Wednesday, 30 January 2013

(Feature) This Generation Of Rockstar

Rockstar are undoubtedly one of the best video game developers in history, making some of the most explosive, story and action driven games ever. They immerse you in the worlds they create with deep characters and intriguing stories that play off of the present as well as history. 


With Grand Theft Auto: V only around the corner and the next generation of consoles soon to be appearing on shelves, I take a look back at Rockstar and their efforts to entertain people during the Xbox 360/PS3 generation. (This list consists of the main releases by Rockstar during this generation and some less important titles are not covered).


2008 - Grand Theft Auto: IV 

Rockstar kicked off the new generation with a bang with the release of GTA: IV. Well, it was a little later than people would have liked; 2008 to be exact, a full 3 years after the Xbox 360 was released.


People queued for hours at midnight releases just to get their hands on a copy. The game itself caused a ton of controversies. Even real life crimes were committed that the press and opposers to the series suggested were because of the new game. 

In the end the game received critical acclaim, although personally I never bought into it. Grand Theft Auto: IV just wasn't good enough in my book. The start of the game was compelling and brilliant and set the tone just right. But it seemed to deteriorate as the game went on. The story became a chore and characters, aside from Niko, were just plain out boring.

What's more, having characters phone you up every 2 minutes to ask you to hang out with them or go on another date was annoying as hell. If the mini games you had to play on these dates had actually been enjoyable it might not have been so bad. However they sucked in every way. Pool and Darts mini games were like something from a cheap 1980's arcade game - and I mean that in the worst way possible.

Generally speaking GTA: IV was a solid game, but the successor to its brilliant predecessors? Not really. That said, I certainly liked its darker, more cynical take on things compared to the more comedic tone of previous games.

DLC didn't take too long to come and when it did, it impressed me a fair amount more than a lot of original missions. New characters were introduced and some old ones reappeared, however the game still suffered a lot of the original issues.

It was hit and miss for me, but ultimately, while flawed, it was still a good play. In a way it felt Rockstar were trying to make the game amazing, but just didn't completely pull it off - but at least their heart was in the right place. In other words: the game wasn't not that great because of lazy developers; Rockstar just didn't succeed in all they tried.

2008 - Bully: Scholarship Edition

The very popular Playstation 2 game 'Bully' made a reappearance on the Xbox 360 and Wii in 2008 after Rockstar released a revamped version of the game including new missions and characters. 

However, despite this added content, the game was still very much the same as it had always been. Bully is the type of Rockstar game that represents their older material very well. Quite like the older Grand Theft Auto games, it isn't nearly as story driven or involving as later, more recent, Rockstar games. 

One of the key points that make Bully such a brilliant game, though, is the entirely unique setting and angle it takes. Rockstar have always received a lot of recognition over the fact that their games tend to be extremely violent and adult, however Bully proves that they should really be receiving attention for how brilliantly designed and different their games are. 

Bully isn't exceptionally violent or distasteful. You play as a pupil in a school. It's as simple as that really. However with brilliant angles taken on the lessons, missions and characters, it becomes an intriguing experience you can't put down.

In a way it is just like GTA: San Andreas but in a school. Every bit of equipment in GTA is included in Bully but just in a different, more innocent, form.

The key point, for me at least, that made Bully so brilliant wasn't just the uniqueness of it, but the fact that while the story and characters may not be massively engrossing, the game world was so interesting and different it made the game as good as it is. Certainly, without the epic open world to explore, Bully would suffer and end up as a game with little aim that would simply bore most people. However with this aspect of the game included it makes it all the more worth playing.

If you haven't played Bully at all, I suggest you pick it up. It doesn't represent how amazing Rockstar can make characters and stories, but it does represent how incredible and unique they can make a game and its world.

2010 - Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar didn't release any epic new titles for a little bit and then this gem came out.
In a way, Red Dead Redemption is the turning point of Rockstar games and how brilliant they are. They'd always made epic games, but RDR incorporated such an incredible story it took me by surprise. Certainly, all Rockstar games since RDR have seemed far more satisfying in the story department.

That's the thing about Red Dead; there is so much about it to love, including a phenomenal and unique setting and world to explore as well as superb gameplay; however it is the balance between these aspects of the game and its almost perfect story that make the game so (borderline) perfect.

This isn't GTA: IV, where you go from mission to mission meeting characters you don't really care about with the main focus always on the driving, shooting and Liberty City; RDR was all about having a brilliant everything. The setting was nailed. The Wild West environment? Beautifully crafted. The gameplay? Outstanding. The story? No more shallow characters and a plot that is best used as a bedtime story; Red Dead Redemption had a superb story full of great characters and voice acting that was pretty much perfect.

Sure, going back to some of the characters and revisiting them instead of going about missions in that scripted, linear way would've been nice, but that is a small beef with such a deep and emotional story.

The game wasn't perfect but many of its faults were actually ones that were impossible to avoid, like having a fairly bland environment to explore. Unfortunately that is just the way the West was back then and unless Rockstar were to abandon the realistic aim of the game, having the game world that way was inevitable.

Red Dead was, and still is, brilliant, and it sums up just how amazing Rockstar can be. Their commitment to the cause and their ability to make everything as high quality as possible is incredible. The deep story, the gameplay and the setting were all outstanding.

The DLC for RDR didn't impress everyone. Instead of either a direct story follow up or a new story with new characters, Rockstar opted for the rather, well, weird. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare was what was on the menu for fans. It featured the same characters as in the original game but put them in a zombie attack situation. It was a spin off and didn't have any relevance to the original games story.

