Red Dead Redemption Preview: I'm A No Good Dirty Horse MurdererS

The air shimmers with heat as I survey the scrub plain laid out before me. Wild animals frolic. Horsemen go about their business. I whistle for my horse, saddle up, and take my first ride into Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption.

Red Dead Redemption tells the story of one John Marston, a bad man trying to settle down in the Wild West of the early 1900's. He's put his past behind him, but the government dredges it back up, threatening harm to Marston's family unless he helps them take down his old gang. He's a man with a mission. A man with a purpose.

A man who gets giddy when he skins an armadillo.

Red Dead Redemption has been compared to Grand Theft Auto on countless occasions, and the comparisons aren't unwarranted. This is a massive game, with tons of activities for you to partake in aside from your primary mission, just like Grand Theft Auto. Covering three expansive areas filled with hundreds of different activities, side missions, and dynamic events, the scope of Redemption is simply staggering.

It also looks amazing, just like Grand Theft Auto. The air does indeed shimmer with heat. Your lasso bounces against your hip as you walk. The ground is covered with brush and scrub. Flies buzz past your head. The level of detail is amazing.

Then the two titles start to diverge. For instance, the driving in Red Dead Redemption is much more entertaining.

Pressing up on the control pad (I was playing on an Xbox 360) called my faithful steed to my side. The Y button got me mounted up, in this instance calmly stepping into the stirrups. Later in the demo I played I ran up behind my horse and vaulted onto his back. It's in the way that you move it.

I set off into the shrinking wilds of the Western U.S., pursued by a couple of lawmen I managed to catch the attention of during my initial wandering around. I turned the camera, pulled my weapon, and blew them both off of their horses.

This immediately brought one question to mind: Can I shoot the horses?

Those two escaped, but I soon came across a stagecoach slowly trundling through the desert. This time I used my Dead Eye skill. At level one, the skill slows down time. I possessed level two, which allows you to stop time and paint targets on your enemies, firing as soon as time unfreezes. It's almost like the marking mechanic from Splinter Cell: Conviction, only somewhat more satisfying.

I painted targets on the coach drivers, taking them both out. The women inside the coach ran; only one escaped.

What can I say? I am one cold-hearted bastard. Case in point, now that the coach was stopped, I turned to the horses. Two shots to the neck, and the first one falls down dead. I methodically, slowly took out the four horses pulling the coach, rendering it useless; a stationary monument to my cruelty.

Before calling my horse again I noticed a man in the distance being chased by wolves. I rushed to the rescue, taking out the starved animals with my revolver. The man ran up to thank me, and I got points for doing a good deed. Then I shot him in the head.

Eventually the developer helping me through the demo got me back on track, but not before I killed and skinned an armadillo, took out another coach, and learned that you can't simply charge your horse headlong into a moving vehicle. Ouch.

I was guided to a story mission, which involved infiltrating a house filled with treasure hunters in order to secure a treasure of some sort. As I shot my way up a hill towards an old abandoned house, I noticed all of the neat places I could shoot people. I took out knees, and my foes crumpled. Head shots killed them right away. At one point later in the demo a bad guy shot me in the neck, and I fell to the ground, clutching my throat. These varied reactions made me wish I had level three of Dead Eye, which allows players to make called shots. It's definitely a shooting system I want to explore more.

I finished up the mission, taking out all of the enemies and reaching the treasure, but by that point I wasn't thinking about riches.

I was thinking of the sheer potential this game possesses. You've got some damn entertaining gunplay, countless miles of scenery riddled with wild animals and even wilder humans, and some of the best video game horse riding I've experienced since The Ocarina of Time.

Red Dead Redemption is the sort of game I will get completely lost in. I'm sure the story is compelling, but I've a feeling that once I get my hands on the game when it hits stores on May 18th, John Marston's family will be the least of my concerns.