Rockstar Games Must Live Up to its Red Dead Reputation

By Hubert Ta

If you consider yourself a gamer at any level, chances are you’ve heard of Red Dead Redemption 2’s upcoming release in Fall 2017 from Rockstar Games and you’ve no doubt seen the trailer by now. If this is the case, then you likely know Rockstar’s reputation and quality.

If you have never heard of Red Dead Redemption 2, or its predecessor, you have probably heard of Rockstar Games; they release a new Grand Theft Auto game every few years, typically earning praise from the video game industry and scorn from moralists who reprove the games’ excessive interactive violence. But beyond the acclaim and criticism, Rockstar Games occupies a significant space in the video game industry and within the cultural fabric of the mainstream because of its unique brand of storytelling.

The video game industry has exploded in growth since the early 1970s, now outpacing the development of mediums such as TV and film. According to video game research firm Newzoo’s projections, the global gaming industry had sales of around $91 billion worldwide in 2015. Founded in 1998, Rockstar itself has done exceedingly well in the last decade, with Grand Theft Auto V cashing in $800 million on its release day in 2013, and similar annual revenue from its PC companion Grand Theft Auto Online through in-game microtransactions alone. The high number of sales comes with universal acclaim from critics for nearly all of Rockstar’s native titles. Its focus has been on sandbox narratives, where everything within the game world is meticulously crafted to perfection with long development cycles, notorious secrecy and budgets often exceeding those of Hollywood blockbusters.

The result, as in the cases of Grand Theft Auto V, L.A. Noire, and Red Dead Redemption, are games that encompass a wide variety of storylines, characters and cinematic scenery that, if played to completion, can easily top 100 hours of interactivity in single-player mode alone. Rockstar’s reputation for composing highly stylized yet historically accurate single-player campaigns, and biting satire of characters, historical figures, and everything else is unique compared to the rest of the industry. Multiplayer and mobile gaming has become the primary focus of most major game franchises, from Activision’s Call of Duty to Electronic Arts’s FIFA series.

Of course, all the hype for Red Dead Redemption 2 comes from the brilliant masterpiece that was 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. Redemption (a sequel to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver, the first of the Red Dead series) was set during the twilight years of the Wild West in 1911, and told the story of John Marston, a former outlaw whose family was taken hostage by the U.S. government. In exchange for their release, Marston must travel throughout the Southwestern United States and into Mexico to hunt down the remaining members of his former gang. Redemption set the curve for the Western genre in video games, allowing players to scour the decaying ideal of the Wild West, where stirrups and sheriffs’ posses gave way to the FBI and the internal combustion engine.

Everything was in the cards: saloons fights, Mexican standoffs, train robberies, Gatling guns and revolvers, sheriffs and outlaws, and lots and lots of horseback riding. The graphics were top-notch, the music was reminiscent of John Ford and Sergio Leone’s Westerns, the voice-acting captured each character’s personality, and the gameplay wrapped up a grand tale of morality, justice and law in the dying atmosphere of the Wild West.

All the gaming community’s recent excitement impels Rockstar’s upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 to match its prequel’s brilliance. Or better yet, Rockstar could craft for us a fresh snapshot of the American West as the stage for a realistic epic, filled with all the horrors and miracles of frontier history — the ultimate Spaghetti Western dream.