If Rockstar's GTAIV is the dark lampooning of new world opportunities and the American Dream, then Red Dead Redemption is the company's stark appraisal of the crushing transitions that occurred to make both a reality - of Old West brutality swept aside by the rapid expansion of civilisation and technology.
It may lack the ribald humour of the latest in the GTA series, but it's very clearly Rockstar's product - but one that draws inspiration from the open country vistas of Westerns rather than the urban gangster vibe of the crime genre. Calling it GTA: Tales of a Cowboy wouldn't be too far off the mark.
Like the tarnished jewel that is Liberty City, John Marston's world is rife with time-absorbing diversions. Arguably, getting these not only right but keeping them interesting is all the more important here; traversing the three massive countryside plains that interlink the world's settlements would have us sleeping on the saddle if not.
During the majority of Rockstar's presentation we're engaged in a good variety of side quests and diversions over the course of one day (around 15 minutes game time), which should tell you that the developer is putting as much meat on them as the main missions. There is no set area or time for a lot of these to occur, so ambushes, convict escape attempts and executions are triggered dynamically as you cross the plains.
You've free choice to intervene or side with whomever you chose, and in Red Dead Redemption, that choice is decided by time and bullets, not endless antagonising over a drop-down menu. Fame or honour will be decided in an instant if you do or do not hold off from the trigger.
Rockstar demonstrates this choice on coming across a nighttime militant rally in the Mexican town of Chuparosa, which is interrupted by the police. After buying a face-covering bandana earlier that day, we can guess were this is going. Cue a firefight on horseback out of the town and into the hills beyond.
It's exhilarating, cinematic stuff and matches the main mission we segue into for bullet-count, if not for shear spectacle. Rockstar seems on track to create a robust experience and, after finishing the presentation with a coyote attack that kills our steed, makes us think the Old West might be as exciting a place as any Liberty City.