Companion apps have been lackluster in the past, but "RDR2" might have just changed that. (Image via Imgur)
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Done well, they can vastly improve the gaming experience, so why aren’t companion apps everywhere?

After eight years, it’s finally here: “Red Dead Redemption 2,” and if you’ve read any reviews of the game, or even just noticed the internet hype, then you’ve heard that it’s considered not only a fantastic sequel, but also one of the best games of all time.

Among the elements that make this game revolutionary are the beautifully crisp graphics, incredibly vast open world and fabulously engaging narrative — especially when compared to the first “Red Dead Redemption.” Although these aspects of “Red Dead Redemption 2” are most important in its becoming one of the greatest games in history, they’re not the only potentially standard-setting components to the future world of gaming.

Yet another feature that sets “RDR2” apart from its predecessors in the open world genre is its companion app. It’s not so much the existence of a companion app, but its function that makes it stand out.

The companion app is not a new concept in the gaming industry by any means. Other free-roam games in the past have instituted their own companion apps, such as “Ifruit” from “GTA 5” and “Pip Boy” from “Fallout 4.”

“Ifruit” was an interesting addition to Rockstar’s “GTA V,” but doesn’t go much further beyond character and vehicle customization aside from being able to take care of Franklin’s dog, which isn’t as enthralling as it sounds. The “Pip Boy” app is a more intensive companion app, virtually serving as the actual Pip Boy in “Fallout 4,” showing your character’s stats and even providing you a map of the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which you must explore. Still, the app doesn’t necessarily improve the game and is considered merely a “cute, semi-functional little program,” according to Ars Technica.

“Red Dead Redemption 2,” on the other hand, has a companion app that is actually useful in improving your experience while playing the game, simply for the reason that it opens up your computer or TV screen.

It’s no secret that “RDR2” is an aesthetically beautiful game, and I’m probably contributing to the broken record of game critics saying so, but seriously, it’s a good looking game. The graphics are unequaled in any game I’ve ever played (sorry, “Forza Horizon 4”). I’m particularly impressed with not only the attention to vivid detail, but simply the way light interacts with objects within the game, practically blinding you as you exit a dark building and making for realistic reflections in bodies of water, all seemingly small graphical aspects that contribute to the game’s cinematic charm.

companion apps
The app allows gamers to take full advantage of stunning graphics and navigate more effectively. (Image via Engadget)

In a video game as visually pleasing as “Red Dead Redemption 2,” you’re going to want to see as much of your screen as possible. This is where the game’s companion app comes in.

The companion app for “RDR2” has a fairly simple function, but one that actually improves the game’s visuals. The app’s major feature is mirroring the on-screen HUD onto your phone, allowing you to remove those pesky icons from the bottom of your screen. You might not realize it, but those HUD icons, like the mini map and health and stamina levels, actually take up a decent portion of screen space, and trust me, the game looks better without them.

There’s also a full map of the massive world embedded within the companion app. “Red Dead Redemption 2” contains a rather daunting open world when you consider the fact that you have to freely roam throughout it. When you use the app in tandem with the game, it can really help you navigate through the vast terrain of the fictitious western U.S.

Obviously the downside to using the companion app is that you have to look down at your phone if you’re worried about your player’s condition, but if you lean it up against something close to your TV screen or computer monitor, you don’t have to take your hand off the controller to whip out your phone during a shoot out. I guarantee that using your phone simply for the HUD function greatly improves the aesthetics of the game.

So if this is arguably the first companion app that is more than just a silly cult add on, and even enhances the way you play the game, could the gaming industry see a rise in companion app development after the success “RDR2”?

I obviously can’t predict the future, but if I were a game developer, I think I would take note of the success of this game and companion app combination and try my hand at the concept.

What I can say is that, should the future of the gaming industry heavily involve companion apps, game developers would have to balance the functionality of both the actual video game and its app. If some developer in the future attempts to create an app for their game that contains too much functionality, it may actually take away from the gameplay experience in that you could practically be required to use it in tandem with the game in order to complete basic tasks.

A video game shouldn’t require you to use a phone app while playing the game, but a game like “Red Dead Redemption 2” has done it well. The success of the “RDR2” companion app lies in its simplicity. It doesn’t try to do too much, and the one thing it does well greatly contributes to the gameplay.


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