Year of the Console, June Review. Red Dead Redemption.

Welcome back to the TLYW Year of Console Gaming. It’s the end of Month 6 and we are almost halfway through our specially extended year, which is actually 14 months long. Perhaps surprisingly, in light of continued romance, I’ve had a pretty good go at this month’s game: Red Dead Redemption. By the last weekend in June I’d logged almost 10 hours of gameplay and completed 21% of the main quest line.

As you know, we are following an historical trajectory throughout the year. June was the month in which we finally entered the 20th century. Set during the final years of the American Wild West, circa 1910, the action takes place in the southwestern United States and Mexico. There is plenty of horse riding and the scenery involves deserts, rough buildings made out of timber and those cacti that look like a person holding up their arms.

I’ve been playing on the Xbox 360 this month, marking the first game we’ve played on Xbox so far this year – there will be more over the summer and autumn. My Xbox is about 2.5 years old, so I have attempted to use it before. I have previously attempted to play various iterations of Grand Theft Auto and Dead Island, but got nowhere fast. My console-handling skills were non-existent and I now think that GTA was an awful place to begin console gaming, what with all the driving and high-speed chases. This time around, returning to the Xbox after five solid months of industrious console handling on the PlayStation, I took to the Xbox like a natural and played to a respectable standard on Red Dead almost from the beginning.

One thing that Xbox 360 lacks is built in screenshot and video capture software, so I bravely expanded my tech skills even further by hooking up the Xbox to my Republic of Gamers laptop via an Elgato HD60 video capture device. It is a joy to use and can even stream content, so I could, in theory, stream my gameplay to Twitch or YouTube. You don’t know how tempted I am to have my own live gaming channel and it is only a pity that I have to go to work.

Thanks to my experiments with the HD60, I not only have screenshots this month, I have real video of my own gameplay. The first one shows our hero John Marston learning to capture and tame wild horses and is a fun quest. It is outdoors in nice weather, fully makes the most of the open land, the horse handles beautifully, it’s active and quite exciting. These were some of the most enjoyable moments, chasing a herd of wild horses around.

The second video shows what playing RDR is actually like much of the time, if you are me, anyway. It does not depict a heroic tale of glory. John Marston needs to find and rescue this woman called Jenny. He rides all through the desert and when he eventually finds Jenny, he accidentally tramples all over her with his horse. She flees in terror and John fails the quest. I love the part at the end where John & I realise that he has failed and he just stands there, in the middle of nowhere, looking around despondently.

Screenshots

Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar (2010), Xbox 360. A third-person, open-world, action-adventure game set in the western United States and Mexico in 1910. 

Plot and setting: Cowboy John Marston arrives in the frontier town of Armadillo to fight off bandits and horse rustlers and protect the local hookers from being murdered in broad daylight.

General remarks: An atmospheric game. Everything is very rich in story, even the side quests. NPCs are interesting and different from each other. Combat isn’t too hard, thanks to an effective auto lock on your gun. The artwork and the emotional tone of the characterisation and story are both quite warm, almost romantic. I really noticed this in contrast to last month’s game, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, which is rather crisp.

Thumbs up: Outdoor questing almost all the time, whether in farms, towns or the open land. Impressive scenery, nice weather with dramatic sunrises and sunsets. The horse handles beautifully and the animation is realistic. It’s very satisfying, riding your horse around.

Thumbs down: After a while, I seemed to lose track of the main quest line and wandered around uselessly for a while, collecting herbs and being savaged by mountain lions. The questing became a little monotonous, perhaps partly as a function of the vast, unchanging scenery. I was surprised that after only 10 hours of gameplay, I was looking around for some variety in the range of things to do.

Return to?  I might return and play the expansion pack Undead Nightmare, which I didn’t have time for this month. I felt like I was starting to run out of momentum with the main game and its quest line, but I enjoyed the scenery,  the mechanics of gameplay and my horse, so zombies might shake things up a bit. This was probably my 3rd favourite game so far this year, after Ark: Survival Evolved and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.

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