In November 2013, Microsoft and Sony launched their
next-generation consoles with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively.
However, the latest hit from Rockstar Games at the time, Grand Theft Auto V
with its ambitious online component, had launched two months beforehand on Xbox
360 and PlayStation 3, the preceding systems from last generation.
Grand Theft Auto V set new expectations from what to expect
from an open-world game with its multi-protagonist storyline and ambitious
online experience – one that continues to be updated with new content more than
four years after its release. Grand Theft Auto V launched on Xbox One and
PlayStation 4 one year after both systems launched – in November 2014, and
delivered everything we loved about the game on the newer consoles, as well
enhanced graphical details and higher quality textures. It’s a substantial
upgrade in terms of visuals, and it gave us a taste of what Rockstar could do
with the new hardware.
Since then, Microsoft and Sony have both launched
mid-generation console upgrades with the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, two systems
which are designed for 4K gaming and HDR. Rockstar has yet to update Grand
Theft Auto V to take advantage of the newer systems, but benefits can be found
on Xbox One X with maxed out anisotropic filtering – done at a system level, as
well as smoother performance that ensures the game doesn’t drop from its 30fps
Rockstar Games re-released their 2011 detective thriller
L.A. Noire in November 2017, and it was the first time the company delivered a
title on consoles in native 4K resolution, and it also acted as a HDR technical
test for the developer. The new version of L.A. Noire also launched on Nintendo
Switch, which is the first time Rockstar Games has supported a Nintendo system since
the 2009 release of GTA Chinatown Wars. As much of an upgrade L.A. Noire gets
on the newer hardware, it’s still no technical showcase of what the Xbox One
and PS4 is truly capable of from a Rockstar Games title.
With an upgraded version of Grand Theft Auto V on Xbox One
and PlayStation 4, as well as a 4K version of L.A. Noire across both systems,
Rockstar Games has yet to release a brand-new title built from scratch for
these consoles. Rockstar North built Grand Theft Auto V with the Xbox 360 and
PS3 in mind, whilst the L.A. Noire re-release wasn’t a remaster, instead opting
to reuse all of the same assets and textures from the original 2011 version,
just ran at their maximum settings in 4K resolution.
However, 2018 will be the year Rockstar Games finally
launches a brand-new game, built from the ground up with Xbox One and
PlayStation 4 at their core focus. Red Dead Redemption II is due to release in
Spring 2018, unless it’s delayed, but with all the experimentation Rockstar
Games has done with the new systems so far, as well as the absolutely dazzling
reveal trailers, it promises to be the definitive technical showcase this
generation – and perhaps even the best game of the generation yet.
Red Dead Redemption II will aim to achieve the feats of such
titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. For some, it’s the definitive title of
the generation, and it won’t be easy to take that crown away, given how much of
an incredible game The Witcher 3 is – not to mention how it pushes the
boundaries of technical innovation, regardless of what system you play it on. Developer
CD Projekt Red recently released an excellent Xbox One X Enhanced update for
the game, offering modes for both 4K resolution and 60fps, whilst improving the
overall look and texture detail of the game. It also introduced High Dynamic
Range support, and as a result, is one of the best implementations of it yet. It’s
also one of the finest enhanced patches so far on Microsoft’s new console,
though I wouldn’t doubt Rockstar Games in this department at all.
Whilst Grand Theft Auto V currently goes unenhanced,
Rockstar Games are likely focused on making Red Dead Redemption II the best it
can be. It’s also worth noting here that The Witcher 3 is a single-player only
experience, with the online component of Red Dead Redemption II being a crucial
aspect to the overall game itself. Hopefully, it’s one that isn’t ruined by
microtransactions, useless cosmetics, lootboxes, or pay-to-win mechanics. Let’s
also hope it doesn’t nickel and dime players of their wallets clean in every
post-launch update it has in an effort to promote microtransactions, but who am
I kidding, we saw what happened in GTA Online over the years, and how
unbalanced the in-game economy became. Hopefully it’s something Rockstar Games can
address for its western open-world sequel.
