It has been a long, strange trip for the game known as Red Dead Revolver. Now a legendary tale, the reasons for its stagnated development are as numerous and perplexing as the game’s concept.
Back in 2001, Capcom and Angel Studios began work on a Western-styled game peppered with cartoon-inspired visuals and Capcom’s trademark gameplay touches. But Take 2 Interactive would soon derail the development train. The giant publisher bought out Angel, turning it into their Rockstar San Diego studio. Meanwhile, the Red Dead project lingered, and its continued development for a competitor (Capcom) would signal a conflict of interests. So being the saints they are (and who isn’t when money is involved?), Rockstar resurrected the project as their own.
Three years later, Red Dead Revolver finally emerged from the shadows. The stylish third-person cowboy-simulator still wore its Capcom roots like a tin badge, but the oft-delayed game sported some subtle tweaks after the touch of Rockstar, leading to a more focused and immersing experience. Red Dead Revolver’s unique blending of cinematic spaghetti Western, perfectly matched soundtrack and absorbing atmosphere ooze a painstakingly crafted product. But while Rockstar slaved over the game’s presentation, they left a few vital stones unturned. Several troubling issues with controls, gameplay and visuals prevent Red Dead from becoming the new sheriff of this gaming town. The cobbling together of Capcom’s scraps leaves an undesirable after-taste, with more questions raised than eyebrows.
Red Dead Revolver’s storyline plays out much like the cowboy movies it emulates. As a child, our hero, Red (ooh!) witnesses the brutal murder of his pa at the hands of a fugitive gang. With blood boiling, he starts down a dusty road of revenge, seeking out the murderous rascals responsible. Along the way, our protagonist befriends several characters that play small supporting roles in helping to flesh out the tale. It may be a little linear and anticlimactic, but it doesn’t stress the noggin too much. Would you really want plot-twists of Evangelion proportions, or shoot first and ask questions later?
Visually, Red Dead is open to heated debate. While many will interpret its overall look as gritty and realistic, there is no looking past the individual flaws. What is undeniable, though, is the game’s stellar presentation. From the ?grainy-film’ filter of the menus and cinematic sequences, to the old-fashioned lettering and news clippings (with pre-journalism school news writing, no less), Rockstar have nailed the Wild West aesthetic. However, the actual in-game graphics leave a little to be desired. Character modeling is barely adequate, with the texturing looking soft and lacking distinction. The polygon builds are somewhat jaggy and on the bulky side. Faces look more anime than American, with a cartoon appearance that clashes with the other practical touches. Character animation is tolerable but doesn’t stand out as anything more than satisfactory.
The environments are more impressive, but still suffer slightly. The developers have gone all-out in aping a worn-down, weathered-looking Wild West. Buildings and most structures look as though they’ve been ripped from Bonanza or Little House on the Prairie (that’s a good thing, honestly). Objects are textured nicely, but suffer from a few jagged edges and very slight flickering in places. Unfortunately, polygon collision problems spring up often, leading to characters – particularly bosses – passing through and getting stuck on objects. Some appear to be hovering on air when they should be on a flat surface. It is often hard to get a sense of the area around and under you. Somewhat distracting, or realistic if you’re a cinema purist, is the sun-drenched look of the graphics. It makes some objects and characters harder to view, and aids in the covering of the average visuals. It does lend to the overall style that Red Dead Revolver emanates. A more substantial blemish on the graphics engine is the frame rate. While it strives for a solid 30 frames-per-second, the game often chugs when in heated battles and tight spots.
Sound is also a mixed bag. The epic soundtrack is the game’s best aspect, with a mixture of tunes that would fit seamlessly in any classic Western. The pursuit of authenticity filters down to the accurate ringing of gunshots, jingling of stirrups and spurs, and the gallop of bucking horses. It’s too bad that the voice acting drags things down considerably, though. Clearly the Capcom genes are strong in this area, as most of the voice actors rank average at best. Red himself sounds like a third-rate Mr. Eastwood, and the supporting cast come off merely as bad redneck impersonators or are out of character completely. When a young pioneer lady sounds like a valley girl from Beverly Hills, it’s clear that someone didn’t screen out the talent. Some will defend the choice of dialog lines as ?humorous’, but I don’t need to hear someone yelp “Owie!” after getting their face plowed in. Authentic, that is not. The lines of the non-playable characters often repeat and, strangely, you have to jam on the controller’s talk button to force speech out of them.
The control setup of Red Dead Revolver is more intelligent in theory. The analog sticks control movement of your character, aiming and camera movement. The face buttons handle character actions: reloading, sneaking, punches and jumps. And the shoulder buttons take care of your weapons: removing, changing and firing. As I said, in theory, these all sound grand. In execution, it’s an entirely different matter. Control over your character is often stiff and awkward. Running with a drawn weapon limits your movement, but also leaves you defenseless against attacks near your location. The transition from sneaking to running and/or gunning is a pain and often unsuccessful. Having your weapon drawn at all times, though a working alternative, limits true freedom of movement to simply strafing and always looking forward. Jumping is guesswork, with only designated structures being scalable or hiding spots. The weapons buttons are better suited on the circular clickers. Camera movement, via the right analog, becomes a severe cause for panic when trying to run from, or track down, oncoming enemies.
Gameplay is where this scoundrel really fails to impress. Rockstar, obviously focusing on the overall presentation, forgot to patch up the game’s wounds. While the ambitious modes and environments capture the flavor of the Old West, they don’t quite entice the gamer to feel the same.
