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Gameverse | May 25, 2020

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Forget Grand Theft Auto. I Miss Rockstar’s Other Games

Matthew Byrd

As rumors circulate that Rockstar is preparing to reveal a new game, most eyes turn towards Grand Theft Auto 6. That’s understandable. Not only is the Grand Theft Auto franchise one of the best and biggest in gaming but Grand Theft Auto 5 was arguably the biggest entry in the series to-date.

Yet, as we near yet another Grand Theft Auto reveal season one way or another, I can’t help but be reminded of Rockstar’s stellar history of “other” video games.

Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto‘s history obviously didn’t begin with Grand Theft Auto 3, but that’s certainly where their story gets interesting. Grand Theft Auto 3 pretty much changed the video game landscape overnight with its refinement of the open-world genre and mature content. Not everyone knew what GTA would become, but even at that time, it was clear that GTA could easily be the face of the studio.

However, that’s not quite what happened. At least not yet. The next Rockstar developed title the studio released was a GTA game (GTA Vice City), but that was followed up by a long string of different kinds of games.

For instance, 2003’s Midnight Club 2 offered one of the most ambitious racing titles of its era. That same year, Rockstar released Manhunt: an infamous stealth title that soon triggered renewed discussions about violence in video games. Just one year after that, Rockstar released an incredibly flawed, but utterly fascinating, cowboy action title known as Red Dead Revolver.

That was a fascinating time for Rockstar, but it was nothing compared to what we saw next. Following the release and massive success of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Midnight Club 3‘s release one year later, Rockstar made two games that you absolutely have to know about: The Warriors and Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis.

The Warriors is quite simply one of the best liscenced video games ever made. Its fundamentally old-school beat-em-up mechanics were the backbone to a  surprisingly well-done prequel story that actually enhances the original film. As for Table Tennis…well, it was a table tennis game that featured airtight mechanics and an incredible multiplayer mode. It caught pretty much everyone off-guard.

That’s kind of the whole point of celebrating Rockstar’s library of “other” games. The idea that Rockstar would release a table tennis game after establishing a bit of a reputation for being a studio that made large-scale, and often violent, titles didn’t make sense to many people at that time.

Yet, it makes perfect sense now. Rockstar was a studio on top of the world, and they wanted to make a table tennis title as part of an elaborate test of new gaming technology. They surely realized they had nothing to lose by doing so. Why make a table tennis game? Why not, that’s why.

That’s a side of Rockstar we haven’t seen in a long time despite the fact the studio is more financially sound than ever before. While it’s true that the somewhat mixed receptions of Max Payne 3, Bully, and L.A. Noire may have made them a bit gunshy in regards to continuing to expand their library, each of those games showcased a level of craft and touches of innovation that we don’t always get from other major studio releases.

Besides, recent cornerstone releases such as Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 prove that Rockstar hasn’t lost its touch. It’s not like the situations what we’re seeing from Bethesda and BioWare where you start to wonder if they’ve really “got it” anymore.

That’s why I hope whatever Rockstar announces next is not a Grand Theft Auto title and is honestly something entirely unexpected. Studios everywhere are seemingly panicking at the increasing costs of video games and how it forces them to play it safe and push things like microtransactions. The idea is that it’s more expensive than ever to take a risk.

However, if you tell me that a studio that continues to make 100s of millions of dollars off of one game released roughly five years ago can’t afford to take a risk, I’d have to call you a liar. If Rockstar’s next game is something we expect, it will only be because they simply can’t be bothered to be a little bit different.