It has been some time since we’ve had a [DFOnline] post ’round these parts. Back in March, I was originally going to showcase a fantastic indie game by one of my favorite publishers, Subset Games, called Into the Breach. Originally launched on PC only, Into the Breach was recently ported to the Nintendo Switch, and fits the platform perfectly. It’s a tactics style rouge-like game that can last from 90 minutes to up to about 3 hours, depending on how you set it up. Players control mechs on a 5×5 grid trying to protect cities and other infrastructure from giant alien insects. What makes it unique is that you get to see exactly what the enemies will do on their next turn before you react. Think of it like Chess, but you know what your opponent will do ahead of time and yet it is still quite challenging. Into the Breach is only $15 and is very much worth your time.
Now, let’s talk about what is getting everyone’s drives hard these past couple of weeks: Red Dead Redemption 2 from Rockstar Games and locally based Rockstar Games South. The long awaited sequel is actually a prequel to the 2010 game that is essentially a spin off of the modern Grand Theft Auto series. Red Dead 2 is, put bluntly, a cowboy simulator. I can feel your eye rolls from here, but there’s so much more to that. This game does everything that it can to make this a cowboy simulator. You need to eat or you will lose weight and suffer penalties. You need to sleep or you won’t be able to do strenuous activities. If you don’t bathe, people will treat you like the gross slob you are, especially if you are covered in any kind of blood. You need to feed, clean and care for your horse or it won’t do what you want or buck you off at the wrong time. You belong to a community and you need to provide food, medicine and cash monies for them. There are a lot of spinning plates, so to speak, and depending on how you play, you’ll either make the most of it or quite literally suffer the consequences. These elements are all there, including being time consuming, on purpose. These things are supposed to take time, because that’s how life was, and largely still is.
To build further upon that, all of your actions have a weight to them. Gone are the days when you can roll into town, blow a bunch of people away, hide from the law for a few minutes and return like nothing ever happened. Crimes often have witnesses, and if they get away, you’re going to have a bounty on your head and deputies coming after you. Cause enough ruckus and the town goes on lock down. Hope you remembered to cover your face with a bandanna or mask while you were doing all this, or they’re going to know exactly who you are and bounty hunters are dispatched. Did you piss off a rival gang? They’re going to be watching the roads for you. If you stumble upon someone’s home or camp in the wilderness, they tend not to take too kindly to strangers. It’s a living, breathing world out there and even though it is the Wild West, there are rules and reactions to damn near everything you do, and that reaction is often bullets.
Okay, let’s good to the good stuff. You play as Arthur Morgan, an orphan “found” and raised by outlaws. Dutch Van der Linde is the leader of the gang and “your father” but also your partner. The gang includes women and a child, drunks and loan-sharks and so much more. Most interestingly to me, John Marston, the protagonist from the first Red Dead Redemption and his family are here too, filling in the time before he vows his grizzled vengeance upon Dutch and the gang. This story starts after a robbery gone wrong with the gang on the run and trying to hide out high up in the cold and snowy mountains. Starving and penniless, the folks try to lick their wounds and survive long enough to find a new home. After some tutorials on shooting, hunting, riding your horse and robbing of course, you move into Horseshoe Overlook, and try to get by while waiting for the heat to die down and return to the scene of the crime and find your stashed ill-gotten gains. The days of the Wild West are starting to die out in 1899 though, and soon Pinkertons catch your trail and you gotta move camp. Dutch never seems to lose his faith in himself (and the gang) that everything will be fine, but as the story goes on, it starts to seem more and more like he is convincing himself. If I’ve learned anything from this game so far, whatever you do will catch up with you, one way or another. It always does.
The camp feels alive and there is always something that, some of which can actually pay off in the long run. The aspect I enjoy the most that contributes to that is your ability to talk to and interact with everyone. And it’s not just the people at camp. Every stranger you run into you can greet, antagonize, hold up or just pass right on by. You might be headed towards a mission and run into a taxman just off the road about to be executed by a rival gang. No reason to interfere if you don’t want to, but your honor might demand it, damnit! Or you can kill and rob the lot of them. It’s all the same if there are no witnesses.
