Following in the Footsteps of Rockstar’s Western Epic …
Since its release, I’ve been just as enamored with Red Dead Redemption 2 as the rest of most of the global gaming population. I’ve routinely been fascinated, infuriated, and flabbergasted by the game in equal measure, sometimes even simultaneously. Whilst I can in no way condone the 100-hour working weeks reported by various members of Rockstar’s development staff (such employment practices are indefensible) there can be no doubt that their team has created one of the most spectacular open world games to ever grace a gaming platform. The excessive, actually obsessive, attention to detail across all of the game’s environments, activities, mechanics, and systems produced one of the most involved gaming experiences that I have ever had. Whilst not without its flaws, I relished my time with it so much that it got me thinking about what intellectual properties or franchises I would like to see made along the same lines if the developers had the time, talent, and resources available to Rockstar.
So in no particular order here’s a short run-down of the top five franchises that I’d like to see get the royal Rockstar treatment.
Game of Thrones
Without question, this would have to be a game that would force me to bust out all of the Philip J. Fry “take my money” memes that I could find faster than I could even google them. Beyond the now-defunct Telltale’s point-and-click series, various tedious mobile games, and an ill-advised stab at being a Witcher clone nothing much has really been done with George R.R. Martin’s inimitable opus. An incredible thing really considering how absolutely perfect Westeros would be for a vastly detailed, sprawling open world crammed full of traditional ARPG shenanigans. The thought of being able to ride from The Wall to Winterfell, down to King’s Landing and Dorne with everything rendered with the same picture perfect quality as Rockstar’s latest outing would be enough to get even the most skeptical gamer giggling with fanboyish glee.
Titles based on a successful series of films or books tend to come down heavily on the lackluster end of the quality scale, but if Insomniac could bring Spider-Man back from the dead then I’m sure there’s a company that could do the same for A Song of Ice and Fire. Given how extravagantly convoluted and murderous the world of Martin’s creation is, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to construct a suitably labyrinthine plot for a standalone game. Think of it as a cross between Breath of the Wild and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in terms of scope and style, held together by the kind of story that only Obsidian could create and you’ll see where I’m going. With so many warring Houses and kingdoms to ally with or betray, as well as factions or organizations looking to profit from the conflict or simply survive it, along with a smattering of supernatural and magical intrigue there would be sufficient content to get you through any winter; no matter how long it lasted.
On the surface of it, this one might not seem like it would be best suited to what most people think of when they imagine the quintessential xenomorph experience. In truth, perhaps it is a series that only really shines when it’s burrowing around in the entrails of slow-paced, survival-oriented games along the lines of Alien: Isolation from Creative Assembly. It’s hard to believe that even after all this time, that game alone has come the closest to capturing the horrific spirit of Ridley Scott’s monstrous brain-child. Their insightful understanding of the subtle world building, claustrophobic cinematography, and eerily potent sound design that made the original 1979 film such a masterpiece enabled them to create one of the most well-crafted survival horror games ever made. Even though it might have been classed as something of a commercial failure (a common occurrence these days) it demonstrated that there was still room on the market for high-quality single-player horror games. However, it never hurts to mix things up a bit, and a switch of genre could be exactly the unexpected move that allows the franchise to establish itself as not just an intellectual property of historical sub-cultural significance, but also as one that could change the way that survival horror is perceived as a genre across the whole industry.
By refining the planetary exploration elements from the Mass Effect series, mixing it with the hands-off approach to world-building that made Bloodborne such an esoteric experience, and making use of the deliberately clunky, desperation-inducing combat mechanics of the Dead Space games it would be a game that whilst not reinventing the genre entirely would go a long way to restoring consumer and corporate faith in game adaptation of the Alien franchise. As long as any developer attempting the task made sure to take the Gearbox Software manual of false advertising and nuke it from orbit, then I don’t see why this couldn’t be a terrifyingly terrific way of expanding the franchise’s horizons. The prospect of being able to roam across the surface of a distant world to expand the human frontier, battling rival corporations for control of vital resources, helping settlers establish viable colonial outposts, all the while exploring the savagely alien environment and dealing with a looming xenomorph presence would be more than enough to convince me that this would be a game more than worthy of my undivided attention. Well, until it scared the absolute pants off me and made me dive for cover in the sofa cushions that is.
Another odd choice considering that the first two games were sci-fi flight and combat simulators released in the late 1990s. Although the original G-Police and its sequel Weapons of Justice received fair to middling critical response at best, they were nonetheless solid titles in a short-lived series that is long overdue for a reboot. Both of them were set on a colony on Jupiter’s moon, Callisto, and featured interconnected domed cities that drew heavy inspiration from Blade Runner and all things cyberpunk. The retro-futuristic environments were only open as far as any given mission allowed, but they were expansive enough to be considered impressive even given the technology at the time. With plots centered around interplanetary government conspiracies and corporate warfare, with just a dash of a police procedural, neither game would have won any prizes for their originality. Yet what they lacked in that regard they more than made up for with a series of different vehicles and accompanying playstyles, a wide variety of mission objectives, and a bombastic arsenal of technologically advanced weaponry more than suitable for dispensing colonial justice.
