How Rockstar Games Won The War, Part 1: GTA IV
With the recent release of Max Payne 3 on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 I have been taking a look back at the games that have been given to us by Rockstar Games during this gaming generation. Over the next few weeks I’m going to take a look back at these releases and see if nostalgia comes with rose tinted glasses or if these games can stand up or will fall over now the dust has settled on them.
First a quick history of Rockstar Games…
Rockstar Games the company started making games in 1997. Their first ever release was a game called Grand Theft Auto which was released for multiple formats (most memorably Playstation 1) and it changed gaming forever and they have continued this trend for the last 15 years. Every time they bring out a new title it literally changes everything. Other companies have to react to and learn from Rockstar so not to be left to far in the dust. They lead the industry in so many aspects whilst also being held responsible for so many of the negative views that the wider world has on gaming as an art form. They were the undisputed kings of the Playstation 2/Xbox 1 generation with such masterpieces as Grand Theft Auto 3 which once again defined a whole genre of gaming, Max Payne 1 & 2, Manhunt and Red Dead Revolver. No other game developer could touch Rockstar for pure gaming genius and we the consumers bought anything they released.
So when the time came to jump over to the new generation and start releasing games for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 did Rockstar rest on their laurels and release another GTA San Andreas with better graphics and a bigger world? They could have and it would have been great and we all would have bought it. But that’s not how Rockstar Games likes to do things. They stripped their biggest franchise down and started again and from there have gone on to release 4 of the greatest games of all time in the space of one console generation.
Those games are Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire & Max Payne 3 and here is why they have for me at least, won the war of this generation.
Grand Theft Auto IV
In the days during 2008 leading up to the release of Rockstar Games first “next-gen” title Grand Theft Auto, I think it is safe to say that we were all expecting the usual from a GTA game as the last 3 (GTA 3, Vice City & San Andreas) home console releases had all been fairly similar. We’d get a somewhat throw away story that supports and enables the outlandish action, weaponry and police chases that the series is known for. Don’t get me wrong here, I thought that these games (especially San Andreas) were all highlights of the last generation and I’d happily sit down and play any of them right now, in fact I have GTA 3 sat on my iPhone waiting to be started as I type this.
So when GTA IV was finally unleashed onto the masses on the 29th April people did not get what they thought they would from the latest in the GTA series. To put it simply, the game had grown up. Gone were the bright primary colours, unrealistic weaponry, cartoon like characters and lighter than air car physics. They had been replaced by a world that was at that time the most realistic interpretation of modern city life ever seen in a video game. GTA IV still blows me away to this day. You can literally spend hours in this game just wandering around Liberty City, following the citizens as they go about their lives; loading shopping into the car, chatting with friends or buying a hotdog from the local vendor. Watching as crooks try to steal a car and get chased away by the police and countless other little activities happening all around you.
The city of GTA IV is stunning and probably still one of the most immersive gaming worlds out there but it wasn’t the biggest change to the series and to a certain extent was probably expected. That was the now very story driven gameplay. Yes, you could still spend hours doing side quests or just reeking as much havoc as possible but if that’s all you did in GTA IV then you really missed the point of this game. The story was fantastic and at the time was one of the only games available with a quality story that was expertly acted both in animations and in the voice acting studio. Of course other games have since surpassed GTA IV (Uncharted 2&3 immediately spring to mind) but I think a lot of credit must go to Rockstar for really showing the rest of the gaming world what we should and could expect from a game in terms of story telling and acting.
It is gripping right from the very start, up to the very last bullet you fire. There are decisions to make that effect the story much like in Mass Effect, characters come and go, friendships are forged and crumble and you are forced to carry out despicable acts. It seems that Rockstar finally had the tech that they needed to tell their stories the way they were meant to be told. I love the story in GTA IV and whilst it would more than likely feel a little primitive now when compared to the even more twisting tails of L.A Noire and Max Payne 3 it really does hold a special place in my heart as it was the first game that really got me hooked on narrative driven games and was also the first Rockstar game that I ever completed.
GTA IV did receive a lot of criticism after release, from the consumers. People I know constantly complained that all the silly and ridiculous parts of the game have been taken out and that it was boring now. This has always angered me. As gamers we always moan that the industry we love isn’t taken seriously and is treated as something for children and losers. So when a development studio takes its biggest earner like Rockstar did with Grand Theft Auto and flips it on its head giving us this beautiful crime drama that once again changed not only a genre but changed our out look on how games could and should look and treat themselves (with a certain amount of respect and dignity) we should applaud them and show our appreciation.
Grand Theft Auto IV was and still is incredible. It is a masterpiece of game development and is now a significant piece of gaming history.
Join me next week when I’ll delve into the wild world of cowboys, criminals, drunks and shady government types and see if Red Dead Redemption really was that good.