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 target.
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 at all.
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.
Overall, Rockstar 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.