Rockstar Games have been at the top of the developers food chain since the explosion of their beloved Grand Theft Auto series and various bouts of controversy surrounding the violent and mature nature of their games. Nonetheless, there’s no denying the tremendous impact they have had on the gaming industry, with their impressive catalog of titles each breaking new ground in their respective genres. Let’s take a look at the top 10 games that have not only made their mark on the gaming world in one form or another, but are also widely considered to be ranked among the greatest of all time.
Manhunt cooked up the single most controversial storm in gaming upon its release. Due to its graphic, ultra-violent content that featured a death row inmate forced to take part in a twisted, elaborate CCTV broadcast that has him mercilessly slaughter and torture other prisoners in the most grizzly ways imaginable. Developed by Rockstar North, the game certainly amassed its fair share of controversy due to its dark depictions of violence. While the game was praised by many critics who seemed to take well to Rockstar’s bold tackling of the subject matter, it was met with several bans around the world, and became the target of many news outlets who used it as a scapegoat to address the adverse effects of violent video games on children – an unfortunate fallacy as studies disproved this. Manhunt is still a damn fine game, and an unapologetically satisfying burst of shocking violence.
9. THE WARRIORS
Based on Walter Hill’s cult classic 1979 film of the same name, The Warriors was Rockstar’s move into film to video game adaptations – and one of the best cases of it. Staying faithful to the tone and themes of the film, as well as beautifully recapturing the underbelly of gang warfare in the 70’s, The Warriors was Rockstar Toronto flexing their game design abilities to respectfully artful levels while maintaining the core gameplay that kept the developer a strong contender in the forefront of video game development. Many still applaud The Warriors as the best film to video game adaptation to exist, and couldn’t have been in the hands of a more assured development team who clearly understood how to add to the value of a film instead of take away from it.
8. MAX PAYNE 2: THE FALL OF MAX PAYNE
This may be a bit of a cheat as the Max Payne series was initially developed by Remedy Entertainment and only published by Rockstar Games, but deserves a spot on this list nonetheless as it fits perfectly into Rockstar’s greatest achievements. While many would argue that the first Max Payne certainly holds more nostalgic value, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne was a surprising sequel that outdid its predecessor in almost every conceivable way. The Max Payne series innovated the “bullet time” effect used as kind of a common place in game design today, but Max Payne 2 really put it in the forefront of the mainstream. Thanks to a particularly unique cinematic style that borrowed heavily from comic book film noir and refined gameplay mechanics, it’s hard not to bring up Max Payne 2 when talking about the greatest narrative action games of all time.
7. MIDNIGHT CLUB 3: DUB EDITION
Rockstar San Diego’s open-world racing series hit its peak with the third entry in the series, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. Now featuring three massive open world cities (San Diego, Atlanta and Detroit), and a fourth (Japan) counting the expanded Remix edition, Midnight Club 3 was a giant leap forward for freeform racing games at the time. More emphasis was placed on car customization that rivalled the same level of detail present in EA’s Need For Speed series, and allowed plenty of freedom for players to explore the populated and densely packed streets of each city available. A wide variety of cars and the new addition of bikes to the series automatically made Midnight Club 3 one of the most desirable racers on the market. Rockstar’s attention to detail also packed one of the best soundtracks to come out of any racing game to date.
6. GRAND THEFT AUTO III
The most groundbreaking entry on this list takes the form of Grand Theft Auto III, the game that put Rockstar on the map and changed open world gaming forever. The Grand Theft Auto series went through a massive overhaul with its third entry, dropping the top-down perspective for a third-person one and creating one of the most lively open environments in a game at the time with Liberty City. Rockstar also adopted a very glossy Hollywood style of storytelling that made its characters and cinematics easily seem like they leaped off an intense crime thriller film from Michael Mann. The game also packed a robust variety of story missions, side missions, and interesting tasks that filled the world with things to do, elongating the lifespan of the experience. After all, it was definitely an experience not many hoped to leave too quickly.
