Open worlds have been a staple of gaming for a long time, but recent titles like Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn have significantly pushed the boundaries of what players expect from their environments. Rockstar, of Grand Theft Auto fame, is looking to make them all look like toys with Red Dead Redemption 2 and its wild west frontier that looks to be not just huge, but refreshingly real.
Rockstar is certainly best known for the immensely popular GTA series; but it’s arguable its most beloved game is actually 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, which, though a sequel, so spectacularly transplanted the run-and-gun outlaw freedom of GTA to the American West that gamers have been clamoring for a sequel for years.
RDR2 was teased back in late 2016, but only recently have we seen hints of what it will actually look like. And today brings the first of a series of videos from the developer detailing the world, character, and gameplay systems.
The natural beauty of the frontier is, of course, simply amazing to see rendered in such fidelity, and Rockstar’s artists are to be commended. And it is realism that seems to be defining the project as a whole — which makes it a departure from other games whose creators bruit a living breathing open world to explore.
Take Far Cry 5, which came out last year to mixed reviews: the natural landscape of fictional Hope County in Montana was roundly agreed to be breathtaking, but the gameplay and story were criticized as artificially and (strange juxtaposition) monotonously intense. It’s clear that Far Cry 5, like other Ubisoft games, was a sandbox in which interesting but unrealistic situations were bred by the developers — a helicopter crashing on the person you’re rescuing from bandits, and then a cougar mauling the pilot.
Horizon: Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild were both praised for the depth and extent of their worlds and gameplay, but they both had the significant advantage of being fantasies. A mechanical dinosaur or ancient killing machine (same thing?) arrests the eye and imagination but because one can’t really compare them to reality, they can stay definitively unrealistic. Creating a compelling sci-fi or fantasy world has its own significant challenges, but on the whole it’s considerably easier than creating a convincing replica of the real world.
RDR2 seems to be attempting real realism in its game, to the extent that it’s possible. Take for example the fact that your items and cargo actually take up space on your horse. Your horse isn’t 20 more grid spaces of inventory — you can tie a deer you hunted on top, but then it can’t run. There are loops for two long guns but not three, and you can’t carry an arsenal yourself.
The flora and fauna are real frontier flora and fauna; they’ll react realistically. Encounters can be approached in multiple ways, peaceful or violent. Your fabulous hide coat gets dirty when you fall in the mud. You get new things to do by getting to know people in your gang.
Many of these have been seen before in various games but what Rockstar is going for appears — and for now only appears — to be taking them to a new level. It will of course have the expected cartoonish violence and occasionally eye-roll-worthy dialogue of any game, but the attempt to realistically, and at this level of fidelity, represent such a major and well-known portion of history is an undertaking of gargantuan proportions.
Will the game be as good as the amount of work that has clearly been put into it? We’ll find out later this year when it comes out.