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PAX 2009: Red Dead Redemption lets you kill ... everything

Kevin Kelly

Red Dead Redemption's promised Wild West sandbox came to life in a build shown off to attendees at PAX over the weekend. One of the first things we noticed is that you can end a life whenever you want. What kind of lives? See a bunny bouncing by? Kablam. Attacked by a wild bear? Kapow. Angry at your horse and want to put him down? Kablang. You can kill literally every living thing in the game and, in some cases, skin them and sell their hides to the furrier in town to make some dough. We doubt he deals in horse skins, however.

There's more beyond the break, just mind you don't get shot.

Gallery: Red Dead Redemption (PAX 2009) | 14 Photos

Rockstar promises us that the game will have a full ecology system, where the larger animals hunt the smaller animals and the biggest animals will come after people. During our demo we noticed numerous bunnies (the developer on the controller failed to shoot a single one of them), a fair-sized deer, and, of course, numerous horses. It's like Cabela's decided to move into the Western era.

As we mentioned before, you play John Marston, a reformed outlaw who has left his life of crime behind. The government comes to John and asks him to track down the other bad dudes he used to ride with, or else they'll do bad things to him and his wife. That's some choice -- thanks a lot, government. So that's the overall story, but the real beauty of Red Dead Redemption is in its open world.

During the demo, Marston rode past an overturned stagecoach where a man asked us to help catch two escaped criminals -- dead or alive. We rode on ... right past said criminals escaping through the brush, one limping, the other running full speed. We also passedt a camp where someone was just waking up to start the day, and our gracious host pointed out that, "You can ride over there, shoot the guy in the face, and take all of his stuff if you want to."

There were two major encounters in the demo. The first saw Marston and some cohorts were trading a tied-up bad guy to some rough-lookin' hombres in exchange for our friend Bonnie ... but things didn't go too well and a gunfight erupted. They showed off the cover system (fairly standard), the regenerative health system (also standard) and the revamped "Dead Eye" mechanic. In Red Dead Revolver you could use Dead Eye to slow time down, and that's back in this game, but you can also use a second stage of Dead Eye to "paint" your targets and unleash a flurry of bullets when time speeds back up.

The second encounter had Marston riding into a town called Armadillo, past the saloon, stores, a bank and other buildings that are all fully explorable with working commerce systems. He rode up to the sheriff's office and promptly blew away the deputy out front, igniting an all-out battle in town. Men tried to rope Marston with lassos, he gunned down a horse, throwing its rider to the ground and -- as his wanted level climbed higher and higher for "Murder of a Lawman" and "Horse Slaughter" -- Marston was gunned down. The demo was over.

The world is "bigger than anything we've ever made," according to Rockstar. And while the demo consisted of "The Frontier," which looks a lot like Texas or Arizona, you can also ride south to an area that resembles Mexico (deserts, red rocks, dusty) or north to an area that looks like Colorado (pine trees and mountains). Horseback is the main way to travel, and you can spur your horse to move faster, but if you spur it too much you're likely to get bucked off. You can also lasso wild horses, break them, and saddle them.

Besides horseback transportation, you'll also encounter stagecoaches and trains (which can be used as fast-travel points), steamboats, and more. The game is set between 1901 and 1910, and the modes of transport and weapons reflect that. We were asked not to comment on the main sidearm Marston was using in the demo, but it's a semi-automatic from that era. It comes as part of a weapons package that you'll have access to later in the game.

The demo lasted about 15 minutes, so we didn't see nearly as much as we would have liked, including the promised animal killing ... unless you count that one horse. The open world sounds impressive; we just didn't get to travel anywhere in it besides the brushlands and the town of Armadillo. We're happy to come off the rails of the level-based Westerns -- think: Call of Juarez, Red Dead Revolver and Dead Man's Hand -- and give the open world Western another shot after Neversoft's 2006 effort, Gun. If Rockstar can bottle the lightning from GTA and send it back in time to the land of six shooters and horses so we can start a bar fight with someone named "Stinky Pete," we're all for it.

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