Few developers have impacted the gaming industry more than Rockstar Games. The studio behind Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption has carved its place in the pantheon of industry greats, but what are the games that put them where they are? Let’s look at the five games that define and continue to redefine Rockstar.
5. GTA 3
Much has been said of the impact GTA 3 has had on the gaming industry, little of it hyperbolic. What we know for sure is that Rockstar Games’s first 3D adventure laid the foundations for not only every Grand Theft Auto to follow but every open-world game since, period. From the standpoint of a modern gamer, GTA 3 is a simplistic experience. The gameplay is archaic, the narrative is a derivative gangster tale, and full of two-dimensional characters. Regardless, this game opened an entire world (pun intended) of possibilities and deserved a place on this list.
4. Bully (Canis Canem Edit)
As I’ve expanded on in my recent retrospective, Bully represented proof that Rockstar didn’t need the violence or foul language found in their Grand Theft Auto franchise. These discarded elements have little impact on the story, which is among the best in Rockstar’s catalogue of games. The coming of age story told in Bully explores the concepts that form in high schools, like popularity, ex-communication and the causes that form the roots of bullying. There’s a universal quality to Canis Canem Edit. Almost all of us have experienced high school; therefore, we can all take away something from this under-appreciated, modern classic.
3. LA Noire
Any developer that excels at one thing is bound to suffer from typecasting; LA: Noire proved that this wasn’t the case for Rockstar. Set in post-war Los Angeles, you play Cole Phelps, a hardheaded gumshoe, out to make a name for himself. The city itself acts as a backdrop and exceeds in exuding the glamour, decadence and depravity of the golden age. Revolutionary facial scanning allowed for impressive levels of realism which helps with the main aim of the game, sorting out the lies from the truth. LA: Noire is a slower, more methodical narrative.
2. GTA 5
In terms of entertainment value, GTA 5 is the best the franchise has to offer. Not only does it have a story that spans three protagonists and an enormous landmass that covers cities, deserts and mountains. It has an online multiplayer element that has kept millions of gamers gripped with a constant stream of new content. All this has led the game becoming the best selling entertainment product of all time; quite a feat. This landmark achievement is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon, until GTA 6, that is.
The game indeed lacks the industry impact of GTA 3 or the gritty, hard-hitting story of a war veteran with PTSD like that found in GTA 4, but where it succeeds is in combining the best elements of all previous instalments while adding to the mix through evolutions in the narrative. This is perhaps the aim of all developers. How does one stay the same, while also changing? GTA 5 delivers for their old fans; those who love to get lost in a carefully created world that looks effortlessly spontaneous, while providing more than enough for a younger, more online driven consumer base.
1. Red Dead Redemption 2
The original Red Dead Redemption is a great game, but its sequel is more of an experience, a fine wine to be sipped, not gulped. An epic in every sense of the word, Red Dead Redemption 2 follows the final few months of the Van Der Linde gang. Watching this rag-tag family of desperados struggle and fall to the encroaching march of civilisation shows Rockstar’s superb narrative building ability. Equally impressive is the open-world, which can be genuinely jaw-dropping in its beauty, density and detail. RDR2 is an unforgettable experience, one that should be relished. It is a long, but fruitful journey and deserves to be included, not only as Rockstar’s greatest accomplishment but as one of the greatest video games ever made.