Rockstar Games are among the very recognisable game developers in the world, as well as their back catalog is some thing to behold.
Whilst their games have not been smash hits that are unbelievable, sell like hotcakes and they continue to make consistently outstanding names that excite gamers. That is usually as a result of developed trust in their own power to create gameplay experiences that are engaging.
Lots of their games can also be amusing and very well written, and work to the ultra-violence they are frequently criticised for as a great juxtaposition.
This list attempts to decide 10 of the worst and top Rockstar games and rate them. What’s the finest game of Rockstar? Let us find out…
- Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis
Developed as a tech demo for their RAGE tech (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) the title was initially just a way to test their grand ideas, but Rockstar ended up releasing the full game near the launch of the Xbox 360. Without it, we may never have had the level of fine-tuning you see in their later titles like Red Dead Redemption and GTA V, which both run on the same beast that powered this little gem.
When interviewed about the game, co-founder Sam Houser stated “our mission brief at Rockstar is to make titles with innovative gameplay about subject matters we were interested in”.
Essentially, the guys at Rockstar love table tennis, and thought that no game had quite grasped the joy of it just yet. The game received great praise for its effective, simplistic gameplay, something that underpins Rockstar’s design philosophy. It was an accessible game with tight controls and excellent graphics for the time.
Unable to rank alongside their other unforgettable games, this title was held back by the sheer confusion that Rockstar had pivoted into the sports genre, producing a small-scale title not dependent on an intricate open world.
Manhunt could easily be remembered as Rockstar’s most bold, ultra violent title. If you were a youngling during its release period, you probably heard more about it on the news than anything else.
The game was heavily criticised for its sadistic, almost ritualistic depictions of violence, as you skulk around levels using an array of brutal weaponry to take out anyone in your way. You control a death row prisoner being forced to partake in the filming of a number of snuff films, and players are rewarded at the end of the level based on how gruesome their method of execution was, which consequentially pleases the director.
If you can look past all of the violence, the game itself was at its core, very good, and pushed the envelope for both stealth and horror games. Critics praised the polished gameplay, as sneaking around and catching enemies off guard in a tense environment was a distinctly fun experience. The premise of the story is extremely dark and twisted, but also a unique one that we hadn’t seen before.
Manhunt will forever be iconic for its controversy, but is held back by aggravating shooting mechanics and a few flawed bits of level design.
Oh, and the seven countries it was banned in, of course!
- Max Payne 3
Despite publishing the second title in the series, it wasn’t until the third iteration that Rockstar had a hand in developing a Max Payne title, and they knocked it out of the park.
Max Payne 3 took the series out of the dark gritty streets of New York and placed it in the lights of Sao Paolo, Brazil, a city brimming with culture and life. Max is older, wiser but arguably worse than we’ve ever seen him before, an alcoholic getting by as a bodyguard for a wealthy family.
The game moves from set piece to set piece, setting up an explosive chain of events that deliver a captivating story. The gameplay is magnificent, building on the bullet time of the previous two games to deliver a polished, exciting experience every time you hit the corresponding button. The depraved, violent story it weaves behind the gunplay was the perfect addition to the Max Payne franchise, and fully rebooted the series for contemporary gamers.
It further proved that Rockstar is a malleable company capable of producing a stellar third-person-shooter as well as a plethora of open world games. The soundtrack, which is fully inspired by the setting, is also excellent, and serves as the cherry on top of this excellent action game.
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
A perfect example of a game that captures the time period it’s set in, Vice City is an inspired open world marvel that is so synonymous with the 1980’s that they decided to set it in Miami.
Drawing inspiration from Scarface, Miami Vice and so much more, Vice City marked an excellent point in Rockstar’s history where they figured out how to do a period piece. This paved the way for other games set in history, and truly raised the bar for the open world action game.
Tommy Vercetti is an inimitable character, an ex-con working for the Italian Mafia, procuring cocaine and overseeing deals with drug lords to try and control the Vice City drug trade.
The radio stations are unforgettable, blasting 80’s hits such as Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’ as you cruise around Miami, mowing down civilians and trying to steal hot rods. The gameplay exhibited a tremendous amount of polish and gave the game a distinct sense of depth that hadn’t been seen in other open world titles.
A sun-soaked sandbox that is easily one of the most iconic games in Rockstar’s history.
- L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire marked an experimental turn for Rockstar – much like the Table Tennis fiasco – where they wanted to create something new and exciting. It is true that Team Bondi took the lead on development overall, but the game was shared amongst various internal Rockstar studios, and they leant their name to publishing duties, too.
An incredibly ambitious and serious game, L.A. Noire puts you in the shoes of Detective Cole Phelps, an officer for the LAPD as he solves crimes and rises through the different crime divisions.
It is steeped in neo-noir and channels a lot of the themes seen in movies like The Black Dahlia and The Big Combo. You crack cases by interrogating suspects and finding clues, with an excellent approach to storytelling that meant that if you failed to solve the crime, you didn’t hear the true story.
