you complete the story, you end up with a lot of Trophies. Challenges are not tied to the story, and you could probably go through the entire game without completing one.

Most of the challenges exist in multi-player and there are so many of them (especially when you add the DLCs), that it could keep everyone but the most hardcore/unemployed busy for more than a year. Completing challenges always unlocks something like outfits, titles, or things like golden weapon skins.

Expansions (DLC)

There are five expansions, or dowloadable content, available for Red Dead Redemption: Outlaws to the End, Legends & Killers, Liars & Cheats, Hunting & Trading, and Undead Nightmare. Except for Hunting & Trading, all of the DLC is premium content, which means you need to pay extra for it. However, they bundle four premiums together as the Undead Nightmare Collection and retails for $19.99.

I won’t go into the minutia, but the DLCs add new challenges, achievements, usually a weapon or new outfits, titles, character skins, and online game modes. Undead Nightmare is unique in that it adds an entire new single player campaign that takes place in between final events of the main storyline. An undead plague turns people into flesh eating zombies and Marston needs to recover an ancient Aztec artifact to stop it.


Since it’s release on May 18th, 2010, Red Dead Redemption has collected an impressive array of critical acclaim and awards. Metacritic[7] reports an aggregate score of 95, making it the 4th best ranked PS3 game of all time according to them. The only reputable review I could find that scored RDR less than in the 90th percentile was from Eurogamer[8] and they gave an 8/10.

At the only video game awards I monitor, the Game Developers Choice Awards, Red Dead Redemption was nominated for 6 categories (out of 7 it could be eligible for) and walked away with 4 awards including Best Audio, Best Technology, Best Game Design, and Game of the Year.[9]

RDR has also claimed numerous Game of the Year awards from the media, including: Computer & Video Games, GameSpot, GameSpy, Good Game, and Machinima. The game has also been recognized for it’s music by GameSpot, Machinima, and SpikeTV; for it’s downloadable content by G4 TV, Game Revolution, and SpikeTV; and for it’s graphics at the Korean Games Conference.[10]


The two soundtracks available, Red Dead Redemption[11] and Undead Nightmare,[12] are simply phenomenal. The atmosphere and ambiance is perfectly captured by the game’s audio. These soundtracks would be an excellent tool to set the mood for any Western tabletop game. The music for both albums were composed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson, current and former members, respectively, of the instrumental/post rock band Friends of Dean Martinez.[13]


This game is my current favorite video game and I think it is certainly the best 2010 had to offer. Red Dead Redemption has all the Bartle player types[14] covered. Explorers have an expansive open world to discover and roam. Achievers have countless Achievements and Challenges to complete. Killers can slay everything they meet. Socializers can form Posses and voice-chat or do whatever they like to do, I guess.

The only way I can envision this game being better is if they released it on PC and along with an editor and supported user generated content. I’d love to make stuff for this game!

This game has all sorts of elements just waiting to be mined for a tabletop game. From the characters to the plot, the locations and side-missions, and even the soundtrack. Play this game for just ten minutes and you’ll be ready to write a scene for the Wild West roleplaying game of your choice!

Listening to: Red Dead Redemption – Undead Nightmare OST – Get Back in that Hole, Partner


[1] The official Red Dead Redemption website by Rockstar Games.
[2] The Red Dead Wiki, an exhaustive resource for all things Red Dead.
[3] Unreal Tournament 3 is a first-person shooter by Epic Games.
[4] Rockstar Games on Facebook.
[5] Rockstar Games on Twitter.
[6] Rockstar Games Social Club Events.
[7] Red Dead review aggregation on Metacritic.
[8] Red Dead Review from Eurogamer.
[9] Red Dead Redemption sweeps the Game Developers Choice Awards.
[10] RDR awards listed on Wikipedia.
[11] Red Dead Redemption YouTube playlist.
[12] Undead Nightmare YouTube playlist.
[13] Friends of Dean Martinez mySpace page.
[14] Dr. Richard Bartle’s Players Who Suit MUDs.