SIM­PLY THE

Burton Mail - - Game On -

’M GINGERLY mak­ing my way down the side of a moun­tain in the snow, fol­low­ing my guide to find a com­rade lost in the wilder­ness.

“This way”, he waves, turn­ing to cut through a gap in the moun­tain­side. I press the but­ton to has­ten my speed to catch up, but in­stead I shoot him dead. My bad.

It’s an in­fu­ri­at­ing mis­take, and one I’ll repli­cate with an­noy­ing reg­u­lar­ity – and it’s cost­ing me a small for­tune in pay­ing off the bounty hunters.

But this was the first of many learn­ing curves to mas­ter­ing Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2, the as­ton­ish­ing new game from de­vel­oper Rock­star.

Those ex­pect­ing Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West are in for a sur­prise, this is a much slower, much more de­lib­er­ately paced game.

It be­gins in the frozen wilds with Arthur Mor­gan and a rag-tag gang of out­laws hid­ing out in an aban­doned min­ing town, barely alive and out of food.

It’s a slow, but cal­cu­lated start to an am­bi­tious cam­paign, that teaches you the skills you’re go­ing to need to sur­vive the next 60 or so hours.

Holed up in the cold you feel cabin fever set­ting in, ten­sion build­ing be­tween you and your fel­low gang mem­bers as the snow con­tin­ues to tum­ble and re­sources grow in­creas­ingly scarce.

Hunt­ing is dif­fi­cult – poor vis­i­bil­ity, and thick snow clump­ing around your horse’s hooves im­pedes your progress – and it’s even harder go­ing on your own two feet. It’s claus­tro­pho­bic, it’s tense, it’s beau­ti­ful.

So when you even­tu­ally make it down from the moun­tain, and are un­leashed into the full map it feels ut­terly lib­er­at­ing.

The RDR2 world is glo­ri­ous – bustling towns, breath­tak­ing vis­tas, lush forests, fast flow­ing rivers, and windswept plains – Earth porn at its very best.

The char­ac­ters are be­yond life­like, stun­ning at­ten­tion to de­tail mak­ing it easy to re­late to those you en­counter on the streets, and giv­ing you real pangs of guilt when you ac­ci­den­tally kill some­one in­stead of say­ing hello.

This re­al­ism ap­plies to the an­i­mals in the game too – your horse sweats and pants as it car­ries you from your camp for ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties in towns and cities.

The bond you build with your horse is vi­tal, as no two steeds in this game are the same. Jump­ing on a strange horse to es­cape an ap­proach­ing group of wolves re­sulted in the fright­ened an­i­mal throw­ing me from the sad­dle, and leav­ing me at the pack’s mercy.

Your horse re­quires up­keep. Food, wa­ter, shoe­ing – it’s al­most as time con­sum­ing as car­ing for Arthur, who re­quires baths, hair­cuts and shaves to make him even half­way pre­sentable.

Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2 is set in a hos­tile and unforgiving en­vi­ron­ment

If you don’t have enough horse re­viver, you face the heart­break­ing re­al­ity of hav­ing to put your steed out of its mis­ery if it suf­fers a fa­tal in­jury far out in the sticks.

This is a very dif­fer­ent type of gam­ing. Fast travel doesn’t ex­ist here, so cov­er­ing long dis­tances takes time and pa­tience.

The en­forced jour­ney times are al­most re­lax­ing, stop­ping to en­sure your guns are clean, hunt­ing, killing, and skin­ning an­i­mals (which, even though it’s a game, it was so re­al­is­tic I found in­cred­i­bly un­com­fort­able to do) to sur­vive.

The re­sult of all this is al­most com­plete im­mer­sion, the feel­ing of a shared ex­is­tence with Arthur as he does his best liv­ing a hos­tile and unforgiving way of life, that’s on the brink of ex­tinc­tion in turn-of-the-cen­tury Amer­ica.

In­ter­ac­tion with fel­low gang mem­bers and strangers is sur­pris­ingly deep and nu­anced – rich, Texan drawls spin tales by the camp fire – leav­ing you feel­ing like the Dude, as Sam El­liot coun­sels him at the bowl­ing al­ley bar in The Big Le­bowski.

Three quar­ters of the way through the cam­paign, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the sur­face of what RDR2 has to of­fer. The knowl­edge that there are myr­iad hor­rors and de­lights still to be dis­cov­ered is in­tox­i­cat­ing.

Even the few quirks that are be­ing re­ported, like the spon­ta­neously com­bust­ing horses on the road near Rhodes, fails to tar­nish it.

There’s no ques­tion that what Rock­star has cre­ated here is a game like noth­ing I’ve played be­fore, a land­mark achieve­ment that sets a new stan­dard for all that go af­ter it.

■ cjs-cd­keys.com

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