Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Release Date: May 3, 2004
From Custer’s Last Stand to Mad Dog McCree, Western-style action games have seen a steady – albeit thin – herd released over the years. Recently, we’ve seen the genre run into some trouble, with Western-themed games being pushed back, delayed, and even canceled outright. Rockstar Games, famous for their ubiquitous Grand Theft Auto series, decided to take one of these games out of the trash bin, and acquired the stillborn Red Dead Revolver from Capcom Entertainment. Westerns are back! – for gamers, at least.
Red Dead Revolver is a third-person shooter set in the good ol’ Wild West. Players control up to six characters, taking them through horse and train rides and, of course, lots of gunfights. The game is filled with colorful locales and characters, humor, and deep gameplay. It brings the anti-hero feel of a good Clint Eastwook flick into videogame form – the boxart even sports an Eastwood look-alike to get you in the mood. It is not the most polished game, bringing more than a handful of glaring flaws to the table, but these are, for the most part, overshadowed by the greater overall quality of the game. It is, after all, a miracle that the game saw the light of day in the first place. After being handled by two separate developers with such drastic differences in design ideas as Capcom and Rockstar, it’s a surprise the game turned out to be as good as it is.
Rockstar Games has an obvious fetish for combining popular culture – whether or not it is popular at the moment not being the issue – and making it work as a videogame. That’s one thing that Rockstar has always gotten right: while their work reeks of the film industry, they know they are in the business of making videogames. It’s a Hideo Kojima-style philosophy that more developers should embrace for a number of reasons (reason number two being Metal Gear Solid, reason number one being Grand Theft Auto). While the bulk of Red Dead Revolver was put together by Capcom, it’s clear that Rockstar Games did a gread deal of work on the game after their acquisition, because the game simply bleeds with the sort of style they are known for.
The game opens with a great training level in which you witness your family’s demise. A cutscene bridges the gap between this and our anti-hero’s future, when he becomes a bounty hunter. The game isn’t really story driven, so only a few cutscenes tell you what is going on. The game is fairly linear, though, so don’t worry about spending too much time trying to figure out what to do due to a lack of information. Continues are infinite, so while the difficulty can be very high at some points, you aren’t punished very much for your mistakes.
Being a third-person shooter, the game has a lot of shooting. The shooting mechanics are interesting yet unrefined. The shoulder button fires, and the face buttons reload and make your character stick his or her back to a target or peek around a corner to fire. When locked on, players can strafe around enemies and use an analog stick to change their camera angle. This all works well enough, but the movement engine is a little off, and that makes shooting a bit shaky. Nothing feels consistently clear, giving players a feeling of not being totally in control of their character’s actions.
Red Dead Revolver, like Max Payne before it, features a Bullet Time-style feature called Dead Eye. By shooting at enemies, a meter builds up. Once it’s filled, you can press down the analog stick to trigger the Dead Eye. When in this mode, you tag an enemy with as many tags as you have loaded bullets. Once you let go of the analog stick, you unleash your fury upon the enemy.
Red Dead Revolver’s visuals aren’t technically impressive, but artistically they make up for this flaw. Everything you see looks like it came right out of a classic Western from a good thirty or forty years ago – the game even runs behind a dramatic filter that gives it an old-film sensibility; not exactly a sepia tone or anything that strong, but a nice light filter that adds a lot of richness to the visuals. The story goes along with this theme, as it follows Red, a bounty hunter whose family was killed in front of him. Predictably (and charmingly!), he becomes a bounty hunter and eventually returns to avenge his family’s death. He’s a silent bad-ass, the kind of character I’m sure every baby boomer wished he could grow up to be.
There are a few problems that are a bit irritating. The framerate tends to jump all over the place, which is never a good thing for maintaining that movie-like atmosphere. 60 FPS isn’t required to obtain such an atmosphere (movies run at about half that anyway), but a stable rate is. Perhaps instead of trying for 60 FPS for the Xbox version, Rockstar should have gone for a stable 30, as Capcom is doing with their upcoming Resident Evil 4. Also, Jaggies due to aliasing are spread about the game en masse, and some flickering makes an obvious appearance throughout almost every level.
The voice actors are all right. Some are good, some are not so good, with the main character Red falling into the latter category. He sounds like a comedian doing a cheap Eastwood impression. Thanks to the Xbox’s increased sound memory, the sound effects run at a higher quality than those present in the Playstation 2 version. Gunshots, bullet ricochets, and Western-style songs all come through clear as a bell, and with a bit of gusto.
Red Dead Revolver is a game that I have looked forward to in the back of my mind for some time now. It almost didn’t make it out, but now that it’s here, I’m glad it did. It isn’t the savior of the Western genre that it could have been, but given the circumstances, I think it’s amazing that the product turned out to be this good. The graphics aren’t amazing but they have style, and the dialogue has that Rockstar “twang” to it that makes it a good game, but not a classic. If you’ve been waiting for this one, go out and get it. Now.
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