Turning a series of flight sims into open-world action adventure titles might seem like a tall order but given the progress that has been made in the genre over the last few years, it certainly wouldn’t be impossible. Games like Just Cause 4, Mad Max and even the GTA series itself has proven how relatively simple it is to switch on the fly between ground-based action and vehicular combat. The original games were slated for the often claustrophobic ambiance of their environments, with particularly harsh criticism aimed at their limited draw distances. That wouldn’t be a problem these days. Elite Dangerous has more than proven that a relatively realistic simulation of space flight and aerial manoeuvering is more than possible with current technology, blend that with the arcade-style demonstrated in more action-oriented titles and a reboot of G-Police could be something truly magnificent. Ground-based gameplay using a combination of the investigative gameplay from L.A Noire and the upcoming The Sinking City with the RPG mechanics from the latest Deus Ex games as well as Cyberpunk 2077 all couched in a world crafted with the same baffling attention to detail as Red Dead Redemption 2 would make a new entry in the G-Police series a strong contender for one of the best games of any hardware generation.
Fallout/The Elder Scrolls
A predictable entry, I know, but with the public and critical mauling that Fallout 76 has received after its monumentally disappointing launch, it’s safe to say that Bethesda could use a fresh take on their titles. They may have been a market leader in their prime, but their aging engine, dated mechanics, and the notoriously glitchy nature of their games has cost them far more respect than they’ve gained in recent years. The only thing that Bethesda really had to defend themselves against the outrage caused by the many ridiculous bugs and design flaws discovered in their games was the outstanding character interaction and narrative design. When they elected to remove that aspect from one of their flagship series and replace it with audio recordings and robots, they did nothing other than lay bare the plethora of flaws at the core of their design philosophy. Fans may often be irrationally loyal but even the most die-hard fanboy can only have their patience pushed so far before a breaking point is inevitably reached. A breaking point such as having your game almost universally reviled for being a quick and dirty attempt to cash-in on the live services bandwagon before its axels snap on the rocky road to corporate bankruptcy, for example.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply or even remotely expect for one moment that there are many developers out there who could take on projects of such size and scope with the same ruthlessly stringent quality standards as Rockstar proved themselves capable of with Red Dead Redemption 2. Nor should there be. However, it would be nice to think that after such a stellar example has been provided, more investment will be directed towards creating truly rich, living open worlds rather than the standard collect-athon, sandbox that seems to be the go-to format for the genre. If there’s any company out there that could make such an attempt then it would have to be Bethesda. Their experience and knowledge of creating expansive worlds and intricate stories were once unrivaled and could be again. Anyone who even vaguely considers themselves a gamer knows exactly what to expect from an Elder Scrolls game created with the same panache and aplomb that Rockstar is renowned for. With a little more care and attention to their craft, a hefty engine overhaul/complete rebuild, and with a little less reliance on the blind adoration of their fans to mask their repeated blunders, Bethesda could create a game in the same vein as Red Dead Redemption 2 and reclaim the crown that they have lost. Or they could just keep on re-releasing Skyrim.
Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance
Last but by no means least I’ve chosen a personal favorite of mine. Black Isle’s Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games were released way back at the start of the new millennium; a time when gamers’ experiences of RPGs was largely limited to a handful of Final Fantasy titles and perhaps a smattering of Neverwinter Nights. This action RPG and its sequel did away with most of the more involved (or tedious) aspects of the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset and distilled the experience down to pure, unadulterated dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash hilarity. Character options covered the core basics of party composition with options that broadly covered all playstyles from melee and specialists to arcane and divine spellcasters. The plots were condensed enough to have been scrawled on the back of beer mats, but the true appeal of these spin-offs was the lure of treasure and the thrill of fighting against fantastical foes in a wide range of environmental settings.
Any given D&D is packed to the brim with all manner of bizarre, intimidating, and awe-inspiring locales anyone one of which by itself would be a joy to explore. Link a few of them together in a world map that has the same charm, dynamism, and detail as the fictional states of Red Dead Redemption 2 and the end result would be a fully fleshed-out realization of one of the greatest fantasy realms ever devised. Most modern games of this type tend to favor skill trees that give the impression of character advancement without much actual progress being made. By implementing a system that closely adheres to long-established D&D rules around feats and abilities, and placing an onus on the kind of engagements seen in the Dragon Age games the developers of this reboot could have on their hands the kind of fantasy epic that would do the revered game system more justice than Dungeons and Dragons Online or Neverwinter ever could. Beyond its frankly baffling range of character creation options and combat possibilities, D&D is perhaps most famous for its engaging quest lines and modular adventure narratives. Taking the main plots and side quests of the original Dark Alliance games, giving them an overhaul to make them as intricate as those featured in Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, and presented with the same kind of subtle flare that Rockstar demonstrated in Red Dead Redemption 2 would result in a fantasy action open-world title that could rival even The Witcher 3 in scope.
That’s obviously not an exhaustive list of intellectual properties that I’d like to see get the same kind of time, love, and care as Red Dead Redemption 2 but it’s the ones I would personally most anticipate. To be honest, there isn’t a single noteworthy franchise that couldn’t benefit from being connected to a game with the same exceptional standards of quality and depth that Rockstar’s latest title displays. The open world genre is already far too dominant, and I wouldn’t want all of them to be copy-pasted into a sandbox format, even if said sandbox was unrelentingly gorgeous. The aim for the rest of the industry should be to match the levels of quality and finesse that Rockstar have demonstrated in recent years to not only improve the products they create but also to continue to evolve gaming as an art form. There are dozens of series long since put out to pasture by disinterested companies that more than deserve their chance to ride off into the sunset triumphantly. No doubt in the coming years we’ll see several attempts to beat the company at their own game but maybe as Volition learned the hard way with the Saints Row series may be the only developer that can beat Rockstar…is Rockstar.