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We take a sneak peek at the first of four premium DLC instalments that Rockstar has readied for Red Dead Redemption...
Following the free 'Outlaws to the End' co-op DLC that Rockstar released for Red Dead Redemption in June, the publisher is now following up this initial DLC helping with four premium instalments starting next week and concluding in the autumn. The first of these, 'Legends and Killers', is due for release on August 10th via XBLA and PSN, while the price tag for it will be an entirely reasonable 800 Microsoft Points (or £7.99 over PSN). Right from the offset then, Rockstar has got pricing right for what is essentially a very well stocked map pack. Compare it to the 1200 Microsoft Points for a relatively sparse Modern Warfare 2 map pack and you're laughing really.
'Legends and Killers' will come with nine new multiplayer maps, eight character skins based on the cast of Red Dead Revolver, and a new Tomahawk weapon (which is awesome). Those nine maps will restock the existing rotation of competitive maps in the boxed game and we've been lucky enough to sample six of those nine new maps during a recent session at Rockstar's London office. To give you an idea of what's in store with the DLC, we'll run through our impressions of each of these six maps and nail down their locations (where possible) in the main game map so you can go and scout out the prospective landscape in Free Roam before the DLC arrives on Tuesday.
Our personal favourite of the six maps demoed, 'Thieves Landing' has clearly been crafted with Grab the Bag in mind. Each team spawns on their respective side of a bridge that passes over a river and joins either side of the landing. With this bridge placed in the middle of the map, it effectively forms the crux of a land-grab dynamic between each team. If your team can hold down the bridge then it becomes a lot easier to pass captured bags across it and into the enemy base. Making life difficult are a couple of jetties running parallel to the bridge that house Gattling guns, which ensure that even if a team does take control of the overpass, there are still plenty of opportunities for the opposing side to seize back control. It's a denser and more constrained map than you may be used to for Grab the Bag but, because of this, it often leads to a more fevered pace during matches.
This is another map that's been tailored towards bag-based modes. We sampled it in the Hold Your Own mode and instantly noticed how differently it tends to play-out from 'Thieves Landing'. The sheer size of this map (which is essentially a snowy forest) has allowed Rockstar to permit the use of horses and, given the vastness of it and the lack of cover, horses are pretty much the only way to retrieve a bag and return it home without being continually peppered with bullets. In other words, it's probably worth brushing up on your shooting-while-riding skills if you want to get anywhere in 'Tall Trees'. As the name suggests, the denseness of forest also makes avoiding headlong plunges into tree trunks a game in itself so, make no mistake, this is a map for accomplished riders. Those of you who usually opt for the crouched, stealthy approach will not get far here.
You may remember 'Blackwater' from Redemption's campaign - it's at the north-eastern corner of the game's campaign map that John Marston travels to in the story's closing stages. If you haven't reached there yet, think of it as a fairly well developed township for the Wild West. There are paved streets, a town hall, and a seemingly functional (if corrupt) local government. We played Hold Your Own on the map but we can also see it functioning as a good all-rounder for Shootouts as well. Wide open city streets with plenty of cover, as well as numerous elevated positions atop buildings, make this a map that expert gun-slingers will revel in. Equally though, working as a team in bag-capture and Gang matches is as essential here as it is in 'Tall Trees' or 'Thieves Landing'. The numerous vantage points for opponents to stake out make playing the lone gunman role a short-lived fantasy.
Here's another map that's instantly recognisable from the main campaign: 'Escalera' is the location where Abraham Reyes' revolution in Mexico climaxes at Colonel Allende's mansion. The mansion itself lends itself to tight, close-quarter fire-fights in its multiplayer state but the real star of the show here is Escalera itself. The settlement's buildings role down the side of a hill and offer plenty of high ground and rooftops to camp from. At the foot of the hill, these buildings taper out into a town centre that's so open it's effectively a no-man's land. Nonetheless, the way these buildings are layered means that no single vantage point is impervious to a fast moving player who's set their sights on taking out campers. Once again, the map is well balanced and, once again, it offers a slightly different tack to the other five we sampled.
Put simply, 'Rio Bravo' is one giant rocky outcrop. A dusty road orbits the outcrop itself, which has so many twisting and turning routes towards its peak and innumerable nooks and crannies along the way that it's perfect for a touch of stealth. Crouching to make sure you stay off the HUD map of your opponents is essential, while kills come from biding your time until an unwary enemy enters your perimeter and can be taken out with a quick melee attack or headshot. With this in mind, the new Tomahawk weapon works particularly well here - we had the most fun of our play session simply trying to unlock the new 'Hail Mary' Achievement by nailing an opponent with the Tomahawk from an unimaginably large distance (well, about 80 feet or something).
This is probably the most conventional of the six maps we sampled. 'Fort Mercer' is a tight, multi-layered map with plenty of indoor and outdoor areas and loads of cover. In the main campaign, this New Austin-based location is the last known whereabouts of Bill Williamson and, if the bedlam of our Gold Rush playtest was anything to go by, we can see why. Successfully capturing and depositing gold bags was more difficult than in other maps we've played the mode across in the past simply because there are few areas where you feel safe in 'Fort Mercer'. The indoor sections are claustrophobic while the outdoor areas are dense and rife with fire-fights. Simply getting a moment's rest from the continuous onslaught of gunfire in 'Fort Mercer' is a challenge in itself but, then again, that's also where you'll find the map's appeal. If you're fast on the draw, then 'Fort Mercer' will definitely suit your style.
Once again, Rockstar appears to have done a sterling job of designing maps that are specifically tuned to Red Dead Redemption's particular brand of third-person shooting. In the more condensed maps, plenty of elevated areas and vantage points make for some frantic action, although these vantage points are rarely without their blind spots that quickly snuff-out campers. Where maps are vaster, horseback combat comes into play and provides a refreshing change of pace in the action, and then there's the veritable oddball of 'Rio Bravo' that just works despite its unconventional design. You really do have to look towards the likes of Epic to find another developer that offers so much variation and balancing in its maps, at least as far as third-person shooters are concerned. To put 'Legends and Killers' simply though, horseback Tomahawk fights = hours of Last of the Mohicans-esque fun.