Red Dead Redemption: were we shown too much?

In retrospect I blame this trailer, at least in part, for why when I sat down to play Red DeadRedemption this week, I didn't get that rush of excitement that previous Rockstar titles havegiven me: the filmic quality of their opening sequences, and that initial feeling of 'F**k! I'm finally actually controlling the character that up til now I've only seen in CG footage and static screenshots'.

This four minute video was surprising for a couple of reasons: It told us a lot about the game, its mechanics and the majority of features we'd expect to see when playing it, it was nearly all in-game footage and it was accompanied, by an informative (if slightly characterless) voiceover.

But most of all it was because this was coming from Rockstar, a publisher which I've always admired in its ability to hype and tease its games, but always keep something in reserve. And here, in four minutes of footage I felt I'd seen pretty much everything this game was going to offer me.

I knew the character's motivations, that he would travel south of the border to Nuevo Parasio part way through his adventure. I knew many of the weapons I'd be using - like cannons and sniper rifles - that I could kill all kinds of wild animals, that there were treasure maps and bounty hunting side missions, an honour system, that I'd hook up with a Mexican revolutionary and fight against an army as one of the later missions.

More than anything, by showing four minutes of back-to-back, in-game footage I'd seen what the game looked like in game; the evocative desert scenery, the dramatic skies, the subtle lighting - the crucial trademarks that Rockstar has always prided itself on.

It didn't stop there: between the end of 2009 until the release of the game there were a further 13 individual RDR trailers focusing on different elements: women, weapons, multiplayer and specific story elements to name a few. Add to that numerous magazine and online previews and first looks - some of which came off the back of playing the first few hours of the game. Which is sort of precedented.

It got to the point where I almost felt like I'd played the game (which I hadn't in any stage of the preview process) before I received a review copy.

Undeniably, it was this promotional deluge that affected my enjoyment of the opening stages ofRDR (and I really haven't touched the surface yet) which, for me is one of the most important parts of my playing experience. I expected to arrive in work the next day after playing the opening chapters and gush about how amazing it all was. Instead, I just felt like I was continuing a game that I'd started playing the week before.

If it sounds like I'm being unduly harsh, I'm not out to bash Red Dead Redemption or Rockstar. In fact I had to go and check how much pre-release coverage was done on GTA IV to make sure this 'overexposure' wasn't there in that launch campaign and I'd just missed it.

No. GTA IV had just 4 'official' trailers, all of which were made up of CG footage and cut-scenes. That's why when I sat down to review GTA IV in 2008I got that giddy sense of entering into the unknowns and unseens of a next-gen Liberty City, unlike my more subdued entry to Red Dead's world, coloured by a sense of deja-vu and over-familiarity.

As a disclaimer I ought to mention that being an editor of game site I was closer to the development process and almost weekly media asset dumps than your average gamer. Unless you scoured the web on an hourly basis for every nugget of game info, the chances are I've seen a lot more of Red Dead than you have prior to release.

Game fatigue among game writers is fairly common (if maybe kept a bit of a secret), especially with games that go through long development cycles and multiple 'reboots' requiring endless previews and screenshot releases. It was this 'tiredness' that I'd admired Rockstar for managing to avoid for previous campaigns - keeping even the reviewers guessing until the last minute.

I suppose I should really question, why? What's with this unusual approach to the promotion of RDR?

And I can only surmise that Rockstar simply can't afford for Red Dead Redemption not to be a huge hit. By continually feeding the media with info, screens, playtime and videos we're naturally going to be inclined to cover the game more. (This was undoubtedly exacerbated by the short time frame within which this release of information occured in.)

Because RDR is essentially a new IP (yeah, I know that's *technically not correct*) it can't just fall back on a pre-existing legacy like GTA can, a series of letters which even means something to non-gamers. In fact - dareI say - it felt like Rockstar was 'worried' about this game. Concerned, that it wasn't infallible.

The across the board praise and high 90s meta-rankings would suggest Rockstar had nothing tobe concernedabout, but I still feel from a personal perspective that this underlying anxietyled to a relentless media campaign that lessened the potential impact of the final product. At least it did for me.

I'd be interested to know what you think. Can you be shown too much of a game?

May 21 2010

Read our Super Review of Red Dead Redemption