Let's face the facts; the Wild West hasn't been a hot commodity in entertainment recently. Even more apparent is that the westerns haven't had any recognition since the early 90's when Tombstone and Young Guns, among other movies hit the scene hoping to revitalize the genre. Video games are no exception, as there hasn't been a worthy entry since Capcom released Gun.Smoke in 1985. Fast forward to 2004, and we have Red Dead Revolver as the game that almost never came to pass after Capcom cancelled it from its lineup last year, only to get picked up by Rockstar some months later. Those clamoring for a high-falootin' romp in the old west can finally get their fix, as Red Dead Revolver offers an enjoyable, if not flawed, gameplay experience.
You play the part of Red, who as a youngster, witnesses the murder of his parents after their ranch is overrun by bandits. Now Red is all grown up and working as a bounty hunter for hire and it's up to you to guide him through eliminating evil from the west and hopefully getting a shot at the killers who took your parents out. You'll also be thrown into side stories with other playable characters like the dainty Englishman Jack Swift and the “they'll never take my ranch” likes of Annie Stoakes, who could teach Cagney and Lacey a thing or two about bringing men down.
Red Dead revolver plays mainly as a 3 rd person shooter that takes you through a linear set of levels as you hunt down wanted fugitives and get some exposition to the other characters. After the early levels, you end up in the town of Brimstone as the sheriff's hired gun and also acts as a hub between levels where you can talk to people about what's going on in other towns and purchase new types of firepower as well as items that unlock journal entries in addition to multiplayer levels and characters. Talking to the sheriff will being you to the next level to take out the next outlaw.
Red is equipped with an arsenal of pistols, rifles, shotguns, as well as knives and explosives to take out the fugitives and their lackeys. He can also perform evasive rolls and hide behind cover during combat. One neat addition is Red's Dead eye mode where time slows down and he can paint up to six targets on a group of enemies and unload them seemingly all at once when time speeds back up. One problem with the gun play is that the controls are awkward. The camera doesn't auto-adjust and must be controlled manually. You also have to keep your guns drawn with the L1 button and shoot with R1. In a nutshell, you'll find yourself holding onto both shoulder buttons while wrestling the camera during those frantic moments of combat. It's enough to make anyone's carpal tunnel start acting up. In addition to the run-and-gun gameplay, you'll also find yourself in other stereotypical western situations like bar brawls and showdowns. The showdowns are played out will as both characters will draw and you have to time hits on your opponent before they fire. Other situations, like the bar brawl, could have used more work as hand-to-hand fighting feels clunky and frustrating. The developers would have been better off leaving a revolver in Red's dead hand.
Surprisingly, the game also features a multiplayer mode that offers some free-for-all deathmatch action, but it's not really fun and seems tacked on. I should just be grateful that it's in there in the first place.
It's hard to look past Red Dead Revolver's visuals, as it offers the same gritty experience and presentation as the old western movies do. Everything has a grainy film look to it, as well as a limited color palette limited to dirty browns and grays among other colors of course. The characters could look better and more detailed and they don't animate well all the time. There are a variety of baddies to shoot at ranging from midget circus clowns to dingy western gunslingers to Mexican soldiers. Environments are also presented well as you'll be taken through ghost towns, dirt roads, mountains, and cemeteries, in addition to the aforementioned saloon. What these levels have in detail and style, they unfortunately also lack in size as they feel more like a small arena than a spanning countryside.
Sound is also a mixed bag. The music presented is excellent for a game in this genre, as it's composed by the same composer that wrote themes for other westerns namely, the theme to The Good, Bad, and the Ugly. Music ranges old tyme saloon piano music to Bonanza-esque western action scores. Musically, everything just fits. Voice acting for the main characters also passes, as all of the playable characters are voiced fairly well. Secondary characters range from mediocre to really bad. Shopkeepers sound wooden and baddies have a few recycled lines. It's also worth noting that the Mexican soldiers sound more like Cheech and Chong than loyal members of the Mexican army. Take that for what you will. All other sounds all have a “Hollyweird” feel to them, especially the ricochet of bullets which I've heard a thousand times in the old western movies. Once again, it all fits.
Red Dead Revolver is a solid game at heart that just lacks some polish. Once you get past the confusing and often painful to the wrist controls, you'll find a good weekend's worth of entertainment here. Add in the replay value of trying to score "excellent" on all of the levels to unlock new characters and multiplayer levels, and you have a good amount of casual game time here. While everyone is out there cranking out World War II shooters, it's good that someone is trying something new with a genre that hasn't been touched in a while.
I've honestly been looking forward to this game for the past two years; I was obviously setting myself up for disappointment with all the hype I fed myself. I was disappointed when Capcom canceled the game and overjoyed when Rockstar picked it up. I'm seriously happy that the game was released despite its flaws. It's a nice change of scenery and offers a story of revenge, and though it sounds a bit cliche, it's worth a try for anyone looking for a change of pace in their gaming diet.
- Brad Hicks (aka Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media