Once Upon a Time in thewest

Rock­star Games fol­lows up its Grand Theft Auto block­buster with a duel in the sun

Newsweek International - - CULTURE - by BOB FEKETE @Bobfekete

Rock­star Games doesn’t have much to prove af­ter the run­away suc­cess of Grand Theft Auto

V. The game has sold more than 95 mil­lion copies since its 2013 de­but and raked in more than $6 bil­lion in to­tal sales. That makes it the most prof­itable sin­gle me­dia ti­tle of all time, in­clud­ing block­buster movies like Avatar and Star Wars.

Not only that, GTA V sits in sec­ond place (bested only by its pre­de­ces­sor,

GTA IV) for high­est score of all time on Plays­ta­tion 3 and Xbox 360 on re­view ag­gre­ga­tor web­site Me­ta­critic.

But tech­nol­ogy keeps mov­ing. Now that PS3 and Xbox 360 are the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, Rock­star is look­ing to show what it can do on mod­ern hard­ware such as the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X, which fea­ture 4K graph­ics. On Oc­to­ber 26, the com­pany re­leased Red Dead Re­demp­tion 2.

Will it live up to its pre­de­ces­sor? Can Rock­star make light­ning strike twice?

If Red Dead 2 falls short, it won’t be for lack of try­ing. The game is the prod­uct of a mon­u­men­tal seven-year de­vel­op­ment ef­fort. Trans­lat­ing the roughly 2,000-page script into a game re­quired the work of 1,200 ac­tors and 2,200 days of mo­tion-cap­ture work. Rock­star co-founder Dan Houser told Vul­ture that his staff worked 100hour weeks to fin­ish the game. (He later clar­i­fied that only four se­nior em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing him­self, main­tained this gru­el­ing sched­ule.)

The re­sult is a vis­ual daz­zler, one that would not be pos­si­ble with­out the lat­est high-spec con­soles. The player takes con­trol of Arthur Morgan, an out­law mem­ber of the Van Der Linde gang who, de­pend­ing on what choices you make, is torn between turn­ing his life around or main­tain­ing his ne­far­i­ous life­style. Ex­plor­ing this world feels un­can­nily like step­ping into an Ansel Adams pho­to­graph. Each frame sings with en­ergy and de­tail, whether you’re sur­rounded by a tan­gle of branches in a never-end­ing pine for­est or tak­ing in the hus­tle and bus­tle of a fron­tier town.

That vis­ual live­li­ness can be felt in the game­play too. For in­stance, when Morgan and his fel­low out­laws rob a train, fight­ing off se­cu­rity guards, Morgan makes his way to a pro­tected car filled with riches. A few more guards emerge from the train, and it’s up to you to ei­ther pro­tect your iden­tity and kill them or mer­ci­fully set them free at risk of ex­po­sure later. The mo­ment plays out nat­u­rally, with­out jump­ing to a pre-an­i­mated cut scene or menu op­tions, mak­ing this feel

“The den­sity of the player ex­pe­ri­ence is un­ri­valed.”

more like a liv­ing, breath­ing world in its own right than a mere sim­u­la­tion.

“What sets Rock­star apart from oth­ers is not just sheer am­bi­tion but the sense of place and pur­pose they bring to the player ex­pe­ri­ence,” says game jour­nal­ist, TV per­son­al­ity and

Game Awards founder Ge­off Keigh­ley. “You can—you want to—get lost in their games in the great­est sense of that word. The den­sity of the player ex­pe­ri­ence is un­ri­valed. That leads to a game world that re­acts and in­ter­acts with your choices un­like any­thing else out there.”

Will that qual­ity trans­late into phe­nom­e­nal sales on the scale of GTA V?

The lat­ter game had the ad­van­tage of be­ing re­leased three times—once for PS3 and Xbox 360; a sec­ond time for PS4 and Xbox One; and fi­nally on PC. Un­less Red Dead 2 fol­lows a sim­i­lar re­lease plan with fol­low-up con­soles from Mi­crosoft and Sony, there won’t be an op­por­tu­nity for Red Dead 2 to move as many copies. Long­time gam­ing an­a­lyst Michael Pachter thinks Red

Dead Re­demp­tion 2 has “no prayer” of match­ing the sales of its pre­de­ces­sor.

Sales have soared since the game’s re­lease, in­di­cat­ing that, at the very least, Rock­star will re­coup Red Dead

2’s de­vel­op­ment costs. And those likely topped GTA V’s re­ported $265 mil­lion bud­get (un­con­firmed by Rock­star) be­cause of a pro­duc­tion sched­ule that ex­tended be­yond the three to four years com­monly needed to com­plete AAA ti­tles like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and the up­com­ing Fall­out: 76.

Sales num­bers and bud­gets and are all in­ter­est­ing top­ics to dis­cuss, of course, but ul­ti­mately fans care only about a sin­gu­larly en­ter­tain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. On that score, Rock­star has suc­ceeded.

COW­BOY UP Red Dead Re­demp­tion’s hero (or anti-hero, de­pend­ing on the player) is Arthur Morgan, who trav­els through a daz­zling land­scape of wilder­ness and honky-tonk towns.

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