Early into my Red Dead Redemption 2 career, I happened upon a woman caught beneath her horse. Not yet having established if I would play saint or sinner, I did the decent thing and helped her to her feet. She then asked if I could give her a ride back home, and I was only too happy to oblige. But, instead of showing her to my horse and trotting off, I accidentally pressed the L2 button. In Red Dead-speak, this lets you focus on the given character. If you’re holding a weapon, it also means pointing it squarely in the middle of their chest. Needless to say, she took off pretty fast.
This is just one of many hiccups I’ve had stumbling through Rockstar’s latest magnum opus. Accidental shoulder brushes have turned into deadly fist fights, badly-timed mounts have had me steal a cart instead of jump on my own horse. One time I meant to give a friendly hello to the local Sheriff and ended up punching him in the face. This senseless anarchy is perhaps an unavoidable side-effect of the game’s numerous systems, each impressive in their own right, colliding all at once. For all of its touted triumphs, Red Dead 2 is an inherently clumsy game, one that isn’t as understanding and patient as the slapstick mishaps of the GTA franchise. It’s like being given clown shoes and then being told to run a marathon in them.
So, after about 10 hours or so in, I’m calling it quits. That is until VR support gets here.
No, I don’t have any insider-info about Red Dead Redemption 2 VR (though HTC once said Rockstar wasn’t done with the tech). I’m fully prepared to just not play it should support fail to materialize in the years to come. But so many of the game’s issues could be remedied by headset support and so many of its best features could be enhanced by it, that I don’t want to risk playing the full thing in case it ever happens.
Let’s start with those controls. I hadn’t fully appreciated just how far VR user interfaces have come in the past three years until I was forced to tangle with Red Dead’s troubled systems. Everything in Red Dead 2 requires context and the control scheme completely changes depending on that. It’s frankly impossible to memorize every input across the entire game, making player administration a constant, immersion-ruining necessity.
VR could untie many of those knots. If I wanted to, say, brush my horse to clean it, I could just grab a brush from my inventory and do it physically. If I wanted to feed him, I could do the same with a snack. I wouldn’t need to constantly be glancing at the button mapping in a bottom corner of the screen to know which button to hold and then which to press after. Perhaps, more importantly, I feel like these would be more intimate and meaningful affairs in VR. The same goes for those accidental hold-ups; if I want to point my gun at someone I just do it, I don’t risk accidentally sticking a pistol in their face and bringing the law crashing down on my head.
It doesn’t stop there. Imagine Poker games where you simply reach and grab the cards you want to play or the chips you want to throw in. Hunting, cooking, taming horses; all of these micro-tasks would feel much more natural in VR.
Mostly, though, I’d want to get rid of the incredibly irksome weapon wheel. Red Dead only lets you carry a certain amount of items on your person at one time and still I find myself tying fingers in knots just to get the right selections. Imagine something like Robo Recall’s weapon selection, keeping pistols on your hips and secondary weapons over your shoulders. Not only could it reduce the clutter, it could also add a touch of realism to the game’s quick-draw duels. Or how about a backpack system similar to Vacation Simulator or The Gallery? Simply dig into your inventory for the right item, grab it and pull it out.
The Wider World
Despite its many, many quibbles, though, there’s a lot to love about Red Dead 2. For me, easily the game’s great achievement is the authenticity and believability of its enormous open world. There is texture here unlike any other game before it. It’s in the elaborate random encounters that hide surprising ramifications later on in your journey and the exhaustive ecosystem that has you hunting animals and finding various uses for their remains. It’s there bubbling at the surface whenever you approach a distant campsite with settlers deciding what to make of you, or when a witness catches you red-handed and your brain goes into fight or flight mode.
Put simply, Red Dead 2 offers the most tangible virtual world of the current console generation. It’s the kind of electric, reactive reality that VR has been begging for. From the characters that aren’t afraid to get in your face to the individual importance placed upon separate buildings and the businesses within them, there’s a chance to have a life here, to have a meaningful presence within the world itself. Skyrim did an amazing job of translating its aging world to VR, but Red Dead 2 makes leaps that could be truly important for the platform.
The sheer potential here is too much to ignore. LA Noire: The VR Case Files was a promising start for Rockstar’s relationship with VR. Bringing Red Dead Redemption 2 to headsets is obviously a much more demanding task by an order of magnitude. But, if it were to happen (and there are faint signs it might), I’d be back in the saddle in a heartbeat.