I haven't played even one second of Red Dead Redemption 2's singleplayer mode—I decided instead to skip right to Red Dead Online. This is partly because Andy compared RDO to the early days of DayZ, one of my favorite games ever, and partly because I wanted to see what an online game from Rockstar would be like if cellphones hadn't been invented yet and Lester couldn't call me every four goddamn minutes about the next heist.
I create my character, Sacramento Stu, a skinny little cowboy who looks like he probably spends his time working in the feed store rather than hunting down bounties, and I quickly ride through the introductory missions. Not really knowing how the controls work, I have a somewhat awkward encounter with a guy outside the post office because I can't seem to break the habit of trying to interact with people using the E key instead of the right mouse button.
So, E = chokehold. Got it! And no harm done. This frontiersman is apparently used to being strangled for no reason by greenhorns. Thank you for your understanding, partner.
As I enter free roam with my horse, Stumpy, I discover that RDO's human players aren't quite so neighborly. I mosey into the small town of Armadillo, where I spot three cowboys who look like they're having a nice chat, right up until one shoots another directly in the face. Okie-dokie. Nothing to see here. I'll just about face and practice moseying in the other direction.
No dice. I'm lassoed, stabbed, and my brains are quickly stomped by the duo of evil cowboys. After I respawn they run me down again, and while I manage to kill one, the lasso guy ropes me a second time, hogties me, and puts a bullet through my stovepipe.
I skitter away to another town but it's positively packed with other players, which makes me jumpy considering how I just had my skull caved in. While trying to blend in with the locals I wind up standing too close to an AI-controlled character. He gets offended and punches me in the face. I haven't had a fist-fighting tutorial yet, but spamming the mouse buttons works just fine and I punch him into unconsciousness.
I'm not sure what kind of laws there are regarding brutally beating townsfolk, so I decide to dispose of the evidence. I pick the guy up and carry him over to Stumpy, figuring I'll ride out of town and drop him into a gulch or a gully or some other Western landscape feature that starts with G.
Except that wasn't Stumpy. Turns out, that was the horse belonging to the comatose man I've got over my shoulder, and he quickly defends the honor of his master. I think it's time to leave town again because I'm pretty sure everyone saw that happen.
As for the real Stumpy, he's having just as bad a time as Sacramento Stu is. While I'm galloping around I wind up riding next to a wagon, and a prompt appears that informs me I can jump into it. It's an impossible prompt to resist because there's nothing more Western than jumping from a horse onto a moving vehicle, so I decide to take the wagon for a little joyride. The wagon owner gently registers his disapproval by opening fire, and poor Stumpy is directly between the rifle and my head.
My horse goes down and my joyride ends instantly because I have to circle back and inject Stumpy in the heart with adrenaline, Pulp Fiction style. The Ballad of Sacramento Stu, at this point, is going to be accompanied by slide-whistles and sad trombones.
It only gets worse. Hoping to salvage a shred of dignity, I wander into a photography studio for a stirring Wild West portrait. I choose a suitable background, stand proudly, and click the shutter.
Just at that moment, Stu twitches.
What the hell, Stu? You had one job: to hold still. Instead, you jerked your hand up and now it looks like you're trying to flash a gang sign or thumb wrestle a ghost or talk to your hand like Señor Wences. You just spent five whole dollars to look like an idiot, something you can easily do for free.
I do some hunting to make up the money I just lost on the portrait, and that surprisingly goes smoothly. I shoot a goat and a buffalo and ride back to town to sell the skins and meat to the butcher. And while there are no cellphones to distract drivers in the Old West, my mind does wander as I look through my inventory while riding.
Stumpy has no GPS, or brains, apparently, and rides right off the road, needing yet another magic horse stimpak to save his life. With roughly half my Western net worth going toward awkward portraits and horse healthcare, I decide it's time for a sure money-maker: poker.
I mean, my luck literally can't get any worse, right?
Except the poker table is glitched. The players are standing on their chairs and cards are hovering in mid air. I give Stu a quick look and I swear to god he and I both sigh at the exact same time.
Turns out I can't afford the buy-in for poker anyway, so I take one last stab at an activity that might not leave me lying on the ground humiliated next to a dying horse. I enroll to become a collector, the hunter of mysterious artifacts. I meet Madam Nazar, who sends me off looking for hidden tarot cards. I discover this entails riding for 20 minutes and then spending another 20 minutes slowly walking around on a hill staring at tree stumps until you give up and google a guide.
The guide tells me the tarot card I'm looking for is actually underneath the hill in a coal mine. Sure, I had to cheat, but at least Stu will finally succeed at something.
Okay. I give up. I don't know what kind of horseshoes Stumpy is wearing, but they're definitely not the lucky kind. Sacramento Stu is officially the unluckiest cowboy in Red Dead Online. Or, at the moment anyway, Red Dead Offline.