There's all sorts of trouble going down at Rockstar San Diego, say the rumours. Not ideal news when the studio's supposed to be cracking out one of the firm's biggest games this year, we thought as we journeyed to Rockstar London to play Red Dead Redemption. But we were pleasantly surprised; it looks good. Really good.
We've seen RDR before, and this latest version seemed to show a game that is coming together quite nicely. First thing: it's pretty. John Marston, reformed outlaw and main character of the game, is modelled with impressive attention to detail, from the wrinkles in his moody, battle-scared face to the threads in his clothes.
The environments are even more impressive. You can see for miles, the Wild Western dirt land stretching far into the distance with huge towering canyons, town plots and insane amounts of vegetation (cacti, bushes and tumbleweed in abundance) to fill all that. The Rockstar rep in attendance also informed us that in amongst all the shrubbery are over 40 different animals that make up an "ecology system". We didn't see animals hunting animals or anything, but we did skin a horse to sell its fur at the local town. Yeah, we're kooky like that.
And all of that is made extra pretty under the game's setting sunlight, which comes to pass as an in-game clock makes time tick by and random weather occur, much like GTA.
We were impressed by the game's cinematics, too. We played three missions, and each of them, in GTA fashion, were introduced by dialogue scenes between John and other characters, with the same level of spot-on facial animation and top class voice acting as its urban crime-spree counterpart. You can see the GTA DNA in there.
And you can feel it, too. Each of our missions, despite the various reasons for our exploits, had us engage groups of enemies in gun battles. Getting to grips with the game's cover system was easy because it felt just like GTA - tap the Cover button and John lunges towards and sticks to the nearest wall.
Pulling the left trigger has John pop out of cover and take aim as you let of shots with a squeeze of the right trigger. It's good stuff; enemies take cover too, and because of the inherent inaccurate nature of these old school cowboy revolvers, gun fights tend to be a heated exchange of bullets that feel just like the shoot-outs in the old school western movies.
The main difference here from GTA is the game's Dead Eye mode - a slow-motion shooting mechanic that lets you freeze the action as you set several targets over your enemies. Then John rapidly blasts your set targets taking them all out in a flash. In the final game you'll have to earn the right to use this move with your shooting prowess under normal speed, but we seemed to have unlimited access to it in the preview version we played, and although it's an easy way out of otherwise heated battles, it was rather fun.
In one mission we clung onto the back of a mine cart as it free-rolled down a hill, blasting at enemies as we passed by, which was a laugh and a good example of how Rockstar could mix up missions so that it's not all hide-and-shoot gameplay.
Not every mission ends the same way either - the way you handle each mission affects your fame, with you earning either a good or bad reputation as you go, which affects the way people react to you.
In one scene we were helping some bloke save his daughter from some goons holding her hostage in a house. We shot everyone and saved the daughter, and everyone was happy. Job done.