"Tom, are you free tomorrow night to saddle up with me?"
"I mean, how do you feel about being Sundance to my Butch?"
"Er, I've told you before, Simon: no means no."
"Red Dead Redemption co-op campaign, dummy. It's out tomorrow and it's, like, totally free. I have to write about it and I'd rather hustle with you than someone I don't know who's gonna shower me with non-ironic homophobic slurs every time I trip on a stirrup and miss a headshot."
"You want me for my ironic homophobia? Is that even a thing?"
"Why don't we ask your gay dad? Um... Look, I want you for your acerbic wit and cool hand, OK?"
This is a half-truth. Before writing about Red Dead Redemption's online modes earlier this month, I posse'd up with Tom [not Bramwell - ed.] every night for a week as we sought to make a name for ourselves in the Wild West.
Turns out that name was, mainly, "bungling". He would grow endlessly frustrated at the incompetence of his beginner-level horse. Being an only child, instead of persevering, levelling up and steadily unlocking more capable animals, he'd grow impatient. Then, every time his steed snagged a hoof on a rock, or threw him off when he drove it too hard (which was basically all of the time) he'd ceremoniously shoot it in the back of the head.
Horseless, he'd then continue toward our mission objective on foot, usually a ten-minute trek away, leaving me to charge ahead on horseback and do the bulk of the work before sidling up, dusty and out-of-breath, to claim his share of the EXP spoils.
So yeah. I want him for his companionship. The cool hand stuff is flattery. I've no idea if he can shoot straight. Apart, that is, from at point blank range into the neck of a beleaguered horse.
Tom is my neighbour. We play videogames together in that way that you play videogames with your neighbour when you're 12 years old: full of the knock-on-their-door-after-school joy and innocence that's usually lost in the acquisition of adult responsibility and too many games. Why am I telling you this? Because Tom is the best fun to play videogames with, regardless of whether we win against the other team, or earn achievement points doing so.
Red Dead Redemption's single-player mode is the videogame equivalent of The Lone Ranger, a wide expanse of restrained potential in which to lose yourself, but lose yourself alone. Its online multiplayer is the Magnificent Seven (eight, if you manage to recruit a full posse), in which you saddle up with a clutch of strangers and terrorize the local bandits.
By contrast, the Outlaws to the End co-op campaign is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In this offshoot, who gives a tumbleweed if you get blasted to high noon heaven in the grand finale: all that matters is that you make some good memories peppered by slick one-liners along the way.
Sure, there's a metric ton of experience points to be won levelling up your online character here. But if that's your primary focus, you're better off retreating to FarmVille. Co-op campaigns require more than the sum of their systems for success: they rely on a good companion with whom to co-operate. Get that wrong, and even the most robust framework will seem lacking. In short, if you want to have fun with this free add-on, you're going to need a Tom.