The game is only further enhanced by its use of the MotionScan technology to create incredibly lifelike facial expressions, which makes the interrogation gameplay even more tense. It’s easily one of the most cinematic games ever created and a truly iconic experience, combining a number of features from different genres to create an outstanding new I.P.
- Grand Theft Auto III
Grand Theft Auto III marked a revolution in the gaming industry. No other game had been seen like it, the level of depth and polish inherent in its code was utterly fascinating, and spoke to a generation of gamers.
It marked the start of the GTA franchise as we know it today, and innovated across the board to produce a sprawling Liberty City that came to life in front of your eyes.
You play as Claude, an escaped prisoner who gets involved with the mafia and the drug trade of this heavily stylised New York, fighting the Colombian cartel and the Yakuza on his warpath. Whilst the story was engaging and important, it was more so the excellent gameplay that ensures this game goes down in history.
The number of weapons, cars and missions in the game was staggering for the time, and much like the excellent soundtrack of Vice City, GTA III delivered with a number of radio stations that added satire and charm to the crime-infested city.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
San Andreas built on the ‘period piece’ framework already developed in Vice City to create an iconic game completely in-sync with its 1992 California setting.
The game is a cultural cornerstone, and by far one of the most feature-filled games ever created. San Andreas is easily one of the most well-known PS2 games of the era, and its well deserved, with its giant world map full of activities and locations that are teeming with life.
San Andreas made waves with its storytelling and humour, providing a lot of ingrained satire of American culture and an engaging campaign with some iconic missions that are still referenced today. The soundtrack was also inherently 90’s, with stations full of excellent licensed music that will be forever burned into the minds of those who played it for hours on end.
The RPG elements in the game were also a delight, allowing you to bulk up CJ to make him run faster and hit harder. You could also fully customise his hair and clothes, allowing for a more personalised experience.
Fans loved this game so much, it led to a number of conspiracies about an in-game Bigfoot and Area 51 (the latter of which is actually true), and crafted a community of fans hellbent on finding the secrets of its vast open world.
- Grand Theft Auto V
The latest Rockstar release in this list, Grand Theft Auto V is Rockstar’s latest open world epic that returns to the city of Los Santos to tell it’s tale of heists and betrayal. Doesn’t matter if you’re playing as Franklin, Michael or Trevor, the game is an open-world masterpiece set on one of the largest maps ever seen in a video game.
The graphical prowess of the RAGE engine is fully realized here, with the level of detail seen on street corners and mountain tops being completely consistent. The inclusion of multiple protagonists – whilst initially divisive – proved to be an excellent choice for Rockstar, allowing for a level of depth in the campaign that hadn’t been seen before.
GTA Online was also added to the game, and allowed a great number of players to co-exist and freely roam the environment together, completing heists and missions as well as competing in races and shootouts. GTA V is a one of a kind living breathing world that is a culmination of every game in the series that came before it.
One of Rockstar’s finest games has to be Bully, which manages to thread the thin line between an excellent story and an open world game. The story takes place at Bullworth Academy, a private school in the United States where you play as Jimmy Hopkins, an unruly child who has to navigate the many different cliques of his new school.
The game is split between five open areas you can explore, as you navigate your way through the nerds, jocks and prep school kids to reach the upper echelons of popularity. The environment design is a delight, ranging from a Theme Park to the Happy Volts Asylum, and each mission is unique and fun.
Rockstar again fully commit to their setting, as your arsenal is packed to the rafters with childish weapons like a Spud Gun, marbles and itching powder, designed to let you live out all manner of nefarious high school antics. Each of the five chapters has its own area, and contains a number of side missions and collectables to find. Despite the obvious controversy surrounding a game about bullying others, this stands out as one of Rockstar’s finest titles.
- Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption is a game that manages to capture the imagination unlike any other. The intricate design of this open world is completely unrivalled by anything they’ve done before, and feels like a culmination of all Rockstar have learned from developing their more experimental titles as well as the mainline Grand Theft Auto series.
John Marston’s story is unforgettable, and tells a better tale than most Western movies, giving you the unique experience of being in full control of the protagonist. The gunplay, especially the Dead Eye Targeting still stand out as some of the most satisfying shooting mechanics in gaming, and coupled with the horseback rides through valleys and deserts full of bandits and danger, create an incredible atmosphere that can’t be experienced anywhere else.
Rockstar managed to lift a piece of history and transform it into a game, and still managed to add a lot of their iconic flair. In addition, Undead Nightmare stands out as one of the best DLC packages ever released, showing that Rockstar can be hilarious and experimental, creating iconic games that stand the test of time.
The hype for a sequel has been there since it’s release, but with Red Dead Redemption 2 finally coming out at the end of this year, I can’t wait to don my cowboy hat again and set out in search of fortune in the Old West.