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It may have spawned a number of memorable films, rough and tough characters and a series of books and comics, but when it comes to video games, the Wild Wild West has mostly fired blanks. There have been a few notable efforts - Gun and Call of Juarez spring to mind - but nothing that would grace a gamer's 'greatest ever' collection. Until Red Dead Redemption, that is.
Released on May 21, the latest offering from Rockstar Games - the folks who gave us the amazing and controversial Grand Theft Auto series - have cracked the cowboy jinx in the gaming industry with what is being called the best ever video game ever made.
Set in the 1910s American West, Red Dead Redemption slips you into the shoes of John Marston, a former outlaw now trying to get his act straight. The problem, of course, is that the law won't leave him in peace - he ends up having to hunt down his former gang members to save his family.
Sounds simple enough? Well, just throw in some stunning graphics, an amazing soundtrack, great voice acting, and GTA-style openworld sandbox gameplay, in which you can do almost anything you wish and you get an idea of what Red Dead Redemption is all about.
What makes the game tick where other Westerns failed is the sheer atmosphere. From the haunting, guitar-dominated music (Ennio Morricone would be so proud) to the immaculately crafted Gold Rush ecosystem and its weird and memorable characters to their dry, chewed-off dialogue delivery, this game will make you feel as if you are in the middle of a Sergio Leone classic.
In typical Rockstar tradition, there are side quests galore involved - rescuing damsels in distress, taking out local outlaws for the Marshall and lending a helping hand to a beautiful ranch-owner. In equally typical tradition, you can choose to be good or bad - sending your morality meter in either direction. The choice is all yours.
Rockstar and controversy go hand in hand (remember the notorious 'Hot Coffee' segment in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) and Red Dead Redemption won't disappoint the activists either. The 'Dastardly' achievement - gained by hogtying a woman, placing her on train tracks, and standing by to watch her get run over - will be discussed in incendiary terms in newspapers and websites in a few weeks time. Most fans, though, argue that, in an 18 certificate game, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to do anything you can see in an 18 certificate film.
And before you ask, yes, there are plenty of gun battles, saloons, stagecoaches, fist fights and poker games, and even some neat twists in the tale to keep you hooked right through. Now, if all that does not add up to a classic video game, we need a new dictionary.
The best western game ever? You bet. The best video game ever? It might well be.
Now excuse us, we have an appointment at sundown and need to polish our revolvers.
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