5. BULLY (CANIS CANEM EDIT)
Hopping back on the controversy train, Bully was Rockstar’s strangest outing in their roster of violent, mature and dark games. With a more light-hearted (subjectively speaking) tale of a troubled youth entering a vindictive boarding school torn to bits through conflicts with bullies, it was a step away from all the trademarks Rockstar had built, but somehow managed to retain the developers unmistakable satirical edge and focus on open world (or, uh, open school) freedom. Bully, or known as Canis Canem Edit in its European release, came under fire from the public eye when its subject matter triggered angry responses from parents and disgruntled media who misinterpreted the game as promotional material for bullying – ironically the anti-message the game brilliantly conveyed. Controversy aside, Bully was widely praised upon release and unsurprisingly, the negative press about the game actually benefited its sales and widespread appeal. Many critics still call it Rockstar’s most daring and outlandish project to date (somehow more outlandish than Table Tennis), and I don’t disagree.
4. GRAND THEFT AUTO V
I fondly remember the hype leading up to this. The fifth official entry in the Grand Theft Auto series boasted a superb marketing campaign and kept its gameplay and story tightly under wraps until release. The final product was nothing short of spectacular. Rockstar once again nailed the open world setting, and while it toned down its city scale to just one portion of San Andreas in Los Santos, it expanded everything else from mountain and desert terrains, oceans, and skies, featuring endless amounts of activities and tasks – all beautifully culminating in their grandest vision for an open world to date. It was also their first step into having three protagonists as opposed to one; all interesting stereotypes that somehow melded into one memorable criminal team. It’s no surprise that Grand Theft Auto V is not only the companies best selling game, but also the best selling game of all time.
3. GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY
Rockstar leapt back to much simpler times, featuring extravagant hairstyles, neon, and Kool & The Gang. The 80’s came to define Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the first instance of Rockstar taking complete creative liberty in their setting and tone, creating an unforgettable, stylish, and complex crime saga. While many would argue that Vice City’s narrative and characters took a back seat to its bombastic overload of 80’s style, underneath all the glitz and glamour laid a very compelling and surprisingly deep criminal origins story that saw the rise of one of gaming’s most iconic anti-heroes, Tommy Vercetti (voiced excellently by Ray Liotta). Vice City took everything right with Grand Theft Auto III and made it even better; satisfying combat, an even more densely populated Miami-inspired city, and an unrivalled soundtrack that’s still considered the best of all time.
2. GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS
If Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was a few steps forward in the series, its follow-up, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas took a mile-long jump ahead and stayed there will open world games attempted to catch up. To call San Andreas a landmark in gaming would be an understatement; it took everything great about sandbox gaming and revolutionized it to grand-scaled glory. After the criticism was heard regarding the previous entries’ stories and characters, Rockstar went back to the drawing board and delivered one of their strongest ensembles of characters and most expansive narratives. San Andreas was not a city, but a massive county, fully realized and explorative in every inch of the map. The amount of quests and activities was mindblowing, ensuring players never get bored while partaking in their carnage and destruction. San Andreas delivered a level of freedom that completely changed gaming and solidified Rockstar Games as a force of nature.
1. RED DEAD REDEMPTION
There’s nothing good I can say that hasn’t already been said about Rockstar’s magnum opus, Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar Games found a pitch-perfect balance between gameplay and story, taking all their strongest traits as a developer and amplifying them while polishing up their weaknesses too. The result was nothing short of a masterpiece; a Western adventure with tons of emotional heft, memorable characters and missions, and a whiplash of a climax that left a lasting impression. Red Dead Redemption became Rockstar’s greatest success due to the devoted fanbase that developed and their tightly woven and complex narrative that transcended anything that had been done in gaming before. While it may not be a critical darling like the Grand Theft Auto games, Red Dead Redemption stands proud and tall above the rest because of its deviance from your typical Rockstar fare. It’s no wonder the demand for a sequel surpassed demands for a sixth GTA. Fingers crossed Red Dead Redemption 2 blows our expectations out of the water like this did once.