Okay, Red Dead Redemption. First of all, I must say that my initial thoughts on this sequel to Red Dead Revolver was probably what many people had. "Great. Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West. Whoop dee doo." However, after about 10 hours worth of playtime, I must say that I am thoroughly impressed at the job which Rockstar has done with the source material. One caveat: I never played Red Dead Revolver myself, so I cannot say much about comparing this to the first game. That being said, most of my experience has been quite good.
John Marston is your typical Western protagonist, really. A former gang-member, he has been forcibly recruited by the federal government to bring down the men he once considered his friends. He struggles with his old reputation and the demons of his past while seeking to redeem himself and get his life back. He has a great deal of personality, and the facial animations for him during dialogue are quite expressive. He carries the role of "Main Character" quite admirably. The supporting cast behind John Marston is quite strong as well. In my first few hours of playing, I met Bonnie MacFarlane, a tough, self-made ranch owner, Nigel W. Dickens, a snake-oil and elixir hustler from the East Coast, and Leigh Johnson, the Federal Marshal from Armadillo. All of them have very distinct and entertaining personalities, and they all fit very well within the world of Red Dead Redemption.
As with any Rockstar game, combat is a big hallmark of RDR. Both on foot as well as on horseback/riding shotgun on wagons, gun-play is fast and furious, capturing the spirit of the run-and-gun skirmishes of the time. Horseback riding is obviously a big part of gameplay as well, with many different varieties of horses available to purchase or to capture in the wild and tame. After a bit of fiddling at the beginning, riding mechanics are quite easy to pick up and are quite intuitive. A nice little extra is the ability to maintain your current speed simply by holding down a button, leaving you able to maneuver and aim your weapon with ease.
Now, the world itself. In a word, incredible. The towns teem with activity, and at any time you can run into a drunken customer attacking a prostitute, a gang of ruffians shooting up the main street, or a shopkeeper trying to catch a would-be robber. You can also take up bounties, play any number of mini-games to win money, and purchase rooms throughout the world in which to save your game and restock ammunition. Outside of town, you can take up hunting various wild game (this will likely be your largest source of cash outside of story missions), treasure hunting, or the previously mentioned taming of wild horses among other jobs and activities. In any of these places, you may also run into Strangers, who will give you unique side missions to complete. These can be anything from one-shot deals to multi-stepped journeys taking place over time. Each has a unique feel and each one will leave you satisfied with your accomplishment once they end.
Even when you are not taking on side-missions, it is often fun to just explore and sight-see. There have been several times where I've just stopped and admired the vivid scenery of the American West. A sunrise over the deserts between Armadillo and MacFarlane Ranch, the mesas of Northern Mexico, and the vast Great Plains west of Blackwater are just a few of the many sights that a player will encounter as they travel through Red Dead Redemption.
There have been a couple roughspots, however. For one, the aim-assisted shooting mechanic can be a bit iffy at times, though if you don't really use this to begin with, it won't be a problem. Second, horses have a tendency to get caught up on rocks or trees and bring your ride to a grinding halt if you are not observant. This has not been a problem for me in any story missions, though I ran into some unexpected roadblocks while chasing down a bounty target or two. These are, however, minor quibbles, and I would certainly recommend Red Dead Redemption to anyone who enjoys this style of open-world adventure/action title.