After a developer has been around for nearly 25 years, some difficulties and aspects of development starting to show their age is to be expected — especially when that company is Rockstar Games which has had a level of quality that is unrivalled in the videogame space throughout almost all of its franchises. From Red Dead Redemption to Grand Theft Auto to Max Payne and even the Midnight Club series, virtually no publisher or developer even comes close to matching what this studio has been able to do over the years. However, as Rockstar has continued to make landmark titles, one problem that has gone largely unsolved has come to light: the issue of what the New York-based company is choosing to focus on in its games. Now, to be clear, Rockstar has developers all over the world, and it’s the publisher that is based in the United States, with the developers being located across the globe, so for the sake of clarity and brevity, let’s just use Rockstar as a blanket term to prevent any confusion.
The issue in question is how Rockstar is incredibly good at creating rich and detailed open worlds filled to the brim with amazing attention to detail and brilliant Easter eggs. But it is also great at writing memorable stories with characters who stick with you for years to come and become some of your favourites from any game. The most recent example of this problem was Red Dead Redemption 2, which was set in the Wild West and had players take control of Arthur Morgan, playing through his story until the very end. Red Dead Redemption 2 also had a deliciously detailed open world that was free for players to explore at their leisure, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption 2 ended up feeling like it was two different games at times, with its narrative being one part of it and its world being another. Thankfully, the story and exploration were a ton of fun, and players are still finding things years after release, but they also failed to reach their potential and ended up feeling really shallow. So that is what we will discuss today — why Rockstar should make its games more linear.
Ever since fellow American developer Naughty Dog gave up on the Uncharted series, there has been a considerable lack of third-person action-adventure games that have one set piece after another. Sure, you have games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Control, but neither of those was ever able to match the pure adrenaline and excitement of Uncharted 2’s opening train sequence. So because Red Dead Redemption 2 has set pieces like the Braithwaite mansion assault and the boat crash that led to Chapter 5, and Grand Theft Auto V has the Crystal Maze mission, where you literally blow up an entire house — it’s safe to say that Rockstar has a golden opportunity to fill the void left by Uncharted. It’s also worth mentioning that Nintendo basically has the open-world genre covered with The Legend of Zelda series, so the Manhunt developer should take the hint and make more linear experiences.
Many people also love Max Payne 3 because of its unique shooting mechanics and focused-level design, so returning to that style would be beneficial. With open-world titles clouding the market and the abandonment of Uncharted by its creator, fans would most likely be overjoyed by the return of this design philosophy. We would still miss the hilarious and entertaining side missions that come with an expansive world, but it’s not like Rockstar couldn’t implement those because it definitely could. It would just have to be done more creatively. By implementing this drastic change, Rockstar could eliminate the prevalent disconnect in the exploration titles. It could even have a semi-open world structure sometimes. At the end of the day, it would just be nice to have the linear style make a comeback instead of everything being open-world all the time because open worlds used to be this wild new invention, but now it feels like it's either non-linear or the highway. Look at Metroid Dread and Kirby and the Forgotten Land — these titles were very focused in their design and still did very well commercially and critically. The time is now for the linear game to make a comeback. Of course, not every game is non-linear these days, but if Rockstar wants to keep its relevance, filling the hole left by Uncharted’s set pieces and integrating a more focused level design philosophy is the way to do it. Because no one likes being treated like a little kid in a story mission when they’re playing as a cowboy, and emphasising what makes your game great in the first place is the way to do that.