Most people remember Red Dead Redemption and the way it managed to totally blow most games out of the water. What many people don't know is that it's actually a sequel. Originally released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, Red Dead Revolver had a troubled history that saw Capcom canceling the project, and Rockstar buying and reviving it. I've always wanted to play the game, so with Red Dead Redemption 2 on the way, this seemed like the perfect time. So was it worth diving into the past, or should everyone just start at Redemption instead?
You follow the story of Red. As a boy, his family is killed by bandits, leaving him on his own. When he grows up, he becomes a bounty hunter, taking on various jobs to hunt down weird criminals. For about half the game that's basically the entire story. Red hunts down one criminal after another. It isn't until the second half where we finally move onto a conspiracy involving a mountain full of gold and figuring out why Red's parents were killed.
If there's one major difference in the stories of Revolver and Redemption, it's the tone. Where Redemption is a realistic and serious game, Revolver is super goofy. You'll fight a magic professor who can teleport, a guy who acts like a bear, and a soldier who replaced his arm with a cannon. It makes a lot of sense as to why the game's plot eventually was reduced to being nothing more than a penny dreadful.
Despite all this, there's very little to actually say about the plot. Most of the characters are forgettable and wander in and out of the story with little reason, Red is about as interesting as a piece of wood, and all of the plot points are super obvious. Combined with some really bad voice acting, and there's not much actually worth seeing here. You'd think all those wacky elements would make it fun, but the game never really embraces its own absurdity. It always feels like it's waffling on this like it can't decide if it wants to go all out wacky or keep it sort of realistic.
As a whole, Red Dead Revolver plays like a typical linear third person shooter. Levels are short and to the point, with most lasting only five minutes. You often don't have to do much other than gun down all the enemies or get from point A to point B. Red is armed with an assortment of revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. The weapon variety is good, though eventually, you'll end up getting weapons that are just incremental improvements over the last few. The game has a basic cover system, but it's overly sticky. I often found it hard to move away from cover, and you can only aim from the edges. By the end I found myself ignoring the system entirely.
As you kill enemies, you'll fill up your special ability meter, allowing Red to go into Dead Eye mode. This slows down time and you simply need to paint your reticle over things you want to shoot. Once you exit the mode, Red will quickly take a shot at everything you targeted. While the idea is sound, Dead Eye is annoying to use in practice. Most of the time I found Red either completely missed his shots or lost his lock-on. Ultimately, instead of its intended purpose, I found the ability more useful as an instant reload.
While levels are short, they've got plenty of enemies to kill. Sometimes too many. The game's difficulty starts off fair, but the later levels became absurd even on normal. There are times you'll be stuck fighting swarms large enough to actually slow the game down. Worse, checkpoints are often placed far enough back that dying means losing quite a bit of progress. Things quickly devolve into frustration, especially since there aren't nearly enough health packs being doled out. Eventually, this all led me to a weird playstyle where I avoid fun things like Gatling guns because they leave me too open. Instead, I stand just barely around corners, playing whack a mole with whoever stuck out just enough of their body to give me a shot.
If there's one thing Red Dead Revolver seems to love, it's boss fights. Every level feels stuffed full of them. By my count, nearly every level has at least two, and that goes into the double digits during the late-game. Unfortunately, most of the bosses are basically just "strong enemy with a health bar". It was rare for the game to offer anything beyond that standard. The few times it does try, the fights feel confusing. It's never clear what stuns a boss and when you can hurt them. It just led to me just pumping lead into them until I won.
Of course, you can't have a western without having one-on-one duels. There's a simple dueling mechanic where you have to push back on the right sick to grab your gun, then forward to draw it. After this, a reticle will slowly move over your enemies, with your goal to hit the fire button when it's fully red so you do max damage.
The idea is neat and the first few duels are actually fun. However, later in the game, the duels begin to get ridiculous. The required reaction time feels absurd, and the last duel starts in the middle of a cutscene in order to catch the player off guard. I eventually figured the best way to win any duel was to cheese it by immediately take my first shot, and then keep enemies locked in a stun state with more shots until they dropped dead.
Occasionally you'll instead play a level as one of Red's friends. Taking the mantle of English trick shooter Jack Swift, rancher Annie Stoakes, Red's Native American cousin Shadow Wolf, or more. However, these levels don't actually play that differently. You're still either just fighting enemies or traveling. Each of the characters has unique weapons and abilities, which is the only real difference. Annie gets a rifle that deals tons of damage and lets her shoot a rocket. Shadow Wolf has a silent bow that also allows him to use flaming arrows. It's nice to mix things up a little, even if some of these levels feel like filler at best.
Every now and again you'll get a chance to stop in the town of Brimstone. Here you can use the money you earn during levels to buy new weapons and costumes. You can also repair your weapons, as each shot causes them to deal slightly less damage and be slightly less accurate. Why a durability mechanic needs inclusion is beyond me, but at least it's super lenient. You can also buy new characters and stages to use in the game's multiplayer mode, but most of my money ended up going unspent.
The game's story mode will last you somewhere between six to eight hours. Once you've finished you can replay on harder difficulties to unlock the Red Wood Revolver mode. In this mode, you instead play as Manny Quinn, a wooden dummy that can light itself on fire. It's a cute bonus, but there's not much else to say about it.
The real extra mode is Showdown. This multiplayer mode allows you to grab three local friends for split screen, or just play against AI opponents. There are nearly 50 playable characters, and each of them has their own starting weapons and special abilities. In addition to this, each kill made causes a character to drop a card. You can gather these cards to create poker hands that give you special abilities or new weapons. It was pretty neat getting explosive shells that could send players flying, or make everyone drunk, causing the screen to get blurry. The mode is fun the first couple of times, but it doesn't quite have the longevity that other multiplayer modes of the time did. With only a couple of Deathmatch variants, low player counts, and small maps, every round eventually felt samey.
Red Dead Revolver Review | Final Thoughts
I highly suggest everyone give Red Dead Redemption another play, as it's a fantastic game that has held up extremely well. On the other hand, I can't say that about Red Dead Revolver. It may have been interesting once, but the truth is that it's an average game that doesn't hold up anymore. With a paper-thin and forgettable story, frustrating mechanics, and a boring multiplayer, there's little reason to revisit this entry.
Red Dead Revolver was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the reviewer. It saw release on PlayStation 2 and Xbox on May 4th, 2004.
- Early Levels are Fun
- Showdown Mode Gave a Few Rounds of Enjoyment
- Paper-Thin Story with Boring Characters
- Game Becomes Frustrating
- Too Many Bad Boss Fights
- Showdown Mode is Barebones
- Bad Voice Acting