Whilst there’s obviously the chance of the online experience
being a pure money grind, there’s always the single-player mode to fall back on.
Rockstar Games hasn’t ruled out the possibilities of doing story
expansions in the future for their games either, so hopefully we do see some
proper paid expansions made available for those who want them. This is a
developer who has mastered the art of creating some of the best single-player
gameplay experiences and stories. For example, take the first Red Dead
Redemption or Grand Theft Auto IV – two titles which really delivered on their
promise of both gameplay and story. Rockstar Games also widened their scope in
Grand Theft Auto V with three playable protagonists and a more living open-world
environment in the form of Los Santos and Blaine County.
Rockstar Games has also promised that Red Dead Redemption II
will deliver “an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland,” backed
by "a vast and atmospheric world.” The developer says it will use this open-world
to “provide the foundation for a brand new online multiplayer experience.” The
title was supposed to launch in Fall 2017 before being pushed
back to Spring 2018, with Rockstar Games noting that due to it being the
first game it has developed for the latest console hardware, “some extra time
is necessary to ensure that we can deliver the best experience possible for our
fans.” The developer also said the team are “firm believers in delivering a
game only when it is ready,” which we know already when you look back at delays
for previous titles from Rockstar Games, including Grand Theft Auto IV and V,
Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, amongst others.
When Red Dead Redemption II does launch later this year,
players will take the role of outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang
as they rob, fight and steal their way across the vast and rugged heart of
America in order to survive. The second official trailer for the game gives
players a glimpse at the characters of Red Dead Redemption II, as well as that vast
open-world Rockstar Games has teased on numerous occasions. It’s looks
jaw-droppingly beautiful, and the lush environments are simply on another level.
It reminds me of an open-world like The Witcher 3, and that isn’t a bad thing
The attention-to-detail in this trailer is also immaculate.
The skyboxes are simply gorgeous, the field-of-view is unlike anything we’ve ever
seen before in a game, and the ridiculous amount of detail in each texture
looks crisp and clear. Environments are now more fleshed out and alive, colours
appear far more vibrant and vivid than the original Red Dead Redemption – suggesting
HDR is likely a focus of the colour spectrum and visuals used in this title,
and of course, that facial detail. Characters look, well human, and if the
final game achieves what this trailer has shown, we’re simply in for a treat
with the most visually-impressive game that’s ever been released. Whether it’s from
a graphical or technical perspective, Red Dead Redemption II is going to look
amazing. The footage has also been supposedly captured from a PS4 Pro, so you
can only imagine how incredible it’ll look on Xbox One X with its 6-teraflops
of sheer graphical horsepower. It'll be interesting to see if Rockstar utilizes the console's additional 4GB of RAM to push draw distance and graphical details even further as seen in Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
The glistening shine of the moon and lighting overall is
another factor to this trailer, not to mention the use of colour depth and vastly-improved
shadow quality. The way the fire reflects on Arthur Morgan’s face isn’t something
we see in other titles, and that’s not to even mention the reflective shine off
his clothes. The gorgeous dynamic skies are also another factor to this trailer
as well, and are regularly highlighted. You can tell Rockstar Games has taken
inspiration from the likes of Forza Horizon 3, Forza Motorsport 7, and The
Witcher 3 when it comes to accomplishing such an incredible graphical feat. It
also shows that 4K HDR is a focus for Rockstar Games in Red Dead Redemption II
on the upgraded Xbox One and PS4 consoles.
Snow and mountains are also briefly shown as well, and again,
it’s hard to fault what Rockstar Games is showing here – from a gameplay and
story perspective, it looks incredible, and from a technical perspective, it’s
safe to say that the RAGE engine has seen some significant upgrades since the
days of Red Dead Redemption, and even Grand Theft Auto V. We also see a crocodile
attack and feast on another wild animal, before Morgan and his crew are shown
walking through a river with a lamp – further showcasing the impressive
lighting model in the game, as well as both the detail found on reflections and
water surfaces, not to mention the lush forestry and the gleaming light from
the luminous surface of the moon. It’s just spectacular.
