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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Rockstar plays with Wild West
The BBC's Neil McGreevy gets a first taste of Red Dead Revolver, the latest game by Rockstar, the people behind the best-selling Grand Theft Auto.

Red Dead Revolver screenshot
The game recreates the atmosphere of the Wild West
Older gamers may remember a sepia-tinged childhood when playing cowboys and Indians was the epitome of fun.

It is a far cry from the virtual vegging grounds where today's youth prefer to graze.

In an age of tooled-up space marines and top-heavy archaeologists, the humble cowboy has been forced to hang up his spurs.

But game makers Rockstar, purveyors of the grittier side of gaming with GTA, Max Payne and Manhunt, are heading out West with their latest offering, Red Dead Revolver, due out at the end of the month.

Red Dead Revolver's roots lie with Japanese games giant, Capcom.

Rockstar only received the project when it acquired the San Diego-based developer, Angel Studios.

At one point, Red Dead Revolver was put on hold due to a classic clash of Eastern and Western tastes.

"Capcom had one idea of what they wanted to do and Angel had another, as a result, the game floundered", said Rockstar's PR manager, Hamish Brown.

"Twenty months ago when we bought Angel the subject of Red Dead Revolver came up. To us, it always looked great and the genre was completely unrepresented," he told BBC News Online.

Adrenalin ride

The game, which is 80% complete, is an action-packed third-person shooter that captures the Wild West atmosphere.

Red Dead Revolver screenshot
Game has a dusty, grainy feel to it
Players control six characters through the game's 20 plus levels, but the star of the show is Red Harlow, a rootin' tootin' rebel with a cause.

Having seen his parents murdered as a child, Red is hell-bent on bringing those responsible to justice. He is your typical Rockstar anti-hero.

The game combines serious blasting action with arcade pick-up-and-play values for a shooter that controls like a dream and delivers plenty of excitement as you pull off combo gunplay (from an arsenal of authentic 1800s weapons), jump from horseback to moving trains and perform other acts of cigar-chomping heroics.

But it could have all been so different, had Capcom completed the game with their trademark Japanese whimsy.

"The Capcom game was uber-arcade," said Mr Brown. "It even had a character who could fly. We kept its arcade roots but gave it a more realistic backdrop.

"It was a case of taking Capcom's personality and infusing it with some of our own, taking out things like the four-foot moustaches on the Mexican bandits and adding motion capture cut-scenes and voiceovers that capture our dark sense of humour."

Gritty atmosphere

The end product is a fine attempt to bring the Western genre to the games front, with a dusty look all of its own.

Red Dead Revolver screenshot
Red Dead Revolver pays homage to spaghetti Westerns
The music pays homage to classic Western ditties while the actual gameplay doffs its Stetson to famous scenes from the spaghetti era.

Even cut-scenes are rendered with a grainy celluloid effect, reminding us that Red Dead Revolver, like the movies it honours, is about pure escapism.

Rather than clutch their chests and hit the dirt, Rockstar once again reminds us that videogame characters have pulmonary systems - blood splatters from exit holes as your enemies curse you to hell.

Needless to say, Red Dead Revolver boasts an adult rating.

In 1995 Paula Cole sang "Where have all the cowboys gone?"

Rockstar has the answer with Red Dead Revolver.

Red Dead Revolver is out now for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

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