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A day with Red Dead Redemption

The first two times, all we found was blood and bones, but the third time we met a man who told us a crazy city-type had broken his leg. We chased the bastard down, lassoed him and brought him back to the injured man, at which point we learned his “injury” was fake, the "killer" was his victim, and he'd been cannibalizing all the people we’d been sent to find. At that point, Marston walked away, and the game invited us to either keep walking, or turn around and do something about it. Naturally, we shot the cannibal dead and freed the man, but we didn’t have to.

Whatever your decisions, doing notable things raises Marston’s fame score, as well as his honor score. Doing things like saving cows, capturing criminals alive (with the all-important lasso) or shooting sociopaths before they stab prostitutes will boost your honor, while shooting lawmen or committing any sort of crime will make it drop.

Committing crimes also puts a price on your head, and that means a whole hell of a lot more than just pissing off the cops in GTA IV did. This time around, you’ll be set on by a posse of lawmen, who’ll search for you inside the radius of a circle that will slowly follow you once you’ve escaped from it. Kill your pursuers, and your bounty will only increase. The only way to get out of trouble is to die or to clear your name at the nearest telegraph office, which involves either paying the bounty yourself, or presenting a letter of pardon (which you can find scattered throughout the world).

Above: These guys will work with you no matter how many crimes you've committed, though

Interestingly, our honor wasn’t adversely affected later in the story, when we were pressed into service by a snake-oil salesman to help him sucker some farmhands into buying his wares. Reluctantly posing as a member of the audience, Marston takes a swig of the guy’s awful patent medicine and is directed to pull off a few trick shots. First, we shot a distant cow skull off the side of a farmhouse, after which a skeptic came up and ordered us to shoot his hat out of the air.

This was one of the best uses we encountered so far of the game’s Deadeye feature, a sort of bullet-time mode that enables you to “paint” multiple targets (or one very small target) and then let loose with a rapid, unstoppable volley of shots. It’s especially useful for when you absolutely have to kill four guys at once, or need to hit something very cleanly (like say that hangman’s rope we mentioned earlier).

Above: Or this bird, maybe

In this case, it let us slow down the guy’s hat and fill it with holes, after which he called Marston a swindler and pulled a gun. With no clear direction as to what to do next, we asked ourselves: what would the Lone Ranger do? With that in mind, we used Deadeye to target the guy’s gun-hand and successfully shot out his pistol. Not only did we defuse the situation and gain our con-man employer a new customer, but we felt like total badasses for figuring out the best possible solution.

We’ve been looking forward to delving into Red Dead Redemption for some time, and the game’s first several hours didn’t disappoint. There’s a lot to explore and do, and there’s a surprising amount of banter throughout the early missions about how the evil federal government – which around this point in history was tightening its control over the West – is trying to drain the pockets of earnest, hardworking country folk. As of this writing, the game’s release is only a few weeks away, on May 18 – but after this taste of what’s in store, those weeks are going to be long ones.

April 28, 2010

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.