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Red Dead Revolver Review for Xbox
Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2004 @ 07:34:31 pm E.S.T

The Old West. It was a place of gritty realism. Of wild adventure. Of unadulterated masculinity, of cowboys and Indians, and of man’s raw-hide tough, unbending will. It was a time when tumbleweeds ruled the land but gunslingers ruled the towns, when revolvers regularly forced their will, but veins of gold drove it. In some ways, the Old West’s alluring magic and rigid personality can never be emulated. It’s strange; Rockstar’s Red Dead Revolver, experimental third-person shooter in Western clothing, nails some of the West’s key points—like its dialogue, clothing, and lifestyles—down squarely, while leaving others, like its hardness, seriousness, and sense of reality, flap loosely in the wind. And when it comes right down to it, the game doesn’t properly imitate the Western mood it so heavily leans upon (maybe due to the fact that both Capcom and Rockstar worked on the title). This, along with a few other gripes like bum play mechanics and repetitive gunplay make Read Dead Revolver a decent but ultimately forgettable shooter.

In his search for the killer of both his mother and father, Red (one of Red Dead Revolver’s main characters) weaves a gritty story of bounty hunting, survival, and fiery vengeance. Like any good tumbleweed, the story grows into something bigger than a plain ‘ol revenge story; before it’s all said and done, players will have experienced no-holds-barred saloon brawls, burning ranches, mountains of gold, and even the might of the Mexican army. Really, this is the perfect plot for the game – it’s like someone threw the stories from The Wild Boys, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and a few more of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns all together in a big pot and stirred them with a hand-carved, wooden spoon.

Of course, no Western would be complete without some firepower. Red and co. are packin’ everything from repeater rifles and sawn-off boomsticks to twin revolvers and stick after stick of dynamite. But for those of you looking for historical accuracy and realism, it’s not going to be found here; Molotiv cocktails were never in John Wayne’s arsenal, and last I checked it was impossible to reload two revolvers at once. At any rate, all the weapons are immensely fun to use (even the ones from different eras), but at some point I have to ask myself: who thought to give the game a gatling gun?

Gameplay in Red Dead Revolver is, for the most part, fairly repetitive. Most scenarios will consist of Red (or another of the main characters) traveling a linear path of some kind, killing every enemy in sight. And while the shooting mechanics work fine and combat is certainly fun, the walk-shoot, walk-shoot, walk-shoot pattern gets more tiring than churnin' butter with a wooden nickel. Luckily, Rockstar added enough features, like various playable characters, dueling, and some memorable boss battles, that repetition shouldn't bother players too much. Even though some of these additions don't work as well as they could, they do offer a change from the game's otherwise repititous play.

The game attempts to let players hop trains, fight in saloons, ride bulls, and do other things of the like, but the problem is that none of these things are very detailed or polished, so they come off feeling like cheap features Rockstar added in the game’s latter days of development. Also in an attempt to divert your attention from the fairly repetitive gameplay, Red Dead Revolver turns players over to other characters like Annie Stoakes, a distressed rancher about to lose her farm; Jack Swift, fast-talking marksman from England; and Colonel Diego, commander of the entire Mexican army. And while these other characters do add some needed variety to the game (and admittedly some depth), both their presence and the game’s inability to stick with one character draws attention from the main story, and in turn the main character.

Dueling varies Red Dead Revolver’s gameplay still further. By pulling back and abruptly pushing up on the right analog stick, players draw their guns and lock six crosshairs on their targets. Where a crosshair was placed, bullets will be fired, and, depending on the vitality of the body parts which were shot, the target will either die or kill you (since the computer seems able to kill in one shot). Enemies are vulnerable in different areas of their bodies, so killing them in one try is near-impossible; often these dueling matching degenerate into repetitive trial-and-error competitions, ones in which the computer always wins. True, dueling is rather frustrating, it’s still a creative touch that I have to commend Rockstar for implementing.

