I have to be honest, I've never been a big fan of cowboy movies. Sure, I think the work that Morricone did some amazing work scoring the old Spaghetti Westerns. But I was never all that keen on watching the movies. I can't really explain why. Historically, the Wild West is certainly an interesting time period. But to sit down and watch a western? I was just never that into the genre. The closest I've gotten have been sort of genre-adjacent fare. I mean, Back To The Future III was fun. And I thought The Hateful Eight was fantastic as a sort of The Thing x Cowboy mashup run through the old Tarantino filter. And Westworld is awesome, sure. But I guess Westworld is a good example - I'm way more interested in something with a sci-fi spin than I am in something that's just a realistically grounded western.
I'm definitely rambling here. But listen, I am a fan of Rockstar. Vice City pretty much sold me on 3D open worlds. And Grand Theft Auto V was a total masterpiece in my book. One that I spent so many hours exploring aimlessly before finally plowing through the story. So a few years back I decided I'd actually play Red Dead Redemption, but the only way I could really make it interesting to me was to just pretend it was Westworld: The Game and just explore it with that in mind. I had fun, for a while. But I never really bothered with the story. I did play a lot of poker, though.
At any rate, Red Dead Redemption II came out a few years ago now, and has gone down as one of the highest rated games of the Xbox One generation. And while details are now leaking about Grand Theft Auto VI, I figured now was as good a time as any to delve into this one for myself. It was on sale for a decent price in the Xbox Summer Sale, so why not?
Starting up the game was a positive experience. The opening chapter is very linear and high on story. And I must say it was fairly riveting. You play as a member of a gang that's been sort of forced to the fringes of society. Everything felt realistic. Everything looked fantastic (oh, that snow!), and the score and ambient sounds are engrossing. I actually felt like, y'know what? I might stick with this game.
There was definitely some cool beats throughout the story. That first cabin raid? It's gripping. Or when you first get into Valentine and see the impressiveness of the living town. I mean everything from getting into saloon brawls to watching old movies, it's good stuff. Even the way that decisions seem to matter to the story is cool. Like, I had the option to help a guy who was hanging off a cliff. If I let him die, I'm a bad guy. If I let him live, then I'm a good guy, but he could make things tough for me later, maybe. While I'm considering my options, he falls to his death. I took too long. It added realism. But again, I'm not really into old westerns. The setting - while interesting - is just not exactly the kind of game that's going to suck me in. So not long after I got into Chapter 2 I decided to just cut loose and start exploring the map for myself. It was time to make my own fun.
And I did. Except for when the game started fighting against me.
Now it's no secret that one of my favorite activities in Grand Theft Auto V was hunting for UFO sightings. So once I found out that UFO's existed in Red Dead Redemption II, I was on my way. My first stop was an old shack that had a creepy scene inside. Apparently, it belonged to some kind of doomsday cult or something, and all their skeletons were still there. After reading a note the leader left behind that references visitors coming on the second hour, I knew I had to come back at 2AM. I did so, and found myself back in that creepy shack as it was surrounded by a green glow. I ran outside and caught only a glimpse of the craft exiting the sky. It was cool, though.
Apparently the second sighting took place on a mountain referenced in that same cultist note. So I made my trek out to that mountain, scaled it, and found the weird little rock formation that let me know I was in the right place. I tried numerous times to get the UFO to show up at 2AM again, but nothing. After my third attempt, I felt like I was wasting my time.
Beyond that, the balance of my time was spent just smelling the digital roses. There's no doubt that this is a beautiful open world. The whole nature aspect is gorgeous. The wildlife is believable. The sounds are so lulling - especially the chirping birds.
Also, I struggled with some actual technical and systemic points of the game. I suppose that things like having to retrieve your bag on your horse to change weapons is realistic, but is it necessary? For me it feels like an annoying waste of my (precious) time. Remembering to change clothes as weather changes throughout regions also just feels like it's an annoying mechanic borrowed from Breath Of The Wild. The sluggish pace at which you walk is also a personal pet peeve. But for me, something that felt like it was always teetering on game-breaking was the lighting. I cannot tell you how much time I spent in menus dicking around with HDR settings and googling pointers on how to lighten things up. But it just wasn't making things better, and over time I started to often dread nightfall. But this isn't Castlevania II. There was no curse... I just couldn't see what the hell was happening!
Thus, I'm feeling a weird disconnect with this game. I'm not even really sure how to explain it. Imagine playing a game that you can recognize is great in most every way. The story seems great. Take for example the train hijacking mission that really kept me on my toes. But overall, I just don't feel all that compelled to stick with the missions because as I stated up above, the wild west just isn't a setting that sucks me in. The open world is beautiful and awe inspiring, but to spend time exploring aimlessly also means coming to terms with my complaints about the slow walking and the inventory management and overly dark nighttime exteriors. There are parts of this game that are genuinely great - lots of them in fact. But there's also enough annoyances that weren't present in Grand Theft Auto V that just stops Red Dead Redemption II from being the same kind of joyful virtual vacation that I had hoped for.