Animal Crossing: New Horizons has become a phenomenon. If you're not playing it, you're probably still seeing it everywhere you turn - on Twitter, on Twitch, on the lips of your friends discussing turnip prices. It's likely enough to inspire FOMO, the fear of missing out.
There are a couple of Animal Crossing adjacent games available on PC. Stardew Valley is one which comes instantly to mind, and other games like Stardew Valley. If you want to truly capture the spirit of Animal Crossing, however, there's a surprising contender: Red Dead Redemption 2.
On the face of it, the two games have very little in common. There’s no bloodshed or bullets in Animal Crossing, no singing octopus neighbours in Red Dead, and no matter how much you may want to, you can’t kill and skin Tom Nook.
They do both have fishing, though, and this is the gateway to the similarities that lie beneath. Both games include a similar mechanic of bait and durability, but more importantly though, both capture the tranquil, soothing nature of the pastime and the pangs of anxiety which comes with the need to catch ‘em all. It’s not just that they both have fishing - a fairly common mini-game these days - but that they both capture the spirit and escapism of standing on the edge of a lake and casting out your line.
My favourite mission in Red Dead Redemption 2 was the fishing trip with Dutch and Hosea. Arthur out on the lake with the two men who raised him, enjoying a peaceful break from his responsibilities and worries. What did they catch? It doesn’t matter. I was able to recreate this magical moment in Animal Crossing, fishing alongside Canberra. There weren’t even any fish shadows nearby; Canberra is evidently not the brightest. We didn’t catch anything, but you know what? It doesn’t matter.
This is the real joy of Animal Crossing and, if you venture off the beaten path, Red Dead Redemption 2. Both are games of simple pleasures, of spending time with people divorced of any goal, and of continuous, relaxing joy. Strip away the pressure to complete the story missions of Red Dead Redemption 2, and both are huge, sprawling spaces of emptiness, ready to be filled however you wish. They put you in the vast, welcoming arms of nature, and let you relax in the world they’ve created.
Oh, and you can keep your Animal Crossing Rainy Day Music. Just give me an endless loop of Arthur Morgan saying “you sir, are a fish,” and all my problems will melt away.
The joys of doing nothing are a huge part of the draw here. One of the biggest strengths of Animal Crossing is that it never really ends, and while you’d think that would be in direct contrast to RDR2, that’s not strictly true. There is a credits roll sequence in Animal Crossing, just followed by an eternal endgame. Likewise, while Red Dead has a definitive end point (two, in fact), the game continues long after this. In fact, to get the true Red Dead experience, you’ll have to sink tens of hours into the post game to actually see it all.
A big part of this ongoing playability is Red Dead's compendium. It’s possible to breeze through the game by playing only the key missions, and in turn only hunt a handful of story relevant animals, but you’re robbing yourself of the full experience. On a similar note, you can play Animal Crossing without fishing or bug catching, but then you’re severely limiting your activities on the island. Yes, Red Dead has a compelling, blood drenched story going on in the background, but it's a game about all that the great outdoors has to offer just as much as Animal Crossing is. Both games thrive on the idea of ‘just one more’, and while collecting animals in Red Dead Redemption is much more violent and brutal than in Animal Crossing, the experience is largely the same. You collect a lot of the common ones to sell on cheaply, and get that rush of serotonin when you finally encounter something rare one, often followed by the crippling low when it escapes.
The Red Dead cast can also serve to fill the spirit of togetherness FOMO Animal Crossing might be leaving you with. The Van der Linde gang have been through thick and thin together and as Arthur often says himself, they’re like family.
How can you compare the Van der Linde gang to your Animal Crossing village, you ask, when Red Dead's cast is made up of murderers and thieves? Well, to that I'd say: ugly, unlikeable villagers are a core part of the Animal Crossing experience. Dutch, if you’re wondering, is definitely Tom Nook. A charismatic leader, offering to fill all your dreams if you’ll just give him your cash.
Once you get through the early few hours of setting the story up, Red Dead Redemption 2 quickly becomes your own private Animal Crossing, especially if you can put the violence on the backburner. If you’re looking for a tranquil getaway and don’t have a Nintendo Switch, consider taking Arthur Morgan fishing.