"Killin a man's a hell of a thing"
Prospector Nate Harlow returns to his wife, Falling Star, and young son, Red, with news of a gold vein he and his partner tapped. Unfortunately a band of ruffians led by a rogue Colonel are close behind him. The Harlows put up a good fight, but it's not long before the ranch is in flames and Red's parents are dead. Picking up his father's Scorpion revolver from the fire, Red fires a shot at the Colonel—blowing the colonel's arm off and searing Red's hand. Red escapes that day, vowing revenge.
After the brief introductory level incorporating the events above, players take the role of an older, grimmer Red—now a bounty hunter. The game is played out from a third person perspective, and a series of tutorials introduce the player to the major actions Red will have to perform. Red controls well, drawing and switching his varied weapons, targeting enemies and blasting away at them. Some advanced moves include "sticking" to objects for cover, ducking and jumping, the Dead-eye and the Draw.
The Dead-eye is the western equivalent of "bullet time." Entering a slow-motion phase, Red locks on to enemies with as many bullets as he has loaded and then fires them rapidly as he re-enters normal time. Since Red Dead Revolver makes use of localized damage—head shots count more than arm or leg hits—this works well to clear out a room full of enemies.
The Draw is your typical western showdown. Using a more cinematic perspective, Red grabs, draws, aims and fires (the game drives this four-step process home). Taking place in slow-mo too, the process isn't that bad early in the game. Pull back with the right analog stick and then push up rapidly to whip the gun out of the holster, acquire locks with R1 (the longer you hold the gun cursor in place, the more likely you are to hit the target), and then either run through your ammo or end the slow-mo mode for Red to shoot.
The mechanics behind the Draw system work extremely well, but invariably there will be players who aren't good at it. Unfortunately, you have to be fast on the Draw to complete the story mode. I thought I was pretty good, but a few times I tried to Draw too quickly and ended up viciously pointing at my opponent before he killed me.
The game's story ends up getting to the revenge scenario set up in the first level, but the game takes numerous detours as soon as Red gets to Brimstone, the game's hub world. Red gets missions in Brimstone, goes out and gets his bounties, then returns to Brimstone to freshen up before his next mission. Red can interact with the town's citizenry, but they usually only offer a snippet of dialogue. Brimstone does have a handful of shops Red can enter, but most of the items he buys only unlock game extras.
There's no inventory system to speak of, apart from Red's weaponry. A gunsmith can repair Red's weapons and can sell him new ones, but Red only finds ammo during missions. Red also can't stock up on health packs, those are used immediately in missions, but there are some options to increase Red's health bar and number of Dead-eyes.
Red has a good assortment of weaponry to choose from: pistols, rifles, and shotguns, plus a few throwing items. Each weapon is rated according to its reload time, effective range, level of damage, and accuracy. Depending on the mission and your style of play, it might be more important to fill the air full of lead, than to slowly pick off opponents or to take people out quickly with a shotgun, rather than trying to snipe from a distance.
The game is pretty straightforward until Red gets to a mission looking for the surly Pig Josh. During the mission, Red rescues an Englishman named Jack Swift. Jack assists Red during the mission, but afterwards the player becomes Jack for the next mission. This is a little jarring. Luckily, Jack handles like Red and after the mission things return to normal. From this point on though, whenever Red meets a "hero" character, it's a safe bet that the next level will put the player in control of that character. I'll address this more later, but this does create some nice variety in the game, while adding to the story. After the initial jolt.
I completed the main story mode in a little over seven hours, but I've also spent a number of hours in the game's multiplayer mode. Supporting four characters (in my case, me and three bots), there are three main multiplayer options—two Death Match variations with or without teams and a Draw mode. In the Death Match modes, players earn power-ups by collecting poker cards from the players they kill. Playing through the story and multiplayer modes unlocks extra multiplayer levels and characters.
I've read some complaints about the graphics; the gritty washed out presentation is clearly a design choice, not a flaw, but a bit more puzzling are the cutscenes rendered in the style of an old movie. There's nothing breathtaking or pretty here, but the missions have a nice level of detail, the characters move well, and combat animations are convincing.
In terms of audio the game really stands out. Most of the music is lifted from Ennio Morricone's spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. Combined with realistic ambient sound, good voice acting, and spot on sound effects, the game sounds great.
Red Dead Revolver biggest problem is that it has a lot of nice elements which never cohere into solid game play. This is most evident with the character switching. During the game, players take on the roles of six playable characters. The first two, Red and Jack, have a similar Dead-eye attack. The other four each have a unique Dead-eye attack. The manual makes no mention of this, so it's up to the player to find out what the special attack is and how best to use it. For a game that offers a lot of handholding already, would it be that hard to clue the player in?
Typically the controls are fine, but a few of the mechanics are lacking. Trying to jump from a horse to a train (and back again) is a frustrating combination of hammering on a button and trying to find the correct hotspot. Ducking involves pressing the L3 button, which isn't the easiest to use in a hurry, and, despite the onscreen message, really toggles between ducking and standing.
There's very little enemy intelligence to speak of. Enemies seem to rely on scripted behaviors. If an enemy spotted me and I ran behind a rock, they entered a search mode instead of chasing me. The game has a stealth area (because a game just isn't a game unless the main character is knocked unconscious and then locked up without his/her weapons), but the enemies seem to clue in more to visual clues than sound ones.
Finally, the game has a largely serious tone and is mildly gritty, but some of the bosses are pretty silly. Early on, Red runs into Pig Josh, a demolitionist during the Civil War. Pig Josh has dynamite strapped to his body and likes to run up to people and detonate. Of course this doesn't damage him at all. There's also Mr. Black who has a coffin strapped to his back (Django
reference?), sinister clowns, and other larger than life characters.
The Bottom Line
Red Dead Revolver probably benefits from lowered expectations. It's a Rockstar game with a very soft M rating and surprisingly linear design. Having said that, the story was a nice variation of the standard revenge theme, the characters were likable (with a bit of depth), and the western setting was used very well.
Red Dead Revolver is a pretty good shooter with some unique elements and nice options for replay. I would have trouble recommending this game at its full retail price (unless you have a Fistful of Dollars), but if you see it in the bargain bin, pick it up.