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12 things you need to know about Red Dead Redemption

We recently had the pleasure of checking out Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption - the spiritual sequel to 2004's Red Dead Revolver - and early signs suggests this could be a classic.

Rather than sticking to the rigid structure of the original, Rockstar are set to give you a sprawling landscape to roam around, which is full of towns, bandits and animals. Think GTAIV but with less buildings and you're about there.

So take a look at the facts that we garnered from our first-look demo...

We presumed the lead would be Red from the original Red Dead Revolver, but it isn't. John Marston's your man. He’s voiceless in the demo (voice talent will be confirmed later) but his body language and the scars on his face – almost identical to Red’s – suggests he’s a no-nonsense, badass.

Marston’s background is similar to Rockstar’s other anti-hero, Niko Bellic from GTAIV. He’s a reformed outlaw who used to run with a notorious gang. He’s settled down with his family but all of a sudden The Bureau – who are later to become the FBI – turn up and deliver a horrific ultimatum. From here John’s life is thrust back into his previous dark ways.

Bigger than GTA IV's Liberty City, in fact. Our demo highlighted the vastness perfectly as John trotted from town to town over huge expanses of dusty desert, but that doesn’t mean there’s much to do (see 6). It’s split into three areas - the Frontier, the Plains and even Mexico.

There’s a train line that runs through the entire map too. We’re expecting to be able to ride it between different areas in a similar way to the subway system in GTAIV. One of the missions even involves racing along side a locomotive and protecting it from incoming attacks.

A tweaked version of the GTAIV engine is being used in Red Dead Redemption. As such the combat and movement feels very familiar, in a good way, obviously. So John will brush past folk in a realistic pushing motion and the people who are unlucky enough to be on the end of his six-shooter bullet will collapse according to where they’re hit.

The highlight of this comes in a stagecoach mission. It’s a classic on-rails jaunt as you ride shotgun for a merchant that’s just fleeced some bandits. You can blast them off their horses (which, we’ll add, are beautifully animated) but to demonstrate the physics a few steeds were popped in the head to show how their riders were thrown off. It’s a bit like blowing a tyre in GTA except horsy will crumple rather than swerve about. Nasty.

These games are a source of income for John. We’re expecting poker and other card-based gambling games but the one we’ve seen is something completely different.

Five Finger Filet is where you get a knife then stab the gaps between your fingers. Like that thing you used to do in school with a compass to impress your mates.

It’s a case of hitting the correct buttons as they flash on-screen. Miss the prompt and you’ll carve into your hand. Ouch.

We’ve seen cougars, vultures and rabbits so far, but apparently there’ll be armadillos, wolves and bears in Red Dead Redemption too. Not only will you be able to hunt these beasts and sell their hides but the ecology system in the game means bigger animals will actively hunt smaller ones. Should be interesting watching a scrap between a grizzly and a pack of wolves.

Wander through the seemingly barren lands and you’ll witness hangings, poor saps being dragged around by outlaws or even people being chased by cougars, screaming for help. These aren’t just eye-candy either, no sir, you can interact with these situations for rewards or kudos from certain characters.

One surprising event we come across is a lady in her underwear wailing for help near her over-turned stagecoach. As John approaches, a gang of bandits run out to try and cut him up. It’s a setup. This lawless land will test your moral fibre just like GTAIV does.