It might just be the release of the year, because when Rockstar releases a new game, that’s a big deal. Especially because it concerns the long-awaited Read Dead Redemption 2! Dennis had been on horseback for an hour to check whether Rockstar is shooting again with a sharp focus.

The Good the Bad & The Ugly, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, but also John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, the awesome music of Ennio Morricone, or black Stetson hats and a good glass of Jack Daniel’s with poker cards in hand, while the smoke the pub fills up: I love the Wild West. And so also on Read Dead Redemption, in my opinion the best game in its genre ever made. That is why the bar is set high for part two, which is far too long in coming.

Now I can finally spend an hour on a horse with Arthur Morgan and his gang of criminals led by Dutch Van der Linde in a hands-on session at Rockstar. Rarely have I shouted ‘oh wow’ so many times in an hour.

The demo is kicked off by a Rockstar employee, who showed the train robbery that we also saw in the trailer, while his colleague fired a salvo of info at me. Sensory overload from all sides, but I absorbed everything like a miracle sponge. Let me put it first: that game looks awesome in the 4K version that I got to play. Beautiful horses all over the place and leave marks in the snow, and the men from the hall of Dutch look like they stink (as they should). But it is nature; the animals, plants, landmarks, and the wide environments that make the most impression. Will you soon have to ride for hours? Fine, no problem at all, there is plenty to see along the way.

By the way, the game is going to be bigger than the map of GTA V. The demo first started with that train robbery high in the mountains (a nice brutal event), but I start my hands-on play session on an open plain next to two high rock formations, which turn out to be recognizable landmarks if you want to know where you are. Far in the back is a gigantic snowy mountain where I apparently just walked around. This game is immense! Time to wander.

Triggerhappy

Red Dead Redemption 2 follows in terms of controls in the horse tracks of its predecessor anyway. Of course everything has been improved on all sides, but not in such a way that it becomes a confusing mess. With L1 you focus on objects, animals or people, after which you choose from a number of things to do. Make a chat, breed people, pick things up or of course just shoot everyone and everything right away if you want. By the way, I didn’t want that when I barked at the butcher of a neighboring town with my revolver in his bowl. After some hunting on the prairie I only came to bring a shot and skinned deer (that skinning is, by the way, depicted in all scents and colors). But instead of L1, I pressed R2 and shot the chubby bearded cozily dead. And I knew that too, but more on that later.

The thing is in RDR2: those controls are more than good. It feels intuitive: weapons are quick and easy to select. By the way, you can’t carry more stuff than you can visually see, but you can put a lot more handy stuff in the saddle bag of your tuber. Your horse is your walking camper, and as it turns out later; your best friend.

Also (thank god) Dead Eye from the first part is back: your meter fills up, you press the button and select your enemies (or prey), to put them down like a bad- sharpshooter ‘blam blam blam’ as if you Billy the Kid himself. It’s a great feeling, even if you’re not the best shooter in the world (the butcher can retell it… oh wait).

Bad- outlaw

But it is that with that butcher that makes the game so good. Of course the missions that I can play are really cool. For example, I first get an assignment from a writer to track down old gunslingers and take a picture of them for his book. To check whether they really were those legends from the past. And later, I have to kill the leader of a rival gang using stealth (failed, pressed R2 again instead of L2, much to the amusement of those Rockstar guys).

But apart from those missions, it is that dead butcher who keeps chasing me in the village where I stay. All of a sudden I had the reputation of being a bad- that makes people about me and aren’t exactly happy to see me. In a kind of Fable-like style you can therefore adjust the course of the game to the actions you take, because your actions do have consequences. And you (literally) pay for those actions; you gotta pay your own bounty to get off the hook.

Gossip girls

And they chat, those people in the world of Read Dead Redemption 2. If you pay a little attention, it will pay you a lot too. Some whisper secrets to each other about large amounts of money, so you can commit a nice robbery and your camp (which is actually the HUB of the game) is very happy. Or give you hints at ‘stranger missions’ that have nothing to do with the main story, but give you even more resources. And above all: if you still have to ride a horse (which is never a punishment, by the way), you can have a chat with your gang members and learn how they think about you, but also about each other. And that’s damn useful information. Because your gang members can be used for missions, but if you don’t show up with enough money or food, they are not exactly cooperative.

Mr. Ed

But that might rust your if you’re an outlaw. There is only one living being that you want to keep a friend anyway, and that is your horse. If we still speak in GTA terms; it is the car that you will love, the custom Lamborghini that you follow closely a la KITT. Or an old Volvo if you are such a goats wool sock. Also fine. Anyway; your horse is your live saver and you have to do your best to bond with the animal. The better the tire, the less nervous and frightened the beast gets, the better he gets in combat and the longer he can ride long distances. Brushing, feeding and reassuring is therefore a must. And no matter how dull that sounds; it makes for the Wild West feeling very well. And beware, the beast can really train you and make you move in certain ways, which is very handy with shoot outs on horseback. In a very short time I was fine buddies with the beast and christened him ‘Mr. Ed ‘.

Actually, it is just not feasible to explain everything that I have seen in the hands-on really well in detail, because all (also often absurd) details are what this game is all about. Your Read Dead Redemption 2 playthrough is definitely not going to be the same as mine. And that’s where Rockstar excels: an open world and in this case a gigantic, living open world in which you will drown and enjoy it. Especially if you’re just as drifter as I am, who can appreciate trudging through landscapes for a long time and then blasting a corridor and feeling like the best outlaw ever.

Oh. And did I mention that you can’t choose facial hair? Because you grow a beard, ! And it does that, in real time. You gotta take a shave. So manly, man.

Below some more news screens that I could not put in the article, but are too thick to remember: