A week away from the next best thing

The thing I like about Rockstar Games is their ability to create compelling narratives within the environment of a third person, open-ended, exploratory action game. Gems such as the Grand Theft Auto series brought a unique outlet to action-fantasy gamers with its funny NPCs, AI police chases, and character development within a fun (though at times frustrating) sequence of main quests. The latest of the series, GTA IV caught a lot of poor reviews due to its more complex yet less diverse landscape as compared to San Andreas (the previous in the series). To be fair, there were a lot of annoying aspects of GTA IV, such as the fact that it was nearly impossible to keep NPC characters happy with the PC Niko, while at the same time having a progressive storyline that required the PC to satisfy everyone. Still, GTA IV was visually stunning, had improved AI and NPC interactivity, and had a lot of added characterization that gave gameplay a grittier, more realistic feel.

The upcoming release from Rockstar promises all of this innovation and more on the solid foundation of Rockstar’s now time-honored third-person interface. The world is expansive, landscapes varied, NPCs extremely diverse, and gameplay seems to demonstrate the user-friendliness that I remember from San Andreas.

Beyond the logistics of gameplay, which seem to be right on the mark, I’m extremely excited to delve into this genre again. The western is one that is not often explored in gaming, both through electronic and print media, but it remains a highly entertaining one. I haven’t had had a chance to play such a genre since the game Gun.

I’m not sure if you remember this game, but it boasted a free-roaming environment where you control the main character of the story–Colton White–who goes on a quest to search for his father’s killer, and eventually runs against a group questing for the fabled lost city of gold. The player gets to experience a number of great aspects of the genre–wielding a six-shooter, horseback riding, playing poker sub-games–while engaging in side quests in the town that build character skills. The main quest brings the PC on a journey from town to town, and there are side events as well, such as races and shooting tests. The environment was quasi-sandbox, similar to Rockstar’s major setting, where the PC interacts with progressively unlocked game interaction to further the story. There were hunting side activities, and there was even a nifty little AI in Gun where townsfolk would begin to riot if you ran around making too much of a ruckus.

The game fell short, though, in variety and balance. That is to say, there was not enough diversity in the NPCs and settings, nor were there many options for character development and customization. You always looked the same, all horse riding looked the same, all shooting animations looked the same–like a damned Scooby Doo episode. By an hour into the gameplay, I found in Gun that I was just grinding out the quests because free-roaming wasn’t fun anymore. And the quests–oh brother–got pretty damn annoying if you didn’t beat them the first couple of times. If we had multiplayer back then, it might have been more fun, but as a single player game, it just felt too small.

In these points, and based on my extensive knowledge of the GTA franchise, is where I am hoping Red Dead Redemption satisfies. An immense landscape with a diverse NPC group, character customization (costumes, guns, etc.), great stories, and even greater free-roaming potential. In one week, I’m all over it.

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