It doesn’t take long with Red Dead Redemption 2 before you run into a Kirk Hamilton-sized conundrum: do you play with the HUD on, and experience the Old West through health meters and radars, or do you turn all that off and do things the pretty/pure/hard way.
We’ve spent years debating the merits of both approaches in other games, for everything from Zelda to Far Cry, but if you’ve got a smartphone or tablet lying around there’s no need to repeat it for Red Dead Redemption 2.
RDR2’s companion app lets you do both, and for that I can’t recommend it highly enough. I know, an official app like this is usually trash, something a publisher uses to push a few more loot boxes, or convince you to grind daily for virtual currency.
Here, though, it’s serving as an extension of the game’s interface. The RDR2 companion app relegates many of the game’s key UI elements to your phone or tablet; this includes the map, most notably, but also some menu screens as well, and even Arthur’s health meters and core stats displays.
The game itself does this too, of course, giving players the ability to turn off the HUD and then bring it back temporarily at the push of a button. But the companion app goes even further, keeping the screen free at all times.
What’s key here is that the map isn’t just a static image of the game world; the app links to your console (via your Rockstar Social Club account) and is able to display your location and bearing in real-time, almost as quickly and fluidly as it would appear on-screen. It does the same for your vitals, and your horse’s as well.
Which is a blessing and also a curse. I actually found the companion’s map distracting at first, as I’d always be looking down at my phone, and yanking my eyes off the screen all the time made the whole thing harder than if I’d just left the HUD on. After a while though I found myself changing my habits; instead of always looking at the app as though it was an on-screen minimap, I started adapting and treating it more like an actual map.
When I needed it, it was right there already open and showing me everything, and I could glance down and see what’s up. And when I didn’t, I could ignore it/turn my phone screen off and just play the game, which without any HUD anywhere on it looked absolutely gorgeous.
The idea of the “second screen” isn’t new; Microsoft made it a cornerstone of the Xbox One’s design, Sony lets you shift PS4 games to a Vita screen and countless games have released official apps that bring parts of a console game to a mobile device.
Yet I don’t remember one being as continually useful as this. I kept expecting to be sold something, or to have ads pushed in my face, or for the map to not work as advertised. But nope, this app is simple, incredibly handy and does everything that’s asked of it.
About the only downside I could find, at least that I ran into on Android, was that the app only remained connected so long as my screen was on. If I locked my phone down it would disconnect. The solution to this is simple—just stop your phone from sleeping and leave it active so long as it’s next to you—but that’ll be a huge battery drain if you’re playing through a long session, so you might want to keep your phone plugged into a console’s USB port.
It’s rare to be talking about something so trivial in such reverent tones, but then, it’s rare to find an app that genuinely improves the in-game experience, no strings attached. If you’re playing through Red Dead and want the best of both HUD worlds, you should definitely be using it.
The RDR2 Companion App—make sure you search for that, and not “Read Ded Redemption 2″, which will give you results for a bunch of trash—is already out on both iOS and Android.