Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Rant: Rockstar is Slipping

What the heck is going on with Rockstar? Known for cutting edge games, two of their most recent releases are showing major chinks in their once dent-proof armor. GTA Liberty City Stories for the PS2 and Table Tennis for the Xbox 360 are damaging Rockstar's rep.

I'm excited anytime I can get a chance to play around in the world of Grand Theft Auto. At least until I played Liberty City on the PS2. Essentially a straight port from the PSP game of the same name, Liberty City lacks the interesting characters, first rate voiceovers, and humorous writing gamers familiar with the franchise have come to expect. But that's not even the worst part!

The graphics, never a strong suit of the GTA franchise, are downright hideous. The game is dark, the environments lack any kind of detail and frame rate problems abound. It reminds me of taking a small picture and blowing it up, everything looks fuzzy and murky.

Throw in short, uninteresting missions and the fact that Rockstar didn't add any licensed bands to its radio stations (something done with great affect in San Andreas and Vice City) and you have a game that lacks the attention to detail die-hard GTA fans like myself have come to expect. The $20 price eases the blow but I still feel cheated. Liberty City just doesn't feel like a real GTA game.

Then we have Table Tennis. Read that again...Table Tennis. That's right, the bad boys over at Rockstar decided to fill the huge gap in the ping pong gaming market (What? You didn't know there was a giant market for ping pong games?!?). Forrest Gump must be wetting himself with excitement.

Unlike Liberty City, the game looks amazing. Detailed player models, stellar crowd effects and sounds. This is what a next-gen game should look like. The only problem is...ITS TABLE TENNIS! Was the license for croquet taken? When does the new badmiton game come out?

Here's my theory: One night Rockstar's Sam Houser was entertaining friends at his house. Down in his game room, Sam and a few of his buddies were pounding beers while breaking in his sweet new table when one of them half-jokingly suggested turning ping pong into a video game. Sam, in a drunken stupor, thought the idea was pure genius. He called one of his lackeys at the office and told them to start production on the game. Sam later passed out and forgot all about it until the game was released in May.

To quote Slim Pickens in Blazing Saddles "what in the wide wide world of sports is going on here"! When did Rockstar lose their attention to detail and just try to make a quick buck?!? When did they lose their stones and decide to make games only played in people's basements?!?

You're getting lazy Rockstar. You've built up a ton of good will due to your success with the GTA series and to a degree you've earned it. But you're better than that! You changed the face of gaming with the development of free-roaming game play. You made gaming attractive to adults by portraying mature material with a sense of humor. You made the only games I can think of that could be classified as "dark comedy". But now you're slipping. Other gaming companies are taking your ideas and improving on them. Many GTA clones have come out already with mixed success but eventually, if you don't get your head on straight, you're going to get left behind. Saint's Row is looking awfully good, so is Scarface.

Rockstar, you might be a little overconfident. You might be thinking that the gaming world can't live without you. You're wrong. Don't believe me? Than look no further than Halo 3. It was thought that without Halo 3, the Xbox 360 couldn't survive but it has. Don't make the same mistake. Unlike Bungie, you don't have Microsoft to save your ass and you have no other franchise to lean on if interest in GTA fades (and no, Midnight Club won't do the trick).

Its time you woke up Rockstar. Get back to your roots. Its time you took back your role as the gaming worlds bad boy because right now you look more like Justin Timberlake than Lenny Kravitz.


Skywise said...

Wow, now I know not to get Liberty City Stories - and to think, I almost repaired my PS2 just to play it.

As for Table Tennis - I've heard that it's quite fun, but I still don't see myself forking out two dubs until I see a demo.

GTA4 is going to be huge - they can slip all they want on the other things as long as the wait till October 07 and next-gen GTA goodness is worth it.

Now you wanna talk a company that's upsetting me, Blizzard comes up. WHERE IS MY STARCRAFT GHOST? Or Starcraft 2 for that matter? I'm not a big MMORPG fan, so I guess I'm waiting. :(

Terry "coloradojoe" Terrones said...

I'm sure GTA4 will be great. Rockstar is a master of the free roaming game play style and on the 360 and PS3, it should look great. Finally.

While I think Liberty City Stories is a disappointment, I'm still playing it. I'm a GTA nut (moreso than for any other gaming series) so I had to buy it. And it is $20 so I'm not too bent out of shape. Just 45-degree angle bent.

I'm working on my review of Table Tennis right now. It does look good and it is surprisingly fun, I'm just trying to get over the fact that its a game you're better at drunk than sober. It just seems like Rockstar could have put their powers to use elsewhere.

Skywise said... getting drunker.

I have to admit, save for GTA, what franchises does Rockstar really have? Midnight Club? Smugglers Run? State of Emergency (oh god did that suck!), Manhunt? (which was actually pretty good - but where else can you go with it?)

Can't wait to see the Table Tennis review, it may sway me towards purchase.

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JohnX said...

I think the Table Tennis game is quite refreshingly fun. In a gaming world dominated by producers that spend 90 percent of their time on intense graphics design and 10 percent on gaming element, Table Tennis by Rockstar is all about the element of fun. Yeah the graphics are decent. Simply put, there's not a whole lot too the game. It's table tennis as you said. It's just a high energy, very competitive (online anyway) version of it! The 360 arcade has a few games that don't have much to them for are insanely fun like Geometry Wars for example.
As far as other games by Rockstar that you didn't mention here, how about Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition. While everyone else tried to run out and put out a more realistic tuner racing games, Rockstar kept to their idea of what a fun game might be. Obviously not meant to be realistic, you can leap tall buildings in a single bound if you hit the ramps with a little nitrous.
Naturally, after all the negative publicity and straight up losing alot of money by having to recall San Andreas, Rockstar is going to be a little tentative to release anything that might get them in trouble. Fun? That's what will keep them in business.

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