Ride the Old West in 'Red Dead Redemption'

There's an intriguing political nuance to "Red Dead Redemption." It lets us see what America might have looked like when our nation was a libertarian fantasy land.

"Redemption" is set in the Old West of 1911, when there are no real laws beyond thieving and murdering. The thrust of the game is, you hijack and ride horses, so that you may hunt down criminals and kill them. At times, you shoot 12 to 20 bad guys in a desert canyon showdown.

The intrinsic politics: This is a no-tax America; no health care beyond snake-oil salesmen; everyone's poor; everyone's white; towns exist on the pure capitalism of saloons, prostitution and bounty hunting.

People rob graves and churches, because they can. They die in duels over pride. Neighbors hang innocent people with quick justice. Women are all moms, nuns, cowhands or prostitutes.

Some cowpokes complain about the lameness of their little government -- a sign of bigger government to come.

And everyone carries guns. And bullets. And they use them.

I was buying ammo for my Winchester Repeater rifle, and the weapon salesman said, "We got the Second Amendment for a reason, don't we?"

Yep. Later, as I was murdering a bunch of bad dudes, my character said to himself, "I think they call this a massacre." Then, I sifted through their pockets for money, because looting is good.

That's the undertone of "Redemption": Old West libertarianism gave us the freedom to roam -- and to die poor, young and ugly.

The overtone is, "Redemption" is just another "Grand Theft Auto" copycat (by Rockstar, the makers of "GTA"), but instead of hijacking cars, it's horses. Some of us call this "Grand Theft Horse."

To wit, you travel and slay across a big West world. If you behave too criminally, deputies come after you.

But feel free to lasso a woman, hogtie her and place her on railroad tracks for slaughter.

There is a haunting soulfulness. While riding my horse, I jumped off to skin a dead horse lying on the ground, to collect its meat and pelt. My own horse stood behind me, staring at the skinned horse, simpering. That was spooky and sad.

This is a well-made game, a heavily acclaimed title. But to me, it's not nearly as fun or mechanically smooth as "Just Cause 2," a "Grand Theft Auto"-copycat/masterpiece that came out earlier this year.

And, during its first week of release, the online multiplayer was a mess of visuals (my guns and horses keep disappearing); and glitches (the game freezes and ends repeatedly).

I've been waiting six years for this sequel to "Red Dead Revolver." Do you hear me? Six years.

The first "Red Dead" was much different -- a phenomenal, linear-narrative adventure where you portrayed a kid in the 1880s hunting his dad's killers, including a Reconstruction politician.

This sequel is pretty good. Not bad. Fine. As I've said before, anticipation doesn't pay, unless you're a sinner or a seller.

("Red Dead Redemption" by Rockstar retails for $60 for PS 3 and Xbox 360 -- Plays fun enough. Looks very good. Moderately challenging. Rated "M" for blood, intense violence, nudity, strong language, strong sexual content and use of drugs. Three and one-half stars out of four.)

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.