Hands-On Preview: Because Red Dead Salvation just doesn't carry the same musical lilt.
There were many long lines at PAX East, but the second longest line I waited in ? the longest being the Penny Arcade book signing ? was the one for Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar had a huge setup for their spiritual successor to Red Dead Revolver, and the line stretched around the entire booth. I was foolish enough to start at the curtain and then walk ALL the way to the end of the line, which was about 5 feet from that same curtain I was already so familiar with. Luckily, a friendly fellow Red Dead enthusiast did the same thing I did, and we had a nice, hour-long chat to pass the time. While in that line, Rockstar did not disappoint ? though they ran out of hats early on, we got cool notebooks with the logo watermarked on each page, and, once inside, you got your choice of a free t-shirt ? a black one with the name of the game written simply in red, or a different black one with the Rockstar logo in rainbow. The rainbow was tempting, but I opted for the cooler ? and subtler ? Red Dead t-shirt. After all, that was what all the waiting was about, right?
I had a similar situation occur at PAX in Seattle back in September ? I waited in a very long line at the Rockstar booth, suffered through a kid in a giant bee costume playing DJ Hero, heard the uptight girl behind the counter shout, ?I don't care if I gave you the wrong size, don't come up here to exchange it ? this isn't American Apparel!?, and eventually got to see an early build of Red Dead Redemption. It was all very intriguing - Rockstar built an extra room onto the back of their booth, and shuttled people in one group at a time. It was very crowded and mysterious, but worth the cramped quarters. We got a quick taste of John Marston, the main character, and a look into a central piece of the game: the incredibly vast open world with its early 1900's western backdrop.
Getting a chance to play it hands-on at PAX East was much more rewarding, despite the booth being shrouded in half the mystery. We were thrown into a demo which gave us a fast and hard overview of the situation. The controls are the same as Grand Theft Auto, so I mashed the A button and ran through a graveyard and down into the cellar of a building, where I was attacked by several enemies who were hiding throughout. I ducked down, targeted, shot, and worked my way up to the first floor of the building, which was where things got a little more interesting. Targeting just to the side of one character and shooting a lantern next to him resulted in a fireball that solved most of my problems. Not all of them, though ? I was taken out by a lone man on the stairs. Maybe next time, cowboy.
The game features several weapons ? I only tested out the revolver and the shotgun ? but what I really wanted to whip out was the lasso, which catches and pulls enemies towards you. This is a clever feature, but beware of it, as they are still shooting at you ? it's difficult to duck when you're pulling a man with a loaded weapon and a really bad attitude directly towards you. Added to the mix is what they refer to as their "Dead-Eye" targeting system, in which players can slow time down to target enemies precisely, stacking shots by marking parts of the body with red Xs to take down enemies more quickly. This is not unlike the VATS system in Fallout 3, and has also been compared to the "Mark and Execute" feature in the upcoming Splinter Cell: Conviction, which allows the player to target both enemies and objects to build a target priority list. In Red Dead's case, when the timer runs out, the bullets start flying again in real time.
And, of course, no next-gen game would be complete without a morality system. Rockstar has two working in conjunction here ? Marston can behave in a way that is honorable or dishonorable, and unavoidably tied to this is the fame system. If you behave honorably, this can help you become famous with the locals and affect how they treat you. If you would prefer to take up with the thieves and behave dishonorably, you could find yourself on the wrong end of the popularity contest, so to speak.