These chance encounters are all over the place. Recently, I found two men up in the mountains trying to force their way into a locked safe. Once I realized what they were doing, I sneaked in quietly, put my mask on and was prepared to kill them and blow it open myself with dynamite, but then they got through the lock. Of course, then one tried to rob the other of his share, and I was just there to put a bullet in each and make off with the cash. My favorite, however, was stumbling upon a Klan gathering in the woods at night. As they got ready to light up their cross, I saved them the effort and tossed a Molotov into the group. Those white robes sure turned black in a hurry, while I mopped up the rest with my pistol, leaving one alive to throw a rope around and drag behind my horse while he cursed me and pleaded for White Jesus to save him. The fun in this game is what you make of it, and if that’s just doing missions and progressing the story, there’s plenty there, but so much more waiting out in the wild too. Hunting, fishing, gambling, looting, exploring. It all has its place and can only make your experience more rewarding as you keep at it.
While the scope, story, game play, graphics and sound are quite incredible, there are some valid criticisms of Red Dead 2 and by far my biggest one are the controls. It didn’t help that the last game I played was on a different console, so the PS4 controller I was using at first felt a little foreign, but god damn do the controls feel clunky and inaccurate. The most agonizing of all was the decision to make the aim button the same as the interact button. You have to hold the interact button to talk to anyone, and guess how many times I ended up pointing a gun at them instead? Too. Many. This becomes a constant check for me to bring up the weapon wheel and ensure I am unarmed before interacting with ANYONE, and I’m getting really tired of it. Aiming your weapons with the actual intention to shoot isn’t much better. I have the sensitivity turned all the way to the max and it still feels like I have 3 bullets in me before I can point my gun where it’s supposed to go. If it wasn’t for an aim assist that squares right up on your enemy when you target them and feels a bit like cheating, or “Dead Eye” aiming that puts you into a limited slow-mo aiming period, I wouldn’t even be hitting the broadside of a barn most of the time, especially on horseback. It’s been a stark reminder of why I have waited for every Grand Theft Auto game to get ported to PC before I played it.
Otherwise, my complaints are fairly minor, but there are a few: I feel like the save mechanics were never well explained to me and would really benefit from offering a manual save whenever you sleep, like every other Rockstar game ever. Weapons and loot are hard to spot just by looking around; you pretty much have to be on top of them and see the button prompt to know if you can interact with them. You leave all of your two-handed weapons on your horse and sometimes you’ll just leave one of the two of them there for no reason and have to constantly check if they’re still there. Since you’re always looking at your character’s back, it’s impossible to tell if you are still wearing your identity concealing bandanna unless you swing the camera around or go through two clicks on the item wheel, and cut scenes or other events randomly seem to remove it. There are a ton of items that feel redundant in a packed inventory that I already feel like I spend more too much time looking at. For a game that is so much about the little things and small details, including literally having your horses balls shrink while traveling in the cold, I was surprised that they missed as much as they did.
Overall, this is a wonderful game. The world is vast and feels more rich and alive than any other game I have ever played. The graphics are stunning and beautiful (on PS4 Pro) and further the constant feeling of immersion. When not doing lots of early game chores and maintenance, the game play is a ton of fun, even if fumbling with the controls occasionally. The biggest takeaway that I can tell you is that unless this is a game you intend to spend a lot of time playing, you’re probably not going to enjoy it very much. A lot of the negative reviews remind me of a situation in college when the frat bro roommate we were stuck with bought LA Noire, another Rockstar game about in-depth crime solving, and expected GTA. While this isn’t as huge a leap from a game where you kill everyone to a game where you kill maybe 50 people, it has more weight to it. You certainly could kill everyone, but you’re not going to get very far if you do.Things take time, which is an investment not all of us have anymore. I played for 30 minutes one day and all I did was go into town, buy and sell some stuff and explored a shack I hadn’t been inside yet. That’s probably 10-15 minutes in any other game. If you can see that this is by design, to help you get lost in the West, then this is undoubtedly the game for you.