Red Dead Redemption (Switch) Review – Highway Robbery

Red Dead Redemption is a beloved classic, one that raised the bar from what people expected from their games, and truly pushed the boundaries of open world games and video game characterization and storytelling when it came out in 2010.

So far ahead of the curve was it when it released thirteen years ago that even a straight port to modern consoles does holds up – this is very well a game that you can pick up for the first time today and you will still fall in love with it and appreciate the intricacies of its mechanics and narrative, though, of course, where it stood alone at the top when it first came out, it has since been surpassed by a number of games (most notably its own sequel) and is now just one of many excellent open world and narrative driven games.

Ahead of the reveal and quick release of this port, expectations were running high and people were hoping for a Red Dead Redemption remake or at least comprehensive remaster. That this release was not even a bare minimum remaster and just a straight port, for almost full price, drew a lot of ire. And very honestly, at the very least on PlayStation, Rockstar could and should have done a whole lot more.

But on the Switch, this straightforward port sings, and we end up with a fantastic way of playing an all time classic. Like many others, I find myself wishing we got a full Red Dead remake (or at least a proper remaster); and yet, with how well the game holds up, and how well it lends itself to the Switch, this still ends up being a worthwhile release. For Nintendo-only players who have never played Red Dead Redemption before, or for those who want to revisit it portably, the Switch release of Red Dead Redemption still comes recommended.

When I say it’s a straight port, I mean it. There is literally little to no remastering or enhancement work here. This is the original game, as you remember it, running on the Switch as is. The frame rate holds up much better (it maintains a good, healthy 30fps, barring some infrequent dips), and there is some form of more sophisticated anti-aliasing; it also looks like some bugs and glitches (including the infamous headless zombie glitch in Undead Nightmare) have been cleaned up. Other than that, this is pretty much Red Dead Redemption, as it was.

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Red Dead Redemption as it was is still a great game, and it lends itself particularly well to the Switch.”

But Red Dead Redemption as it was is still a great game, and it lends itself particularly well to the Switch. On the handheld screen (particularly if you have the OLED model), this game can still look stunning – particularly in some of the cinematic sweeping shots (you know the ones I am talking about, don’t you? The ones where the music swells as you get a shot of the vistas).

A lot of the graphical shortcomings that stand out more on modern PlayStation and Xbox consoles, given their more advanced hardware, are much less noticeable on a Switch, particularly in handheld mode. It looks great and performs well – a great version of a great game.

And what a game it is. The classic story of the outlaw turned bounty hunter John Marston is still one of the great tales in video gaming canon. The voice work, dialog, writing, cinematography, use of music, pacing, and plotting was top notch when the game came out, and is still hugely compelling and immediately arresting – even with the game’s infamously slow start, it draws you into its richly realized setting from the get go, and never relinquishes its hold.

And that setting is remarkable – the American Wild West setting is rich and ripe for video games, but very few games have attempted it, and fewer still have done it as well as Red Dead Redemption did. More than anything, the game establishes the tone, aesthetic, and mood for a proper Wild West story from the first frame and uses that to keep the player engaged while slowly setting up the story and ramping up the gameplay systems.

On the gameplay side, the game’s age shows a bit more than on the storytelling side. The open world itself is still magnificent – it is massive, full off gorgeous vistas, and full of content, random dynamic events, and so many things to find, so many things to do, that all feed into an interlocking mesh of systems. The Honor and Fame systems (Honor functioning as a morality system, that also decides how other characters in the game respond to you, and Fame simply being how aware the world is of you and your exploits) still hold up, and it’s actually remarkable that they are this fleshed out and this nuanced and reactive, given that this was a game made for hardware that had very limited resources to work with.

The open world itself is one you can lose yourself for hours in. Simply going hunting, collecting flowers, camping, trying to track down treasure, saving the random strangers you find along the way – all of that holds up. What holds up less well are the controls (we’ll come back to this in a moment), the mission design (we’ll come back to this in a moment too), and most of all, the combat.

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“On the gameplay side, the game’s age shows a bit more than on the storytelling side.”

Let’s talk about the combat. Look, I’m going to come out and say it – Rockstar sucks at proper gunplay. Max Payne 3 was, miraculously, one of the greatest playing third person shooters of all time, but that aside, the gunplay in their games has never been good, and that is very much the case here. The entire combat here is reliant on a fairly rudimentary cover system, and an auto aim where you more or less have to trust that the aiming is automatically locking on to someone you want to shoot, because you sure as heck won’t be able to do that yourself with how poor the controls are.

There was a Fallout 3 VATS style Dead-Eye mechanic included, where time slows down and you can aim more finely, but again, all of that just reinforces how clunky the combat was in the game to begin with. It is just about functioning enough to not detract from what it’s going for – in part because the use of music and cinematography during gunfights is excellent and does a lot of heavy lifting – but this is definitely one of the areas the game shows its age.

The controls in general do. While they are not as infamously clunky as they were in Red Dead Redemption 2, they are pretty damn bad. They’re easier to palate in the more intimate handheld play setting of the Switch, absolutely, but again, this is an area where I wonder why Rockstar couldn’t have added some improvements or QoL options to this release – they don’t even have a gyro assisted aiming setting here. The mission design is also an area that sticks out like a sore thumb. As open world games have grown more and more popular, their mission design has grown and evolved with that popularity. Most modern open world games allow the player to approach their objectives in any number of ways, and depending on what the player does, even allow them to bypass the objectives entirely.

Red Dead Redemption is not like that, having extremely linear and guided mission design for its main missions that stands in stark contrast to how systemic and rich its open world is. In a way, you get it, Rockstar have prioritized their cinematic storytelling here in the main story missions, which is obviously at odds with, and limits, player agency. It’s a different set of priorities and approach to open world design, but it does stick out like a sore thumb relative to other modern entrants in the genre, and while it is a valid approach to designing an open world games, it can be a bit of an adjustment period.

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“It’s hard to tell if Rockstar will ever put in the time and money needed to do justice to a Red Dead re-release. But even if they don’t, at least we now have the original classic playable on all modern consoles.”

So, Red Dead Redemption, as is, on the Switch. One of the most immersive and beloved open worlds ever, now on a screen in your hands. Is the port worth it? It very much is, at least on the Switch. While the game has aged a little, and those aspects stick out, and while there is a case to be made that Rockstar could have made some effort at polishing things up, the core game remains brilliant, and if you are playing it for the first time, it will still pull you in. If you are replaying it on a portable, it is an excellent way to revisit it. And, while Rockstar has sadly excised the excellent and underrated multiplayer mode from the Switch and PS4 releases, you do get the even better Undead Nightmare included here (and as mentioned, that one does see its bugs and glitches cleaned up).

I think, on a broader level, it is fair to expect Rockstar to do more, and to wish that a game as important and beloved as Red Dead Redemption was being treated better. But taking this release for what it is – a straight port of a beloved classic to the Switch – it holds up well, and is worth revisiting, worth recommending. If you have never played Red Dead Redemption before, or the idea of revisiting it on a portable appeals to you? This port comes hugely recommended. But if you were hoping for a more robust re-release, sadly, this isn’t that. It’s hard to tell if Rockstar will ever put in the time and money needed to do justice to a Red Dead re-release. But even if they don’t, at least we now have the original classic playable on all modern consoles.

This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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