This review was originally published 06/29/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.
The marriage of Wild-West theme with open-world gameplay is a great idea, but Red Dead falls just short of "genius."
I was very impressed with Grand Theft Auto IV. Before the game had come out, I worried that the formula would be stale, and that Rockstar would just throw so much content into the game that it would overwhelm the player (San Andreas was a ridiculously complex game, although not in a bad way). The successfulness of Grand Theft Auto IV had me very excited about Red Dead Redemption, even though I hated its predecessor Red Dead Revolver.
The release of this game also made me realize how strangely devoid the gaming world is of Westerns. I guess game developers just didn’t feel the genre would be very popular with the younger audience. But Red Dead Redemption just might change that. The marriage of a Western theme and an open-world sandbox style of gameplay is a combination that seems absolutely genius. Red Dead Redemption, however, does not quite reach the level of "genius."
Don't let Red Dead's expansive environment and minimalist soundtrack fool you into thinking that it will have the almost-depressingly-desolate brilliance of Shadow of the Colossus. There's a lot more than just birds and lizards in New Austin, and they'll pop out of the grass to eat you alive sooner than you can spit.
Let me preface this review by stating that I’m a big fan of the Max Payne series and film noir in general. Both Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne had adrenaline-fueled, symbolic, dark, and quite often funny parts of awesome whole experiences. I strongly suggest playing at least the first game if you haven’t already; its story is great and definitely gives you a feel for who Max is and why he keeps on fighting through many odds. But while the old games are great, they don’t quite reach the level of fun that I found in Max Payne 3.
Max Payne 3 is a fantastic game. Right when I started playing I knew that it was a great decision because of the top-notch production values which include the graphics, sound design, and direction of the plot. One of my favorite things about the game is that it has a very self-contained experience in that you don’t have to play the previous two in order to fully understand it. However as stated before you will empathize with and enjoy Max as a character much more if you’ve played MP1 and preferably MP2 as well. [More]
The first Dead Space really impressed me. A lot. I think it was released in the same year as Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4. And Dead Space ended up being my favorite game of that year. Of course, part of that was because I was actually able to finish Dead Space by the end of the year, and Grand Theft Auto took longer. In hindsight, GTA IV was probably better. The first Dead Space game perfectly captured the feel of the classic science fiction horror film Alien, but with a bit more action.
The attention to detail was astounding, and the Ishimura just felt so functional! Like a real spaceship. Other than the artificial gravity, the Ishimura seemed like something you might see on a Science Channel special about hypothetical space mining craft The layout and organization of the ship just made sense, and the use of holographic displays as the game’s HUD and interface was brilliant design. And the space setting made the clunkiness of the character's movements actually work thematically - even though he still performed better than the characters from Resident Evil 4 and 5 anyway!
The concept of dismembering enemies to kill them was novel and added a unique dynamic to the otherwise stale shooter formula. On top of that, every one of the improvised engineering tools that were offered as weapons kicked ass (only, ironically, the military pulse rifle felt weak). And the boot stomp! Oh, the boot stomp!
Dead Space hit a gaming sweet spot for me that would be very difficult to improve upon in a sequel. Everything about it just felt so right – except that asteroid shooter segment – that part blew big time. [More]