Quite frankly, while it was pretty enjoyable to play through, the multiplayer was the great part. Having to survive wave after wave of zombie hordes with a few buddies might sound extremely familiar, however Undead Nightmare didn't take itself seriously in any way and it was so easy to jump in and play that it wasn't intimidating either.

While story focused DLC would have been nice either instead of or as well, Undead Nightmare got the job done, and it certainly satisfied in the multiplayer department.

2011 - L.A. Noire

While Team Bondi are noted for being the 'developers' of the L.A. Noire, there is no doubt that Rockstar, the publishers of the game, had a fair amount of say in the development themselves.

L.A. Noire isn't a game I have a solid opinion on. It's hard to say exactly how I feel about it when there are so many aspects of the game to consider.
The bottom line is that the game is flawed and can become tedious after continuous play due to its repetitive style, but despite this, it is easily one of the most brilliant games I've ever played. In a way it is similar to the just as brilliant Heavy Rain in that the gameplay can become a bit overwhelming but the actual story and concept is superb.

Yet again the word 'unique' can be used in abundance when referring to L.A. Noire because it is, simply, unique. There is no game like it and it succeeds in being involving, deep and having an almost perfectly executed story.

Cole Phelps is the sort of character that may at first appear the stereotypical American hero who, despite being caught up in a racist and bigoted time in the world, is trying to change everything for the best. In reality he is a brilliantly flawed and realised character. He'll do things you hate, things you agree with and be pompous yet innocent at the same time.

All the characters are deep though. They are involved people with different opinions on different things. Some of them you'll dislike, others you'll like but none of them are perfect - which is a very important point.

The outstanding facial animations help add to the character involvement too. They seem more alive and it's surprisingly easy to get caught up in the game and forget they are actually animated.

Solving cases might include the slightly over the top and tedious clue finding, but despite this it is still a great and important part of the game. Interrogations and questioning of both victims and suspects are great to conduct and are where the facial motion capture really comes into play.

There are things wrong with the game, but at the same time it seems almost hard to put it down and heavily criticise in any way. It is easily one of the most involved games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. It's not just witnessing the story, it's being a proper part of it. Other games do a similar thing but L.A. Noire is very unique in everything it tries to do.

It's an outstanding game and highlights even further just how incredible Rockstar are when it comes to making deep, richly detailed games of any genre. Obviously a lot of the credit for this game goes to Team Bondi too, so thumbs up to them!

2012 - Max Payne 3

Rockstar's first attempt at developing a Max Payne game went incredibly well. Max Payne 3 is an outstanding game and, as it seems with all Rockstar releases, it proves yet another point about them. While Red Dead Redemption showed how gameplay, setting and story focused Rockstar are and L.A. Noire proved how character and story orientated as well as unique they can be, Max Payne 3 concludes that Rockstar can easily develop a far more scripted action game than other titles they've been a part of.

Rockstar did a fantastic job of replacing Remedy as devs of this very popular series. Max Payne 3 is an epic game for so many reasons. The awesome shooting mechanics and great cinematic feel would be nothing without the deep narrative and, in all honesty, sublime story. 

Yep, Max Payne 3 is pretty much brilliant for similar reasons that Rockstar's last few games were so good. Gameplay: Check. Story: Check. Characters: Check. Graphics: Check. Voice Acting: Check - I think you get the picture. The bottom line is that this game rocks, but it rocks because of Rockstar (no pun intended). This is what Rockstar do; they create games with deep plots, sensational characters and voice work and really enjoyable gameplay. 
Sure, not all of their games are 'amazing'. I haven't been impressed by all of their work, no, but when I played Max Payne 3 and saw just how deep they kept the drug addicted, sleep deprived, heart broken character that is, well, Max Payne, it became so obvious that Rockstar are one of the best developers around.
They are getting better with every title released. I'm not a massive fan of their older work but as time goes by and games are released they are clearly one of the most capable developers there ever was. They can turn their hand to any genre; racing, shooting, action, sandbox or just outright violent trash (Manhunt) but they'll always come back with the same results: not just games worth playing, but games everyone has to play. 

Grand Theft Auto: V is obviously the soonest to be released and, quite frankly, I'm expecting it to be a bomb. Hopefully they will keep the game focused on being just as brilliant in all areas, including story and characters (and mini games) and ensure it is as involving to play as their last 3 games have been.

If they fix the issues that GTA: IV had and improve the formula, GTA: V could easily gain every Game of The Year award going.

Rockstar are also working on a supposedly Playstation exclusive franchise, the first game of which has been called 'Agent'. It's a stealth action game set during the cold war and focuses on political and secret missions. As usual it sounds just like a game like no other and will no doubt be as story orientated as ever (after all, we're dealing with politics here).

In all honesty I can't fault Rockstar - or at least the modern Rockstar. They've become far more focused on what their games offer and there is no reason for that to change in the future. The next generation will no doubt open up many new opportunities for developers, however it can be guaranteed Rockstar will be one of the main devs making the most of these new tools.

Rockstar, I salute you. You have provided me with hours of entertainment that has cost you up to and over 100Million dollars per game, at the expense of a mere £40 from myself. You are a top developer, and one to be respected by everyone for your contributions to the gaming world. If you were ever to stop developing, it would become apparent just how much you offer in your games, as we would all miss them.
Thank-you.


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