Rockstar sucks at multiplayer

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An examination of the multiplayer components of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and Max Payne 3.

Say what you will about Rockstar’s brilliance when it comes to crafting vividly-realized worlds and memorable characters... the actual “game” aspect can feel lacking.

This might not be as much of a problem when applied to a story-based solo experience set in an open world that you can play at your own pace. Sometimes I want to “do nothing” when I play a game like GTA or Red Dead. I let my character simply exist in the world. I sit and listen to the radio while parked outside a mission marker. I might even walk through a space at the slowest pace possible to soak in the atmosphere. For me, there’s value in these moments even if I’m not “achieving” some type of game progress or following the normal feedback loop.

Sure, these atmospheric moments still exist in an impressive virtual voice lobby and playground for friends to hang out in GTA Online. However, when taken online with the intention of creating worthwhile activities to do with other players, the shortcomings of Rockstar's design become even more apparent.

GTA IV was Rockstar’s first true attempt at bringing one of their single player worlds online, and in retrospect it feels quite experimental. It introduces the main problem with Rockstar multiplayer games - the controls. At best they can be serviceable, but at worst they are too clunky to take seriously. Max Payne 3 is an interesting example of Rockstar trying to create a more focused multiplayer in addition to a single player campaign. Looking back at the release of this game, it’s funny to think that there were MLG promotions hyping it up as a competitively viable title (or “esport” if you will). Pre-release videos like this gave the impression that Rockstar was putting in more effort than usual this time around:

Anyone who played Max Payne 3 multiplayer can probably attest to how lackluster the entire thing felt. While there were some cool ideas like incorporating line of sight based bullet time, once again the clunky controls reared their ugly head to ruin what could have potentially been a fun online John Woo simulator.

Similarly to GTA, when I think of Red Dead Redemption, I think of names like John Marston, Bonnie MacFarlane, and Landon Ricketts. I 100%-ed the game (as long as we're not counting the multiplayer achievements added in DLC) because of how much I love being in that world. To be honest there were some good times roaming with friends online and collectively beholding the beauty that is Red Dead, and Rockstar had improved the controls compared to GTA IV. But ask me about any of the multiplayer modes where you shoot other players and I couldn’t tell you a single memorable thing.

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We know very little about Red Dead Redemption 2 other than this snippet of text:

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland. The game’s vast and atmospheric world will also provide the foundation for a brand new online multiplayer experience.

Given this info and the success of GTA Online, it’s safe to assume multiplayer will play a large role in Red Dead Redemption 2. Which makes me worried to some extent. I think Rockstar has come a long way with their engine in terms of refining the player movement, gunplay, physics, etc. But I still don’t trust them with multiplayer game design. The main question is whether the game will suffer from the same clunkiness of Rockstar’s previous forays into multiplayer, or if they will finally nail this one weak spot.

Do you agree that Rockstar is better at singleplayer or share my concerns and wish they would stick with what they're good at? Are you one of those people still playing GTA Online, and if so what are you doing?

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