Once Marston and the sheriff reached their destination, I had a short battle with the villain's cronies before the man himself actually made an appearance. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to try out Dead Eye mode. Initially you're only able to slow down time when you activate this power, but at a certain point in the game you're taught how to queue up targets by painting your victims. This skill proves especially useful in situations like these where you're trying to take someone alive. Once our quarry had emerged from his shack, I paused time and lined up a couple of revolver shots for his legs; As play resumed, the bullets struck home and the bandit keeled over. Naturally, I could have just killed the man - but taking people alive will often lead to better financial rewards. Furthermore, your approach to jobs like these will affect your Marston's Fame and Honour levels. The first stat can only ever increase as your reputation spreads across the land, but the second value is more or less a karma system that affects how people respond to you. We still don't have a full picture of how this will affect the overall story, but it'll be fascinating to find out.
My next job was the one I briefly alluded to at the start of this article. Given my piss-poor attempts at heroism I won't dwell on this too heavily, but I will point out that in the full game the whole experience would be entirely optional. Dotted around the game world you'll find certain locations that are just waiting to be stumbled upon. In this case, I came across a farm house which had been taken over by a gang. Close to the occupied home there was a terrified farmer begging for help, and as soon as I approached him a short cutscene triggered in which he explained the situation. There are obviously rewards to be had from lending a hand to the poor chap - or indeed to helping the gang members - but if I'd wanted to, I could have completely ignored him entirely. I'm not entirely sure what would happen if I returned to this spot later in the game, but I do know that your actions in these locations can be persistent. If you wipe out a gang hideout and come back a few days later, it'll still be deserted - and you'll probably see a few vultures circling overhead. It's even possible to wipe out entire towns, if you're feeling brutal - although they'll apparently re-populate after a certain period of time.
The final mission I sampled was another character-driven affair that once again recalled the spirit of GTA 4. Here Marston was working alongside a drunken character named Irish (no prizes for guessing his nationality). John had apparently saved this guy's life earlier in the story, and now the booze-hound was attempting to repay the favour by helping our man to find a fearsome gatling gun. Despite the fact that Irish seemed as reliable as a chocolate teapot, Marston had no choice but to follow his plans. The gun was being held at a nearby mine, so the two men set out for a spot of snatch-and-grab action.
In pure terms, this quest had a fairly simple setup: fight your way through to the objective (the gatling gun), then force your way out again. However, the setting of the mine itself offered a slight change of flavour. The winding corridors provided a claustrophobic contrast to the open-air shooting that had typified the rest of the demo, and this restricted space also seemed to make shotguns a more viable choice of weapon than normal. On top of this, Marston was also able to shoot down overhead lanterns - plunging the corridors into darkness and allowing him to creep up on his foes. In another improvement on GTA 4, it's no longer a sticky issue if you try to kill an enemy who's right next to you. Whereas Niko would struggle to hit foes in close proximity, Marston will automatically perform a set execution using whatever weapon he has at hand - and as an added bonus, these moves tend to be rather brutal.
Once the gatling was found Marston loaded it into a mine cart and proceeded to fire at the remaining miners one-handed as he pushed his new prize back into the daylight. By the end of the mission I was expecting everything to kick off, especially given how dodgy Irish seemed, but to my surprise he held up his end of the bargain, ferrying the gun away to safety on the back of a cart. Still, you can bet that the weapon will see some use later in the game, and I can't wait to see how that turns out. Gatling guns and Westerns make for a messy cocktail, as anyone who's ever seen The Wild Bunch will attest.
As I said earlier, there's a huge amount to talk about with Red Dead Redemption, and even after two previews I feel like I've barely scratched the surface in terms of the stuff there is to discuss. Still, that's probably a good thing, as there's going to be a huge amount of pleasure to be had in finding things out for yourself when the game ships later this year. We already knew that there were going to be loads of side missions and optional quests, but I'm pleased with the way the campaign appears to be shaping up. One often-voiced criticism of GTA 4 was that some of the missions were a bit too samey; Rockstar largely addressed this criticism with its DLC expansions, and it very much seems as if it's carried this varied approach over to RDR. In short, it's all looking pretty damn exciting - and we've yet to see anything of the multiplayer side of things. Time to file this one under "Most Wanted".
Red Dead Redemption will be released on PS3 and Xbox 360 on April 30 2010.