Red Dead Redemption, as you're well already well aware, is a Western. The game takes place over 100 years ago. Your weapon is a six-shooter, not a rocket launcher. You throw sticks of dynamite, not grenades. You ride a horse, not a jeep, tank or helicopter. Everything – including the multiplayer, obviously – is going to be very unlike the average action sandbox.
What surprised me during my recent hands-on demo with Redemption's multiplayer, then, were all the not-so-obvious things that were new and unique. Here are the five that made the biggest difference.
You can play a fat man in a sombrero
Multiplayer modes are not the best place to express your individuality, as the choices for avatars are usually limited to either a) brown camouflage dude with helmet, or b) grey camouflage dude with sunglasses. You might be the best player on the field, but the only way others will recognize you is by memorizing your tag.
In Red Dead Redemption, however, you can look as normal or as abnormal as you wish. The character customization menus are unusually complex, with the camera circling around a 3D campground full of gangs and posses, helping you decide which grizzled veteran of the frontier you'd like to portray.
The elderly lawman with the magnificent mustache? The cocky train robber with the handkerchief pulled across his face? Or my favorite, the chubby bandito, who seem as if he's struggling just to climb onto his horse, and whose enormous sombrero often obstructed my aim during crucial duels. Plus side? My opponents were more likely to hit my beloved hat than my even more beloved head!
Waiting to start a game is a game in itself
Remember GTA IV's multiplayer lobby, which was basically the entire city opened up as a free-roaming, free-killing playground? You'd fool around for a bit, but with so much space and so little purpose, it was easy to get separated from the other 15 players and eventually forget you were even online.
Red Dead Redemption takes the same idea and, this time, makes it work. You actually have way more space to explore – the entire countryside, and all the little towns and outposts contained within – but now you're given a clear (yet optional) goal. Join a posse.
Doing so adds you to a temporary team that can ride together, attack enemy AI together, bother law enforcement together, hunt wildlife together or simply shoot down other posses together. And if you're lost, you can always warp to where your posse's leader – who sets the group's agenda – is located.
You will die before you've even begun
Spawning next to another player sucks. You have no time to prepare a strategy or switch to your favorite weapon before either you or he is right back at the kill cam countdown. In Redemption, though, this is how every match starts… and because everyone is forced to partake in the twitchy trigger madness, it's honestly quite cathartic.
Here's what happens. After you've exited the roaming lobby and entered a specific match, all of the players either form a circle – for free-for-all modes – or line up in two parallel rows – for team modes. Several long seconds tick by as you stare into the faces of your opponents, quickly deciding which man to shoot and which man is most likely to shoot at you.
Then the countdown's over, bullets are flying, people are panicking and, after several very short seconds, a "last man standing" has been declared. Love them or hate them, these Mexican standoffs will at least succeed in pumping up people's adrenaline before the real battle is even underway.