Fear the Cougar
Oh man. Cougars. Let me tell ya, they are a serious problem. And I don’t mean older women who prefer relationships with younger men. I mean the cougars in Red Dead Redemption. I haven’t been afraid of anything in a game for quite a while, perhaps not since I lost the early amazement at the world of Fallout 3, so cougars have been a pleasing reawakening to fear.
The thing about cougars in RDR is that they can kill you good, and very quickly. As best as I can tell, they can kill your horse in one leap (which is very traumatic in itself), and then finish you off in, at worst, two attacks. This makes them easily the most dangerous creature (including other humans) in the game. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been killed by cougars, but it’s a good few.
The best thing about that, is that it reintroduces a sense of contingency into the game, a sense that you’re not the master of your domain. When I hear the cougar’s familiar screaming yowl, I become afraid and look around desperately, trying to figure out whether to try and hunt the thing or just get the hell out of there. All too often I figure I’ll get it before it gets me… and then it gets me.
It really isn’t often that an enemy in a contemporary video game wields this kind of influence over play, to my mind. I genuinely notice if I feel that I’m in “cougar territory”, I become on edge and vigilant. I stare around me as I ride through, because the cougars don’t even necessarily make their sound before they come and kill you. Even better, killing one of them doesn’t really alleviate anything. There’s no real narrative effect, no sense of finality, not even a mental victory, particularly. Just one more moment of survival, a survival all the more pleasing for its tenuousness when it comes to those roaming cats…
… and there are plenty more cougars in the sea… of prairie.