Red Dead Appreciation, and Hopes for RedemptionS

I've loved Red Dead Revolver like no other console game. It's the only one I have 100 percented and finished on all difficulty levels. And I'm going back to play it after this post.

So when Rockstar finally confirmed this week that Red Dead Redemption - the sequel rumored off and on for two years - was coming this fall I literally leaped out of my chair swinging a fist. On consoles, military and science fiction FPSes and third-person shooters have saturated the action market, but in westerns, there's still something left to the imagination. And cowboys and indians, as old as the day your grandfather first pointed his finger like a six-gun, is a theme familiar enough that people don't need much convincing to explore it.

According to Sam Houser's comments, we can bank on this being a true sandboxer. They saw Gun and knew they could do that type of world better. Even now it's hard to play Revolver and not feel like the vestiges of a sandbox are there, discarded because either the dev cycle was too short, or they didn't want to extend it and the cost of the game.

While Redemption needs this more than anything else, it doesn't need to have an environment as deep as GTA - something about as detailed as Bully, spread over a much larger geographic area - should cover it. And if they nail that, with art direction and a musical score faithful to the original, this game will be more than enough to satisfy fans of Revolver.

Some things will necessarily evolve with the console experience, like the bounty hunter challenges, which will likely become achievements and trophies. But here are some other things about Revolver that I hope are changed in Redemption, and some of the things from the original that earned their stay.

Update: This may be a semantic difference, but I'm going to stress this is what I hope is changed or remains in the game - because this is undoubtedly so far along, it's rather arrogant of me to pre-criticize something that isn't finished, or make demands of something that's past the point of alteration.

Red Dead Appreciation, and Hopes for RedemptionS

What I hope stays:

The score: I can't envy Rockstar San Diego's task here, because the score for Revolver blows away anything else in the western genre, and so they only have themselves to compete with. That score was drawn from licensed music in actual spaghetti westerns - they used nearly every theme from a film that isn't immediately recognizable to someone other than a true buff. How they'll build on this, I don't know, but if they write original music, please keep this game's heritage in mind. And if Red Harlow makes a cameo, or if anyone from the original cameos, they simply must use the badass Revolver theme, with its superfly walking bass, or some derivative of it. Few themes have ever set me in a mood for gaming action like that one.

Multiple playable characters: Having, essentially, multiple protagonists with differing abilities was one of Revolver's strengths and a true differentiator (Call of Juarez presented you with two characters). But it was a forced choice - you can only play one character in one mission. In Redemption it seems as though your character will be operating among groups of others too; if so, the ability to choose among protagonists in certain areas of the campaign would really extend replay value. The ability to do so across the entire sandbox would be revolutionary.

The journal: I got really obsessive with this game, and that blows the curve for everyone else, but the journal and the unlockables you put into it can be a useful way to fill you in on this game's backstory without expensive cinematics or too much expository dialogue.

The film grain: Maybe this effect could be toned down some, especially since the setting will come up to the turn of the century. Some found it too conspicuous, but the old-timey flicker and film grain was a great way to enhance those slow-mo deaths and cutscene cinematics.

Red Dead Appreciation, and Hopes for RedemptionS

What I hope is changed:

Plot and character development: It's easy for me to sit on my high horse and tell Rockstar San Diego to write better when the entire industry is still finding its chops in this department. Still, Revolver's limitation was its station-to-station gameplay. To differentiate each challenge, the bosses all had to be weird and interesting physically, if not as characters. Sandbox will only solve part of this. Westerns are all about the showdown, and the best ones, and the best deaths, are when someone's had it coming for a long time. In Revolver, Governor Griffon was not a menacing presence as much as he was the final boss. He wasn't even specifically the guy who killed Red's dad (though he was responsible). In Redemption, whomever the antagonist is - railroad baron, corrupt politician - the bad guys need to be bastards and they need to make life hell. Then I'll relish emptying my Colt into their chests. The description sounds like this is going to be a lot more serious, and less cartoony than Revolver. It sounds promising.

Multiplayer: Revolver's multiplayer was system-only and almost throwaway. So this is going to be relatively easy to fix - start by including the showdown mode online. While it gets repetitive, one of my key disappointments was the inability to draw pistols against my online friends even though this was an "Xbox Live enabled" title (all that meant, of course, was that you could see who was online when you played). Cooperative/competitive multiplayer should just keep it simple: Maybe have the showdown, the ambush mode (one team positioned in wait, the other trying to beat it) and a building-to-building street shootout mode. Skip gimmicky stuff like the "poker with guns" multiplayer. It was confusing, and acquiring cards never superseded the aim of just blowing away the other guy.

Set pieces: Revolver was hellbent for getting you into every western film archetype, sometimes through minigame controls with fixed or limited movement (horseback shootouts, train sequences). These set pieces tipped the game toward a more arcadey feel. Again, the best game is where you truly are inhabiting the persona of your character and the environment where he operates. With the typical western action sequences already done in Revolver, they should be limited in Redemption - or at least used in a more meaningful way.

Oh, one last thing. Though Revolver did feature some weird undeadish characters, no zombie cowboys, please? Thanks.