You Can’t Talk About This Game Without Talking About Crunch
You also can’t talk about this game without talking about the conditions it was created under. These tiny, world-building details didn’t just happen; they were the product of hundreds of people working long hours, often under the stress of prolonged crunch, an industry term for forced overtime. It’s something Rockstar has been accused of in the past, and while the company initially denied that some staff were forced to work some 100-hour weeks on RDR2, a report earlier this week from Kotaku revealed that crunch was an integral part of the game’s creation. With this knowledge, it’s impossible to separate the experiences of the game’s creators from the game itself.
RDR2 is undeniably an amazingly detailed and expertly crafted game, but it’s hard not to wonder if a game of this scale can even be made in a way that doesn’t harm its creators. Rockstar isn’t the only offender, of course, as crunch is prevalent in blockbuster game development. But as we learn more about how games like this are made, it’s an important thing to consider when looking at massive open-world games on this scale.
In her review of the similarly huge Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Kotaku’s Heather Alexandra wrote, “Odyssey is gorgeous and I love playing it, but I’m left wondering exactly what the human cost was for my enjoyment. While I adored the majesty of Odyssey’s world, I was often uncomfortable participating in it.” The same goes for Red Dead and the games that will inevitably follow, growing ever larger and denser with detail.
Across all of its games, Rockstar has aimed to make experiences that are both massive and lifelike, and in a lot of ways, Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like the culmination of the developer’s long-sought-after ambitions. Even better, it does so with a level of maturity and care that has often escaped the developer. It’s still a game largely about fighting and killing, but also one that explores topics like racism and urbanization in a way that feels both natural and thoughtful. You can look at it as a Western take on GTA, but it’s also much more than that.
Underneath its rugged, violent exterior is a story with a lot of heart and a world layered with details to uncover. It gives you a lot to think about over your morning coffee.