So, there's been this sentiment in the world of film for years now that the Western, one of the few wholly American storytelling genres, is all but dead. Save for occasional flashes of inspiration, like Unforgiven, by and large, it's hard to argue against the fact that the Western seems to be less and less culturally relevant with each passing year. Rockstar's Red Dead Revolver, which takes heaping helpings of inspiration from staple Westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Wild Bunch, and even a little Bonanza, stakes its claim against this trend. There's some great atmosphere in this new shooter, and, for fans of the genre, it's great to see a Western game with some care put into it. Unfortunately, much of the game lacks focus, and the experience suffers for it.
A story of revenge, Western-style.
At its core, Red Dead Revolver is a simple revenge story. Basically, some bad fellas killed Red's parents when he was a kid, and now that he's all grown up--and works as a bounty hunter--he'd like very much to kill them there bad fellas in return. The beauty of a good revenge story is that you know it's going to snowball into something bigger than a personal grudge, and sure enough, Red Dead Revolver ropes in several bands of outlaws, including a Native American tribe and the Mexican Army, to name a few. It's a fine, fine premise for a Western, and it's integrated into the actual gameplay experience fairly well. The story is sometimes too eager to focus on peripheral characters, leaving you with a protagonist that you don't really know--and, consequently, don't care a whole lot about.
Usually, Red Dead Revolver is a straightforward third-person shooter. In most levels, you'll enter a small-sized stage filled with outlaws, and you'll have to waste the lot of them before it's over. Red starts off with a single six-shooter, but you'll be carrying a small arsenal of revolvers and rifles, along with throwing knives and high explosives, before things are through. The basic shooter controls are responsive enough, though the game seems to lean on the auto-aim mechanic an awful lot. Furthermore, the camera could've used a little automation, because, as it stands, it's completely manual and gives you something to worry about apart from all the guys trying to shoot you.
Aside from filling outlaws with hot lead, you'll also be able to take cover behind various objects, perform a rolling-jump to get out of harm's way quickly, and engage in some basic hand-to-hand fighting. Red also has a Max-Payne-like ability, called deadeye, where time slows to a creep, thus allowing you to target up to six different spots on your enemies before time speeds back up, after which you'll automatically unload your revolver on these targets. There's a dueling mechanic that works similarly, and it's during these duels, which pop up with pretty regular frequency, that provide some of the game's more memorable moments. Red Dead Revolver is actually quite fond of big set pieces, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's great because it realizes a bunch of cool sequences you've seen a dozen times on celluloid, like train hijackings, saloon brawls, ghost-town showdowns, and more. The problem is, however, that the gameplay mechanics for these set-piece sequences never quite have the level of polish they need to have to really work right. There are plenty of great ideas here, but their executions are off just enough to be noticeable.
Red is supposedly the main character in the game, but Red Dead Revolver takes regular sojourns into short side-stories by putting you in control of various supporting characters (not all of whom are on Red's side), including the tough-minded independent farm owner, Annie Stoakes; the English dandy sharpshooter, Jack Swift; the merciless General Diego; and Red's Native American blood brother, Shadow Wolf. These episodes offer a bit of variety, though all the characters play roughly the same as Red. More importantly, the fact that these characters continually take center stage over Red contributes to his weakness as a central character. All of these characters, along with just about any other characters worth mentioning in game, show up in Red Dead Revolver's multiplayer game, though the mode itself, which offers a handful of deathmatch-style games, seems kind of tacked-on. In all honesty, an extra mode where you could engage in a series of duels would've been a far more interesting addition.