Rockstar’s latest may be the “highest rated” but it’s a phenomenon for many other reasons.
Hype culture is a necessary evil, no matter what creative medium you look at. It’s torn apart games like Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s utterly transformed games like Destiny. It’s conferred a revered status to titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Despite all the dangers and fallacies associated with hype, it’s necessary to sell more copies, fund bigger ventures and repeat the cycle endlessly. Very few games are a stranger to hype culture but some titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 are interesting anomalies to it.
"When talking about the “highest rated of this generation”, there’s something to be said about Red Dead Redemption 2 releasing at this stage."
How, though? Red Dead Redemption 2 has been in development since 2010. A 2000 page script, hundreds of voice actors, hundreds of thousands of animations, a massive world teeming with side content – if anything, the buzz around Red Dead Redemption 2 is a perfect example of hype. It’s what leads to premature discussions about Game of the Year. Non-sequitur discussions on whether it will be the highest reviewed game of the generation, not unlike Rockstar’s own Grand Theft Auto 5.
Before Rockstar’s last magnum opus released, I said that ultimately, it didn’t matter what reviews said about the game. All faults would fade away in the honeymoon light and serious introspection would probably follow about the game years later. At that point in time though, the game would be everything that its fans could ever want.
When talking about the “highest rated of this generation”, there’s something to be said about Red Dead Redemption 2 releasing at this stage. The PS4 and Xbox One have been out for roughly five years now, billed as “outdated” at launch and wowing everyone with the visuals since achieved. Red Dead Redemption 2 is Rockstar’s first game built from the ground up for the hardware. It could end up being the biggest, bestest open world title that this generation – or the limits of its hardware – are capable of delivering. A benchmark, if you will, for what future generations could achieve much like Grand Theft Auto 5. In that respect, it could be an exemplary title for this generation and one that stands above the rest.
"Even if it’s for the sake of revenue, appreciate the vision that these people were trying to present. Accept that some things are imperfect or could have been better and have fun."
That’s not the greatest challenge facing Red Dead Redemption 2 though. It probably will be the highest rated game of this generation, toppling the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Bloodborne. It will most likely sell tens of millions of units before 2018 has even ended. It will be discussed much more in the coming days and thanks to Red Dead Online, it will also remain relevant for the generation to come, much like Grand Theft Auto Online has remained relevant till now. Is it a bad thing when an excellent experience is earmarked as “the best” by any crowd of people, much less game reviewers? Well, no. Quality may vary from person to person and fun will always be subjective.
The real challenge facing Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t in how it caters to hype culture while defying it, releasing on its own terms without a damn for the competition. It’s in how we ultimately perceive and appreciate the artists, programmers, writers, voice actors, designers, interns, producers, Q&A testers, and so on behind it. When CD Projekt RED was revealed to have put its employees through the wringer for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, some felt that this was a necessary sacrifice for the sake of a masterpiece. It’s not a viewpoint I personally agree with but throughout history, art and suffering have been synonymous. Can you have art without the suffering? Even the happiest novels and the most beautiful paintings hide tales of indomitable will and effort punctuated by near-endless suffering.
Regardless of how you feel about Rockstar Games, whether it’s actually working its employees to the bone or not, there’s something to be said about the effort that went into Red Dead Redemption 2. Each speck of dust, each painstakingly rendered wrinkle and each muzzle flash from every carefully carved gun, held together by almost countless systems working in tandem, is the collective result of a studio’s blood, sweat and tears. Of weeks that could’ve been spent with families. Of ailing health, missed anniversaries, ruined relationships and sleepless nights punctuating stressful weeks on top of lonely years.
Regardless of what the Metacritic scores say, keep a different number in mind. Keep in mind the sacrifices that this development team (along with several others) had to make to bring this vision to life. Even if it’s for the sake of revenue, appreciate the vision that these people were trying to present. Accept that some things are imperfect or could have been better and have fun.
"New consoles will come and go and another game will become the next phenomenon but ultimately, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be defined by the emotions it inspired, both from its players and its development team."
Ratings can carry some fairly strong consequences for developers. Whether they tell you this is the finest game ever created (so far), a great game that could use some polish, or an “okay” game whose reach exceeds its grasp, the score can often feel secondary to the views expressed. If reviews are to be the standard-bearer for quality in this season of hype, so be it. However, never forget that some things can’t be rated or attributed to simple numbers, no matter how much the concepts of “graphics”, “music”, “story” and “gameplay” are quantified.
Anyone can tell you how gorgeous Red Dead Redemption 2 looks but no one can properly explain what you’ll feel when crossing the snow-covered mountains alone with your horse by your side. I could tell you the soundtrack has been in development since 2013 but that’s not going to dictate how you should feel when sitting in a rowdy bar and listening to the tunes of a saloon piano. Everyone could praise the size and the “amount” of content but no one can really explain how you should perceive all the little things coalescing into this big picture. Some things simply have to be witnessed first-hand.
So whether you’re reading a review before spending money, watching hours of streams or simply waiting for your own copy, remember that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a phenomenon. It’s a phenomenon for the uncanny effort put in by the developers, and not just from the inordinate amounts of hype it generated before launch or the position it may occupy above the competition. New consoles will come and go and another game will become the next phenomenon but ultimately, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be defined by the emotions it inspired, both from its players and its development team.