Red Dead Redemption is one of the best Western-themed games ever made; possibly one of the best titles in gaming, period. A hefty focus on a strong narrative, a brilliant protagonist and an ending that makes your heart strings give an audible snap all spell out one of the all-time greats. And now we are getting another one. Not Red Dead Revelation. Not Red Dead Revolution. A direct continuation (or, as some have said, a possible prequel) of one of those games that redefined what made a game good.
I’m excited. Very excited. Whether it’s a sequel, a prequel, or something else altogether, I can’t help but rev up that hype engine. That train is going to keep rolling right up to release day. But that isn’t to say I don’t have concerns; or rather, not concerns, but questions. Specifically about the apparent greater focus Rockstar have placed on the multiplayer components of the new Red Dead. They’ve registered the domain for Red Dead Online, and with their recent success with Grand Theft Auto Online, it would be daft for them not to have at least some kind of multiplayer in Red Dead Redemption 2. The original certainly had a semblance of online play, but if Rockstar is planning to follow in the footsteps of GTA, then that would only be the tip of the iceberg.
But here’s the rub. Is it necessary? Is it even a good idea for a game so well-known for its strong singleplayer narrative to have a focus on its multiplayer component? And could the singleplayer suffer as a result?
Look at it this way: Red Dead Redemption’s story worked so well for a lot of reasons, but far and away the most significant one was John Marston himself. It was, after all, a game all about redemption; his redemption specifically. His gory past and desperate attempts to leave it behind in one last ditch effort gripped everybody. We wanted to see his story through to the end, and every step of the journey was punctuated by some new piece of information about his past. He was dark, he was mysterious, he was a violent man that nevertheless we grew to respect.
And that was intrinsically tied into the singleplayer focus. Had there been other players jumping in and out of the game, then that narrative intimacy that made the plotline so special would have been lost. It might seem a little odd, but sometimes sharing a story directly with someone can end up making it a little less impactful. And sometimes it can make it more impactful – but Red Dead Redemption as an experience definitely fell into the former category.
But maybe the next Red Dead isn’t supposed to be about that one man’s tale. In fact, if anything, the recent poster reveal seems to shout from the rooftops that it’s a group affair. If the rumours are true and the game is actually about John Marston’s former gang, the redemption is no longer that of a single individual; it’s a group’s. Perhaps Rockstar will allow a single player to switch between multiple playable characters, like in GTA, or perhaps other players will take on the roles of the other gang members in multiplayer components. Who knows, we may be able to invite other players to drop in and out of our game. Suddenly, this new game is about a collective – it’s not the same as Redemption, but perhaps it was never intended to be.
It’s all speculation at this point. Rockstar is being very coy with information, likely deciding to dish it out over time; just enough to keep us wanting more. But from their track record and their previous titles, we can likely expect something a little similar to GTA Online, with something of a western twist. And that’s not a bad thing; GTA Online has taught us all just how popular and durable a good multiplayer can be, even when split across multiple consoles. And it’s taught Rockstar how lucrative microtransactions can be as well, so keep an eye out for those too.
So what is the real concern here? That the strong narrative that people have come to expect from the sequel to Red Dead Redemption might be diluted in favour of a multiplayer – or perhaps Rockstar will manage to work it in seamlessly. It wouldn’t be beyond their abilities, as their previous quality work can attest to. But don’t expect something like the original if there is a heavier multiplayer focus. It might be a sequel, but that doesn’t mean it’s just more of the same. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and even the lone gunman of the Wild West has to die some time.
Does Red Dead Redemption 2 even need multiplayer? Does a narrative game need other people to play with you in order to be of quality in the connected gaming era? Does having a group of friends experience the Wild West dilute the narrative? It doesn’t have to – and if anyone can do it justice, it’s Rockstar. Everything is speculation at this point. Let’s hope that the developers don’t keep us waiting too long.