It's been a long, hard road for Red Dead Revolver. Starting life as a game in Capcom's stables, it was headed for the glue factory before Rockstar came along and gave it a second chance. With all the ups and downs on its way to retail, it became a real underdog of the industry, with scores of people wanting to see it overcome the odds and succeed. I'm glad to say that the game's well-wishers should be pleased with the final product-in my opinion, Sam Houser's rescue efforts have paid off in spades.
Red Dead Revolver is a third-person shoot-'em-up starring hardened bounty hunter Red Harlow. Raised on a small ranch, he sees his parents gunned down over a claim staked on a gold mine. With nothing left to do but seek revenge, the game tells the tale of Red and the folk he meets along the way.
Up front, I'm going to say that the game has a lot of problems that I'm not going to get into. The graphics aren't the most spectacular you've ever seen, and there are numerous technical hiccups on top of several other larger issues that could be improved. As a whole, the project feels very rough around all the edges. If you're a graphics junkie or you can't stand anything but highly-polished games, you might want to think twice. With that said, I think Red Dead Revolver overcomes it all to be an amazingly enjoyable project with a huge amount of spirit.
Beneath the imperfections, it's impossible not to see the game's charm. Red is a great character, the classical Western drifter. The rest of the cast is equally likeable, from Red's Native American cousin Shadow Wolf to firecracker frontier woman Annie Stoakes. As Red's story progresses, the game offers short sections with these supporting characters (and others) to give us small glimpses that add up to a very satisfying whole. The plot isn't great literature by any means, but Westerns rarely are. Instead, Red Dead Revolver aims to be a rip-roaring pulp paperback, full of spark. It succeeds.
Building on this vignette storytelling, level progression and variety is one of the disc's major strengths. If it had been a straightforward adventure featuring only one character doing the same sorts of things, it would have succumbed to a fatal case of repetition early on. But, each level is different from the one before in terms of what you do, as well as who you are.
For example, in one section, Red must take out a band of sour circus performers. Upon arrival he sees English sharpshooter Jack Swift strung up above the camp in a cage. Shooting the latch holding the rope, Jack drops to the ground and helps Red finish off the enemies. They part ways as comrades. In the very next level, I was put in control of Jack to settle up with the circus leader before heading back to town and rendezvousing with Red. Each of these diversions are only small parts of the game, but they go a long way to tying it all together as a whole.
While the colorful cast of supporting characters break up (without slowing down) the action, Red himself is constantly faced with new challenges besides mowing down herds of desperadoes. My favorite level had him on horseback, chasing an armored train. Galloping over the prairie and jumping from the horse onto a flatcar was the same sort of exciting stuff that you'd see in an afternoon matinee, popcorn in hand. Red Dead Revolver captures that core Western essence perfectly while displaying a superior, intelligent sense of modern pacing. I was thrilled by each new section, and never once became bored or disenchanted with the tasks before me. However, as I alluded to earlier, Red Dead Revolver does show some questionable design decisions.
For example, the internal logic of the game doesn't always seem consistent, and the bosses frequently defy common sense. Most enemies can be taken out with one well-placed shot to the brainpan, but when trying to claim the bounty on a renegade lady, it took more than twenty headshots to take her down. (And she was only dressed in lingerie) A few stages past that, I was delivering massive chunks of damage to an armored stagecoach with a six-shooter, annihilating the entire vehicle with a just a handful of rounds. Another enemy can only be damaged when stunned from behind, but many of the later bosses inexplicably take damage like normal henchmen.
The difficulty curve fluctuates wildly, as well. It was common to fly through four or five areas and then find myself coming to a full stop on a level that needed eight or ten replays before moving on. Occasionally there are some massive firefights that seem endless, and the one-on-one dueling challenges (imagine two cowboys facing off at high noon) can be very frustrating. A few more checkpoints and some fine tuning would have taken the edge off of the difficulty spikes, eliminating the need for "cool down" sarsaparilla breaks.
In spite of these burrs under my saddle, I found it impossible to resist Red Dead Revolver's appeal. It has a fresh, unique energy, and shows a genuine love of the source material with its barroom brawls and train-top shootouts. The music and voices are excellent, and the color palettes create an appealing, living desert-no small feat considering the dried-up towns and windblown environments of the Wild West. From the murder of Red's parents to the final showdown, this is one exciting adventure well worth the price of admission. In fact, I enjoyed the game and respected Rockstar's attempt so much, I'd love to give it a higher score. But, the technical and design problems are simply too significant at the present time. I'm going to have to hold back any more points in hopes for a "slickered-up" sequel.
To those who can look past the warts and give Red Dead Revolver a fair shake, I think you'll find that the game can be like making love to an armadillo; it may be rough and full of bumps, but underneath it all is one sweet ride.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
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