In just a matter of 15 years, Rockstar Games has managed to solidify itself as a quality publisher in the video game world. As a company that started out with humble beginnings in the Grand Theft Auto series, it eventually moved through other franchises including Earthworm Jim 3D for Nintendo 64, Thrasher Presents Skate and Destroy for PlayStation, and the Smuggler’s Run games for PlayStation 2.
In 2001, something phenomenal and unexpected hit the company in a big way - Grand Theft Auto III. More game releases followed, both big (Midnight Club, Manhunt) and small (State of Emergency, Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis), and as the next generation of gaming settled in 2006, Rockstar found even bigger audiences with games like Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto IV, and the recently released Max Payne 3.
In celebration of Max's latest storyline, we came up with the challenging task of naming Rockstar’s five greatest games. This was no easy feat, but pick them we did and, even though your favorite may not have made the list (sorry L.A. Noire, you just missed the cut), there’s no question each one presents an exquisite gameplay experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Let the choices commence!
We had to honor a few games that just narrowly missed being on the list, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which perfectly recaptured the era of the 80’s right down to the radio stations; Midnight Club: Los Angeles, an ideal and immersive racing experience; The Warriors, one of the most faithful film-to-game adaptations we’ve ever seen; and Beaterator, an in-depth music simulation tool for the PlayStation Portable. All of these are great picks.
Now let’s get to our top five!
5. Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis (Xbox 360, Wii)
You probably think we’ve gone crazy choosing a ping pong game over the likes of L.A. Noire. Table Tennis is just a blast to play as you put spins on shots that lead to very unpredictable results. You can pick from a variety of opponents and even take part in heated versus multiplayer sessions which are just as good as any match of Virtua Tennis. Considering this game is a mere ten bucks right now on both platforms, it’s a bargain.
4. Bully (Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, Wii)
A lot of people thought Bully was nothing more than Grand Theft Auto taking place in a school, but the fact of the matter is it was an entirely different kind of gameplay experience. For starters, you could actually be a GOOD kid, if you felt like it. Bully recreates the atmosphere of an uptight private school and lets you do whatever you please with it, from tampering with kids who are bigger than you to messing around in biology class to, yes, kissing a girl. You could easily take your childhood in a number of directions with this game, and that’s why we keep going back to it.
3. Max Payne (PlayStation 2, Xbox, mobile)
Max Payne 3 is a superb game and one that shows just how deep into madness the heroic cop has succumbed over the years. As excellent an experience as it is, we're way too close to its release to judge it on a list like this one!
Still, we’re reminded of how Max’s story got started with a gritty and powerful third-person action opus. The first Max Payne not only revolutionized storytelling in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox era of gaming, but it also introduced a fundamental new feature with bullet time, perfecting what Neo had first tried out in The Matrix. The result is a game that’s still a classic to this very day.
2. Grand Theft Auto III (Xbox, PlayStation 2)
Out of all the Grand Theft Auto games that Rockstar has released over the years, there’s still one that’s worth coming back to. Whether it’s getting in trouble with the police chases, completing missions with explosive remote control trucks, or just finding all the jumps in Liberty City, the original Grand Theft Auto III holds up extremelt well. Hours of replay value are embedded within the virtual confines of the seedy city, and there's plenty of action to boot. Despite how much the series has evolved over the years, part three remains the vital step that made it the superstar it is today.
1. Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Grand Theft Auto was originally supposed to take the top spot in the rough draft of this article, but after a good amount of thinking, Red Dead Redemption just offers so much more when it comes to living the life of a cowboy. There’s literally no shortage of stuff you can do in the game, whether it’s hog-tying someone to the railroad tracks, taking on foes in shootouts, completing missions or playing poker with your friends.
The Undead Nightmare expansion added even more to the fun, with undead missions that differentiated from all the other games on the market. And let’s not dare forget the ending which is simply one of the best we’ve seen in a video game in a long time. Sergio Leone would tear up over seeing it - it’s that good, and so is the whole game.