Red Dead Revolver
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4
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Young Red's life is turned upside-down one tragic day when his Pa returns home from a trip and gives him his old gun. Red runs down to the creek for some target practice and couldn't be happier - all of a sudden the family homestead is raided by gun-toting killers, and despite his father and him putting up a brave fight, Red's parents are both slaughtered and he escapes by the skin of his teeth. And so the scene is set; you are Red, now grown up, steely hard and prowling the open frontier as a bounty hunter, bringing justice to wicked bandits, desperate to unravel the identity of his family's killers and bring them to justice, Western-style. The game is beautifully presented, from the opening 'branded' Rockstar logo on, and looks like a graphic novel based on a Sergio Leone movie, complete with scratched film effect…

RDR plays a bit like another of Rockstar's reluctant heroes, Max Payne. You play through the levels killing all the bad guys as you go, earning rewards that you can spend on better weapons and repairs, multiplayer characters and levels, and journal pages that give you some background on the story. Red even has his very own adaptation of Max's bullet time called "Deadeye"; you have a limited amount of Deadeye time, which you earn by killing bad guys. When one of your gauges is full you can click the right thumbstick, which slows down time - you can now move the crosshair over the target/targets and "paint" them until you get successful locks. The maximum number of locks corresponds to the amount of rounds that the weapon is capable of firing, or you can just fire when one is locked if you wish. Deadeye might not sound as straightforward as Max P's bullet time, but the first time you pull off a multiple target kill, and the bodies fall as the smoke clears, you'll feel like a real Western hero… and cool as Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter.

Although Red is always the central character, RDR innovates with its use of five other playable characters:
Annie Stoakes is a cattle rancher working a small plot of land just outside of Brimstone. She's a crack shot with a rifle and won't take any crap from those who would try to run her off her land.
Jack Swift is an English gentleman and gunfighter who heads out West to join Professor Perry's circus as a sharpshooter. Red rescues him one day and the two become firm allies.
Shadow Wolf is an Indian scout from the same tribe as Falling Star, Red's mother.
General Diego is the leader of a renegade/mercenary army. His men are well equipped and he even has an armoured train at his disposal.
The Buffalo Soldier is a member of the US Cavalry stationed on the Western frontier. He possesses all of the best qualities of a soldier - loyal, brave, steadfast in his mission and a crack shot.

RDR isn't all face-to-face shootout action though, there are plenty of sections in which some tactical use of cover (press up against a wall and press X and Red wall hugs like Solid Snake or Sam Fisher), and you can peek round corners, lean out, fire, duck back and reload with remarkable ease and fluidity. Some levels cover wide expanses and rifles allow a zoom mode (black button) - picking off enemies from long range with a rifle (or with Shadow Wolf's bow) is very satisfying.

The 27 levels vary hugely; you'll be shooting it out in towns, canyons, ranches, on wagons, on horseback - even atop a train or two. They even included an amusing Saloon brawl, complete with thrown bottles and smashed furniture. Occasionally you'll even get a chill-out level in which Red can wander the streets of the central town, Brimstone, and do some shopping for new weapons, health ups or extras.

Throughout, the shootout action plays well, aided by well-suited and stylish characters, background graphics and masterful animation (particularly the death sequences). Gunsmoke, bullet holes, splintered wood and some destructible scenery all give gunfights an real impact. You sneak, run, clamber and ride around the levels and there's a genuine mixture of gameplay. Sometimes it'll be a tense shootout, peeking around corners, and other times you'll go in all guns blazing and throwing sticks of dynamite. Each level (Chapter) ends in a boss battle, and these are the only weak point of the game - some disintegrate into almost comedic circle/strafe battles that diminish from the invariably cool gunfights that got you there, but all of them are exciting and challenging. Jumping sections can prove difficult to judge, and for some reason Red can't duck whilst his weapon is drawn, but you soon get used to the game's quirks. The levels though atmospheric, feel a little closed-in at times, and maybe the ability to ride between the various locations as in Ocarina of Time would have added a greater feeling of freedom.

In between you'll sometimes have to face down a character in a duel - this is done in true Spaghetti-Western style, complete with slow motion camera cuts from character to character. You grab your gun with a downward movement of the right stick, draw by pushing up and then the game goes into slo mo, and you "paint" the enemy in the same way as with Deadeye (this time there are three grades of hit; yellow (poor) red (hit) and dark red (critical hit)). In later battles you may have to face up to three characters, and you can get them all if you're good enough. Cool isn't a cool enough word for how this plays and looks when it comes off - and when you die in a duel it genuinely hurts - it's sudden, dramatic death, that isn't for the faint hearted or those with sweaty thumbs…

Just about every character in the game (I counted at least 35!) are playable in the surprisingly good 2-4 player splitscreen deathmatch modes across 13 or more maps themed on the levels from the game. The three types; Bounty Hunter (first to a set number of kills with an intricate Poker-related scoring system that I won't even attempt to describe here), Sundown (most money earned through bounty rewards wins when the time runs out), and High Noon (duelling competition) all play well and if like me you didn't think third-person games really work as a splitscreen deathmatch game, then RDR's might just change your mind.

The main theme music by Ennio Morricone is instantly recognisable - no wonder, when you realize that he wrote the music for movies like A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to name but a few. There are some real Western-sounding tunes and even a player-piano in the Saloon - the canyon level music sounds an awful lot like it should have been in a Star Wars movie though…

Always playable, impressive to look at and listen to, Red Dead Revolver is the Western shooter many of us have been waiting for. The overuse of super-tough boss characters and the lack of any real freedom are the only downers for me, but the game is just so well presented and effortlessly cool that they seem insignificant overall. Hard to believe that the original, extremely arcade-orientated RDR was canned by Capcom and rescued from game developer's hell by Rockstar - because a bit more freedom and a co-operative mode would have made this a 10/10 game for me.

Best Bits

- RDR has more style than should be allowed - graphics, music, sound, animation and superb characterisations.
- Some of the best shootouts we've ever had.
- Engaging back-story.
- Deadeye is Bullet Time with added style and skill.
- Multiple playable characters.
- Enjoyable multiplayer modes.
- Doesn't take itself too seriously.
Worst Bits

- Too many boss battles.
- Levels could have allowed more freedom.

by: Sloppy Sneak

Copyright © Gamecell 2004