At its core, Red Dead Revolver is a gunslinging Resident Evil. From the weaponry you encompass (that was available in the 1800’s) to the different gameplay quirks, the game has a passing resemblance to Capcom’s revered survival-horror series (and a few others, too). Up to 23 weapons are yours for the taking, including upgradeable revolvers, rifles and cure-all snake oil. The addition of sneaking, crouching and jumping give Red a greater arsenal of (stiff) moves. Melee attacks also add a rugged toughness to Red’s persona when he’s not packing. And borrowing from their fighter lineage, a combo system racks up dollars for consecutive hits and well-placed shots. But Rockstar sprinkled some of their own spices into Capcom’s stew. Tearing a page out of the Max Payne manual, Red even has a bullet-time move called Deadeye, which slows down the action to better focus your ammo on your assailant(s). The addition of buckets of blood and gore feels somewhat tacked-on and cheap, as if to attract the more casual gamer.
There are two main modes of play in Red Dead Revolver: Story mode and Showdown. Story mode is the single-player, salt pork and potatoes of the game. Spanning over 27 stages, we travel Red’s journey with dreams of revenge from his boyhood. After the training level (in which Red’s family is murdered), each level progresses in a linear fashion, giving the player just enough semblance of a story to promote continued playing. Most levels boil down to mowing through waves of enemies, almost like a Western side-scrolling fighter with guns. The monotony is sometimes broken with unique objectives: protecting folks, playing briefly as side-characters, and the occasional duel. You can chart your progress through both a personal character save and the game’s Journal. Still, the flair is only skin-deep.
The Showdown mode is the multiplayer part of the game. Divided into three separate modes: Bounty Hunter, Sundown and High Noon, on six levels of reduced size, only the latter shows innovation. Both the Bounty Hunter and Sundown modes are the standard deathmatch attractions. Bounty Hunter incorporates a Bounty Limit – a set amount of money earned in battle determining the winner. Sundown is more standard, setting time limits in which to collect the most money. Both modes clumsily include a card-based system of power-ups, with numbers adding to your score, and colors determining the types of special abilities. This adds little to what is already typical for the genre. Battle on the smaller levels is often claustrophobic and messy when packed with players.
High Noon is the game’s trendsetting diversion, offering the most unique, infuriating and shallow distraction. Integrating a different control scheme, you (and up to three opponents) live out the stare-downs of cinematic glory. Lining up your potential target with the left analog stick, and drawing and aiming the gun with the right stick are smart ideas. Actual targeting, by jamming on R1 while aiming to set up increasingly vulnerable targets on the enemy’s body is guesswork – most seem to have unique spots of varying damage. You get the sense that you never really master the art of dueling, regardless of how swiftly you whip out your piece. A claustrophobic camera also severely limits your viewpoint of (most) enemies within your firing line. Not being able to see other rivals leads to questionable deaths.
Numerous gameplay quirks raise more questions than necessary. Elongated load times are abundant, and occur in odd places, such as after Showdown modes (10 seconds to view your stats?). There is a glaring absence of maps for the levels, which would be helpful in towns and during the multiplayer modes. Some walls cannot be scaled despite being similar in height to your character. In the heat of battle you occasionally take dubious amounts of damage – during one boss fight involving dynamite, being within centimeters of the blast knocks out only a fourth of your energy. Opponent AI is jaw-droppingly dumb. There are many instances of foes standing right next to you without firing, or those that run right past you without even a second glance. Conversely, the AI in the High Noon mode is a little too good in most instances.
The biggest culprit is the wonky camera system. As with many games offering total camera control, Red Dead Revolver’s system is fraught with bugs. The viewpoint is a little too tight on your character, blocking out much of the action around you. You must constantly monitor the immediate environment at all times, which involves lowering your weapon to spin the camera around. The camera often gets stuck on objects and buildings, causing it to manically zoom in and out to focus on your player.
Despite the knocks, Red Dead Revolver provides a healthy challenge. Story mode’s 27 levels will keep you playing for a solid weekend, and the multiplayer challenges will entertain, if only briefly. Obtaining all the available weapons, items and characters injects the game with a sense of purpose. Replay value for the game is above average, with a few interesting twists. Beating a level nets you the fallen boss and unlocks the playing area in the Showdown mode. In addition, the rating system, based on time, damage and accuracy, ranks you from ?good’ to ?excellent’, giving you access to additional enemies. You can also earn weapons and their upgrades. Beating the game unlocks the Bounty Hunter mode, which adds additional objectives to each level. The highly detailed Journal keeps tabs on everything you unlock, encounter and play throughout the game. You can fill up to 327(!) pages with stats and unlockable items. But, again, most of this feels tacked on to flesh out the replay value.
Red Dead Revolver is a stylish ode to a dying cultural genre. Rockstar Games took Capcom’s orphaned spaghetti Western and infused it with panache akin to their most popular games. The presentation is impeccable, with a soundtrack playing like a highlight reel. Too bad the most important parts of the game, i.e. the controls and gameplay, were largely ignored in the process. But, for patient players, a lengthy challenge awaits. The Western is a genre rarely seen in gaming, and Red Dead Revolver is an admirable, though ultimately flawed, effort. Fans of the Old West could do a lot worse, but would be better off waiting for the planned sequels. Perhaps, in the tight-knit Rockstar family, alongside Grand Theft Auto, the next installment will feel like the genre-buster the developers were hoping for.