Problems do abound, though. For instance, gameplay mechanics sometimes fail, resulting in bad collision detection and the occasional clipping problem. Also, Red will at times double over and duck-walk around levels, more often than not resulting in death, which, due to the game’s awful save point distribution, leads to starting levels over from the beginning. Difficulty spikes rear their ugly heads near boss battles and, partially due to the same badly-spaced save feature, result in nasty controller-to-floor encounters.

Difficulty spikes aside, though, boss battles are arguably the best thing Red Dead Revolver has to offer. Original bosses like Pig Josh (a dynamite-wielding circus performer) and the muscular but simply named Sam (who won’t think twice about hurling a huge barrel at players or charging at them like a Brahma bull), are just too inventive to pass up. It’s just too bad easily recognizable movement and attack patterns, coupled with the occasional movement loop spoils an otherwise enjoyable experience.

Even without mechanical problems, though, I still wouldn’t be at rest with the Red Dead Revolver’s gameplay; more than anything, the game’s arcade-y, run-and-gun play style is what hurts it the worst. As I said before, Rockstar’s failure to imitate the Western genre is probably its biggest weakness. In the game, players are made to kill swarms of enemies while racking up combos for each kill they chain together. In a real Western, the same deadliness is present, just not in a frantic, have-to-kill-‘em-all-in-a-damn-hurry fashion. The feeling of coolness, of cold deadliness, is gone, and has been replaced by commercial killing sprees.

As far as sound goes, Red Dead Revolver fares pretty well. While Red’s voice probably could have been played more strongly, most of the other characters—like Annie Stoakes and Jack Swift—are very well played. Really, this should be expected, as it seems Rockstar prides itself on the voice acting in any of its games. To accompany the superb voicing, the game also features an artful score. Everything from ragtime bar music to lonely, Western whistling tunes and small, Mexican trumpet and guitar bands will mosey ‘round to your ear and make you appreciate not only the game, but the Western genre as a whole.

Without a doubt, Rockstar’s biggest mistake occurred when they decided to give the game cartoon-ish, childish graphics. Not only do they completely obliterate the hard, gritty Western mood the game was aiming for, they also eliminate any chance of the game being respected as a real Western. Muscles are outlandishly big, gunshots are out of proportion and the thick, obviously out-of-place blood looks more like gelatin than anything else. This aside, the game still stumbles graphically. Everything appears blocky and unpolished while frame skips occur even on the Xbox version of the game.

As far as coloring and menus go, though, the game sings a different tune. Loading screens have never looked better, featuring the setting sun and a playable character doing some animation or another. After-level accomplishment screens are attractively formatted as if they were old newspapers, while the main menu and its subsidiaries look just as sharp. In addition, the deep red and brown hues that make up the game’s color palette give the game some real Western flavor. In contrast to the game’s cartoon-ish graphics, the presentation is very fitting and even begins to pull Red Dead Revolver’s mood out of the well it dug for itself.

As far as replay goes, there’s some fun to be had here. Players can compete against each other in poker/deathmatch competitions--which I still haven’t completely figured out--and can also communicate via Xbox Live, though no real Live play is present (since the game is merely Live Aware). There isn’t any lack of levels or characters here, thanks to the single-player game’s reward system which gives players multi-play characters and levels depending on how well they played. In a brilliant move, Rockstar has allowed two players at a time to duel with each other, though this can only be earned once the game’s been beaten. Also, journal pages can be bought during the single-player game at various shops. They offer insight to the game’s characters, weapons, levels, and just about every other aspect of the game. And since the game’s plot is, for the most part, interesting, journal pages give players a reason to push on through the game.

Red Dead Revolver's varied--though at times repetitive--gameplay, along with its terrific sound and sharp presentation almost make up for its malfunctioning mechanics, blocky graphics, and (most importantly) its failed attempt at imitating the timeless Western mood. But every time I look at it, I just see all this potential greatness--a big well of it--that could have been tapped with some polish, a new graphical style, and some developmental consistantcy. It's more disappointing than anything else. I personally wouldn’t throw down fifty greenbacks for Red Dead Revolver, but if you’re man enough you might stir up some dust and give it a rental, cowboy.

Review By: Stealth52 - 4482 Reads

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