How Rockstar has crafted a winning formula for games on every side of the law.
After binging on Grand Theft Auto V for every waking hour that I’ve spent NOT at work, I still can’t get enough. I often daydream about coming home, picking up my controller, and speeding around Los Santos, looking for the next big score. It’s an experience made perfect by the wonderful team over at Rockstar games, who have a knack for giving players just what they want.
As a matter of fact, this wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this addicted to a game (outside of my undying obsession with Metal Gear Solid) and was taken aback by how immersed in the world I had become. …this wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this addicted to a game… It wasn’t even the second. No, even though GTA V pretty much summed up everything awesome about the franchise and stuffed it into one game, Rockstar had won me over with two titles outside of their flagship Grand Theft Auto series long before. Let me explain.
In 2010, I had already played and came to love the Grand Theft Auto series for what it was. From GTA 3, to Vice City, through San Andreas, and topping it off with the much appreciated return to the fictional Liberty City in GTA IV (and all the DLC in between) there was already a firm respect for Rockstar Games. But in May of that year, gamers worldwide were treated to something a little different.
In lieu of densely packed cities and fast cars, Rockstar took the reins of Red Dead Redemption and put gamers in a world composed mostly of boom-towns and (un)reliable steeds.
It was GTA gone wild west, and it was centered on a character who was trying his best to leave the criminal life behind. It was GTA gone wild west… The outcome? A huge success in sales, a firm fan base, and what was starting to look like the greatest cowboy game of all time.
Not only did Rockstar manage to make a world lacking in technology and urban flare just as fun as any of its previous GTA games, but they also told a deep and immersive story that had many players feel a definite attachment to John Marston, the game’s reluctant protagonist. Red Dead Redemption follows the outlaw after his less than reputable antics in Red Dead Revolver.
His struggle to provide for his family and get the government off his back for good is a long one, complete with many surprising twists, lip-biting turns, heart-wrenching moments, and the ever present betrayal. But even though the story alone was enough to warrant recognition, the world and game mechanics are also plenty fun.
I often got sidetracked way too easily between missions just exploring and taking part in the endless side quests available, or random events that popped up throughout the game. They even went as far to add an assortment of duels, that put your gunslinging speed to the test. I was so involved with the cowboy lifestyle, that I almost bought a cowboy hat in real life.
I had fallen in love with RDR, and that was BEFORE charging into a fort on horseback and dropping cowboys with the lightening fast and deadly accurate “Dead Eye” ability. Rockstar games had me hooked on another one of its open world romps. How could they ever top that?
The very next year, they showed me EXACTLY how they would top it by dropping another bombshell with the cop drama L.A. Noire. Much further ahead in time than saddles and six shooters, This film noir inspired game put players in the gumshoes of detective Cole Phelps, an ex-marine, on the crime riddled streets of 1940’s Los Angeles.
Now, if Grand Theft Auto represents the criminal life, and Red Dead Redemption highlighted the gray area, then L.A. Noire is the same great experience as seen from the last place any fan of a Rockstar title would expect; the RIGHT side of the law.
There I was, glued to my system yet again. Only this time, I was on a hunt for justice. Crime after Crime, Rockstar dragged me deeper into the twisted world of Cole Phelps, and I was loving every second of it. The game was far more than a shooter, and had the most intricate interaction system I’ve seen in games to date. Collecting physical clues is only the tip of the iceberg, as players had to not only investigate crime scenes but track down and interrogate suspects and witnesses.
The player had to determine who was lying and who was being honest by reading actual facial expressions (created by mo-capping actors) to find the truth and put the right guy behind bars. Mistakes didn’t go unpunished, and the crimes only got harder to solve as the story progressed and Cole found himself in different departments.
Characters were extremely rich, and the story that ran alongside all of these crimes was quite involved. Cole turned out to be a man with a haunting past, and true to the style, it was the stuff of movies. After finally setting down my controller, I had now been reassured that Rockstar Games was the undisputed ruler of the sandbox. After finally setting down my controller, I had now been reassured that Rockstar Games was the undisputed ruler of the sandbox.
Fast forward to today, and I can confidently say that they’re only getting better at what they do. Combining accurate portrayals of each era and location of its subjects with game specific abilities has worked wondrs since the GTA 3 days. Its truly no surprise that Grand Theft Auto V made a record breaking $1 billion in just three days. It is THE shining example of all of the developer’s successes molded into one package. Rockstar Games seems to have found their winning strategy.
They take a simple persona (cop, criminal, cowboy), explore all the things that make up that lifestyle (world, hobbies, abilities, stereotypes, story-line), and drop them in a heavily detailed sandbox world that fits the persona. After that, comes the true genius of the success of Rockstar Games. They leave the rest up to you!