I’ve been mostly playing as a good guy in Red Dead Redemption 2, or at least as much as the game will let me. This is more of a cowardly choice than a moral one. Bounties and lawmen stress me out. Nevertheless, I recently decided to rob one of the game’s trains. It did not go well.
I wanted to rob a train without causing much of a ruckus. This might have been a flawed premise, but it felt true to how I had been playing the game and controlling its cowboy protagonist Arthur Morgan. To do this, I’d rob a train in a way that would have minimal pushback from the law. Maybe I could do it without a shot being fired.
I studied Red Dead’s map for the perfect place to start my robbery. The game had told me that robbing a train near or while passing through a town could lead to more witnesses, which would mean more of my dreaded lawmen. After some consideration, I picked a fork not far from Flatneck Station, where the tracks split heading to Valentine or Rhodes. The rail journey between Flatneck and Rhodes would provide a long stretch between towns, which would give me plenty of time to rob the train and take off before anyone could see.
I rode my horse to the fork, changed my outfit from the all-black ensemble I’d been seen in to a summer shirt, covered my mouth with a bandanna, and settled in to wait. I was excited. While my good guy playthrough had kept me mostly on the right side of the law, which helped me avoid bounties and rack up more money to lose in gambling games, it was fun to briefly try to be an outlaw. I was proud of my choice of location and eager to see how an unscripted crime would play out. I quaffed some food and snake oil to top up all my meters. I imagined how slickly I would be on and off the train and how happy folks back at camp would be with my riches.
I waited. No trains. The sun moved across the sky. My horse whinnied. I waited some more.
I waited for about 30 real-life minutes for a train to come by. My anticipation gave way to boredom.
Eventually I heard a chugging on the horizon. I wheeled my horse around, ready to go. Here it was—a train I’d leap onto full of passengers I’d rob before it got to Rhodes!
But I didn’t leap onto it. The train took the fork heading to Valentine rather than Rhodes. Another train quickly followed, also going the wrong way. I considered following it, but I didn’t want to ruin my plan.
Finally, as the sun lowed, a third train appeared. It chose the correct track, headed to Rhodes. I cheered and gave chase.
Though I’d actually ridden these tracks before while wandering the map, I forgot that several parts of them were made of bridges that spanned ravines and cliffs. I raced alongside the train, then promptly tumbled into a ditch. The train steamed out of sight as my horse and I righted ourselves.
I reloaded my previous save, made long before the first trains appeared. I rode back to my waiting spot and settled in for the right train to come by again.
This time I managed to not fall off the train tracks and leapt onto the top of the train while people inside shouted at me. However, I’d never robbed a train before except in a scripted story mission. I had no idea what to do next.
A prompt appeared on my screen telling me I could control the train if I took out the engineer. I leapt clumsily from rooftop to rooftop. The train must have had guards, because the law was already firing at me as I made my way to the front. We exchanged fire. I killed the engineer with my pistol and manoeuvred myself into the driver’s seat. Prompts appeared to ring the bell, blow the train whistle, and change speed. Progress!
I then realised I still had no idea what to do, and also I was now the train.
I blasted through Rhodes while trying to decide what to do, calling up even more lawmen. I wondered how long I could drive the train around the map, which actually sounded pretty fun. Maybe Arthur could become a train conductor, or just keep going in circles. But I had intended to live a life of crime, not get a steady job. I had to rob this train.
Finally I decided to just stop and grab what I could. I fumbled my way back through the cars, searching for valuables. By the time I got to the second car, I was in a full-on shootout with guards and lawmen. I might have shot a few passengers in my panic when I tried to rob them. I looted whatever I could and leapt off the train. As I raced toward the woods, my minimap was flooded with red, indicating the pursuit of the law. I had no idea where my horse was. I ducked and dodged through trees as my bounty skyrocketed and more lawmen closed in.
It was not the elegant heist I hoped for. I could do better. I restarted.
This time I jumped on the back of the train and neatly took out the guard stationed there. I moved from car to car, digging through boxes and drawers, getting stuck on everything in Arthur’s way, making sure to call to my horse all the while so it would keep galloping next to the moving train. I shot passengers and looted them rather than bothering to stick them up. The train’s progress kept the law at a distance, but it also brought us closer and closer to Rhodes. I figured I would make my way to the front of the train and then just jump off, but when I got there we were going a bit too fast to make a safe dismount. I shot the engineer and took control again, slowing the train enough to leap free with only a bit of damage. I jumped on my horse and thundered away, pleased to see my bounty was only 25 dollars. In my panic, I hadn’t managed to actually steal that much stuff from the train, but it wasn’t entirely a loss.
I rode to the Rhodes post office and paid the fines to clear my name. Then I went to the saloon to blow my meagre earnings on blackjack. If anyone was concerned about how bloody Arthur was, they didn’t mention it. After everything I’d been through, that was fine with me.