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 100- hour weeks to inish the game. (He later clariied 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 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.