The beta for Westworld comes out October 26th and I know I’m with a lot of people when I say I’m probably breaking my traditional, consumer-protection embargo and preordering it. Red Dead Redemption 2 will end marriages, but unlike Fornite’s divorce rate, will break up families with nuance, depth of character, and an immersive world to savor and drink in, rather than feed the most base serotonin reuptake addictions known to humankind. There’s no slot machine mechanics tricking your brain’s reward systems to get your dick hard over a rudimentary dance replicated at middle school dances across the country, no, in RDR2, you can play fucking dominoes.
I’ve deliberately limited my exposure to gameplay demos and trailers exclusively released by Rockstar, the famed developer responsible for the Grand Theft Auto series. This, to me, is a sign of growing maturity. Years ago, between the delays in the game’s production and the long development cycle, I would’ve been driven mad in anticipation. Scouring the rumormongerers, looking for any morsel of information I could chew on like pemmican or hardtack to briefly satiate my desire for the game to just be here already, even this last month would’ve been an agonizing, slow going process I’d barely come out the other end of. I guess I just don’t await releases like I used to, even from Rockstar. I once took a week off of work for GTA IV.
That might make this all the more sweet, like when Stranger Things came out of nowhere or John Wick turned out to be good. I understand it’s a prequel and my lack of time with some YouTube nerd the studio let in to give it a test drive means every vista should elicit a gasp out of me, those first few hours of finding my bearings and learning the ins-and-outs will be a magical experience. That’s exciting to me, and I’m hoping worth how absentmindedly I’ve treated the hype period of a game that is sure to rob me of countless hours of my life and destroy relationships I have with people until well after New Years.
This shit looks so dope. I can kill a deer and strap it to my horse, who I am now actively cultivating a lifelong friendship with and groom regularly to increase its trust in me during a mounted gunfight. I can fucking widow a lady and her child will grow up with my face forever etched in the revenge cortex of his own mind. I can make sure my gang has the supplies it needs to rough it in the woods while we plan our next train heist. Check it out, it’s some dude on the trail! I’m going to wave at him, because I’m friendly as hell. Oh, there’s some guy who doesn’t want to get with the program, better pistol whip him like I’m Ray Liotta and then threaten anyone who is going to alert the authorities. If the point of video games is to let you live vicariously in a world where you don’t have to suffer the consequences of your True Self, RDR2 is taking that premise to the next level and pushing the limitations off of a lovingly sculpted digital cliff.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN PADDLE A CANOE AND GO FISHING?! Look at the lighting. Loan sharking and extortion rackets? Look at Arthur, the character you play, walking through that snow with his horse. That’s no white floor texture with some token footprints and a crunch .WAV looped over it, he’s straight up trudging through that pass to Alfonso’s Pancake Breakfast, do you understand me? I have to bathe? If I spend enough time in the wilderness, Arthur grows a goddamn beard and people in town are like “ahhh shit we don’t even know what Vietnam is but look at that thousand yard stare on the guy playing Hold ‘Em, he’s a dangerous motherfucker.” Check out the camera options: you switch to cinematic when you’re traversing long distances so you can exclaim “this is God’s country right here” as wildlife frolics through a meadow around you, third person so you can admire your bitchin’ duster and repeater rifle strapped to your back as you saunter through town looking for the guy you broke the arm of six months earlier, or first person when you just need to dial in the close-quarters combat of a home invasion done in the dilapidated log cabin of a horse thief. Read that back to me, that sounds so sick.
I’m employed. It’s football season. I have shit to do, I go out of town at least once a month. I can’t have this. Having the ability to don a black mask and rob old timey banks like I’m Butch Cassidy and then figure out which rock outcropping is a safe place to cook a stew and lay my head is so much wish fulfillment at once there’s Morricone music swelling in my chest. Do you understand how many monocles I’m going to slap off of people’s faces? Is that an achievement? I’ve wanted to be chased by bounty hunters for my entire life. In RDR2, they’ll run me down like a dog, and then if I manage to slip away, I might not be let into the saloon to wash some relief down my head because I didn’t change out of my muddy clothes. That’s immersion. That’s flourish. That’s a what-in-tarnation Rockstar game eight years in the making.
I feel like a wait that hadn’t initially registered with me just got a whole lot longer.