Morgan is also showed hunting deer in the trailer, whilst a
bear runs across a lake, showing off more of the impressively-vast environments
in the game. Again, visually, it’s just hard to find something that delivers
what Red Dead Redemption II promises to give us on console. It’s unbelievably
brilliant, and Rockstar Games don’t mislead fans with their trailers either. What
they show is typically the real deal, and it’s why I feel so optimistic about
Red Dead Redemption II.
The Witcher 3 is the only other game that comes
closest to what Red Dead Redemption II aims to achieve, and as a fan of the original Red Dead Redemption and The Witcher 3, it only makes me even more excited to see what Red Dead Redemption II has in store for us. The debut story trailer
concludes with a burning house in the distance as the Van der Linde gang walk
away from their supposed victory. Yet another technical showcase of the
gameplay mechanics Rockstar has in store for us with their first true title
built from the ground up for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Red Dead Redemption II will also be the first title from
Rockstar Games to make use of photogrammetry, a technique which has recently
begun to make its way into the games industry, with the four most notable
titles to take advantage of it including Forza Motorsport 7 and Forza Horizon 3 from Microsoft, as well as Battlefield 1 and
Star Wars Battlefront II from Electronic Arts. Photogrammetry is the process of pulling visual data
from an array of photographs of a real-world location to generate
fully-textured high-polygonal models. This can be especially seen on the Dubai
showcase track in Forza Motorsport 7, which is built to match the incredible
driving roads and surroundings of the world-famous Hafeet Mountain Pass.
Photogrammetry has raised the quality level of games
overall, and will become more of a standard practise over the years to come,
with Turn 10 Studios, DICE, and Rockstar Games being at the forefront of this
technique. In Star Wars Battlefront II, the environments, assets, and materials found within the game have all been created using this process. The GTAForums
discovered Rockstar Games were utilizing photogrammetry in Red Dead Redemption
II from the LinkedIn
page of a former employee, who worked as a technical artist for the company in New England on
weapons, props, environments, and fragmentation.
He’s also worked on
performance and memory optimization for the game, as well as FACS scanning and
processing – a facial scanning tech like
what Team Bondi implemented into 2011’s L.A. Noire, suggesting motion capture will be utilized for characters in Red Dead Redemption II, with the outcome being ultra-realistic facial details and expressions as shown in the trailer. These are huge steps forward for the RAGE engine, especially
the inclusion of photogrammetry, and will allow it to compete with the visual
fidelity and realism of DICE’s acclaimed Frostbite engine.
Games has vastly upgraded its engine for its first true Xbox One and
PlayStation 4 console experience, and that can be clearly seen from the
trailers and the technical details we’ve observed already. What it means for
fans is a realistic open-world showcase in terms of visuals and how the environment
is constructed, and will most likely result in an accurate recreation of the
cruel wild west in the unforgotten American heartland.
Red Dead Redemption II isn’t shaping up to be just another
technical showcase for the developer, it’s also looking like it could very well
be one of the best games of the entire generation. For many, the original Red
Dead Redemption is their favourite game ever, or at least of the previous
console generation. I can see why. I spent hours and hours on the game, forming
posses with my friends, hunting animals together, and ruling the wild west. Not
to mention how utterly brilliant the story and single-player was, as well as
the incredible multiplayer experience without the worry of micropayments.
Red Dead Redemption II could take that honour for the Xbox
One and PlayStation 4 of being the generation’s best title, but Rockstar Games
will really need to deliver on what it’s showing in those trailers – from the
story and gameplay to the visuals and online experience, not to mention how incredibly
vast and beautiful that open-world looks. It needs to feel alive, full things
to explore and do, and deliver on the innovation we come to expect from such an
established and acclaimed developer. There’s a lot riding on Red Dead Redemption
II’s success, and expectations have been set extremely high – but it’s Rockstar,
and well, they always deliver.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.