When Rockstar puts out a new game, the industry sits up and take notice. It’s almost like an unwritten rule at this point, and looking at the developer’s track record, it’s easy to understand why it’s held in such high regard, in a way that most other studios in the industry can only ever dream of. Over the years, Rockstar has put out multiple games that each have a legitimate claim to being the greatest that we’ve ever seen, and there are very few developers out there that have uplifted the entire medium as a whole and set new standards for it as frequently and as consistently as Rockstar has.
Of course, the question, as it ever is for a developer that only ever seems to go from strength to strength, is this- how much higher can Rockstar go? Even if we limit ourselves only to the last decade of releases by the developer, the games that we’ll be comparing the soon-to-be-announced Grand Theft Auto 6 will be its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto 5, and Red Dead Redemption 2, both of which are widely regarded as two of the greatest games ever made. There’s obviously no doubt that with GTA 6, Rockstar is going to attempt go push the envelope even further and surpass what even those two games have accomplished – that’s just how Rockstar operates, after all – but how can it improve on its past output, when said output is already at the apex of gaming as a medium?
Well, one lesson that Rockstar will undoubtedly take from both GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 – though perhaps for different reasons with each game – is that the importance of a good story in one of its games cannot be overstated. Red Dead Redemption 2 proved that by being just an absolute unabashed masterclass in storytelling. With pitch-perfect writing, stellar acting performances, and an incredible cast of characters (which includes probably the best video game protagonist of all time in Arthur Morgan), Red Dead Redemption 2 weaves an unforgettable tale, and right from its first second down to its last, it captivates players with its narratives in a way that’s rare to see in games.
Grand Theft Auto 5, on the other hand, is less memorable on the storytelling front. Sure, its trifecta of protagonists is a solid one, and the dynamic between them remains a highlight of the experience throughout its runtime, but compared to the likes of San Andreas, Vice City, or even GTA 4, GTA 5 story lacks a little bit of impact. The game impresses in many, many other ways of course, from its massive, obsessively detailed sandbox to its incredible heist missions (among a multitude of other things), but when it comes to the storytelling and writing departments, the gap between GTA 5 and Rockstar’s other output is a considerable one.
That’s a gap that the company will no doubt be looking to bridge drastically with the upcoming Grand Theft Auto 6. Maybe we won’t get a story or a cast of characters that will have the kind of massive impact that Red Dead Redemption 2 did five years ago – both franchises have very different tones, after all, and Red Dead’s is always much better suited to a weightier and more dramatic style of storytelling – but fans of the series will no doubt be hoping that GTA 6 represents a marked step up over its predecessor in this area.
But obviously, as important as storytelling is in a Rockstar game, the actual gameplay experience is just as important (if not more). This, of course, is an area where the Rockstar formula has never failed impress over the years, but for all of its strengths, it does nonetheless have room for improvement. We’re not talking about the open world sandbox here- no one can do open world gameplay quite as well as Rockstar can, and we have no doubt that GTA 6 will once again set new standards on that front (unless things go horribly wrong, that is). No, we’re talking specifically about the missions and how they’re designed.
Both GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 obviously feature some incredible missions, delivering unforgettable action, set piece sequences, story moments, cinematography, and more. But the notion that Rockstar’s mission design philosophies are perhaps becoming a little dated at this point is becoming increasingly difficult to argue with. As scripted sequences, the missions obviously deserve a ton of praise, but it’s undeniable that they do force you to engage with the game in very specific and highly prescribed ways, which seems more than a little incongruous in games that are otherwise known for their expansive sense of freedom and player agency. Both GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 boast nuanced webs of sandbox mechanics, so seeing Rockstar continuing to design missions that don’t let you deviate from the scripted path even slightly can be a bit frustrating, something that we’re hoping GTA 6 will address.
Something else that’s worth bringing up are the controls, which both of Rockstar’s last two major releases have been criticized for (more so Red Dead 2 than GTA). Characters feeling heavy in movement and a general feeling of input lag is something that’s almost become synonymous with the typical Rockstar game feel at this point, and many have understandably leveled criticism at that aspect of the developer’s games. Will movement in GTA 6 feel snappier and more responsive? That’s certainly the hope- at the very least, we’re hoping the controls and movement will be better than they were in Red Dead 2.
And perhaps the biggest lesson that many will be hoping Rockstar will take from its last two games is not to underestimate the value of single player post-launch content. With the likes of GTA 4 and the original Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar delivered some of the best post-launch expansions we’ve ever played, but support for their respective sequels was sadly limited to their online components. Obviously, that worked out incredibly well for Rockstar in the end (to say the very least), particularly where Grand Theft Auto Online is concerned, and it goes without saying that that will continue to be something that Rockstar will be placing a great deal of emphasis on even with GTA 6. But with the developer having been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism for the complete lack of single player DLC for its last two releases, our hope is that support for GTA Online will go hand-in-hand with single player expansions. That’s certainly what the leaks have previously claimed, but it remains to be seen whether Rockstar will stick to those alleged plans.
Ultimately, there’s every reason to be incredibly excited about what Rockstar’s been cooking up for Grand Theft Auto 6 all these years. This is a developer that has built its reputation on raising the bar with each new game it puts out, to the extent that even the most unreasonably high expectations never seem high enough for a Rockstar game. Whether or not GTA 6 will be able to live up to the insane storm of hype and anticipation around it is something that we’ll obviously only find out when the game is in our hands, but based on the evidence of the past decade (and really, Rockstar’s history at large), all signs seem to point at GTA 6 being another all-timer. Here’s hoping we don’t have to eat our words when the game actually lands.
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