The power behind the throne
Rockstar’s game engine, RAGE, has been tweaked beyond GTA IV and this game looks set to challenge their dark and gritty city based open worlder, with some seriously amazing vistas. A starry sky at night, rushing rapids, massive canyons and more wait in the Wild West and the weather effects look mind blowing. Rain turns to snow as you ride further north, thunder rocks the heavens with sharp jagged lightning in the middle of a vicious storm and when the sun comes out the puddles of rain dry up. These systems all tie together and as the landscape is changed by weather, or by the day/night cycles, little touches help flesh out the world before you.
As we mentioned before, the game is teeming with life from bandits, to wild horses, animals and more are all out there in the various regions, all based on numerous AI routines. When the sun goes down, campfires appear across the vistas and Marston can pitch his own or go and wander by someone else’s fire. Nocturnal animals pop out at night and the whole game’s feeling becomes subtly different, it immerses you quite literally in the dark. Night time critters are on the prowl and they’ll hunt each other as well as you if they think they can get away with it.
The people react to the weather and their local environments, and with three large regions to explore plus hidden extras, there’s a lot of RDR to go around and that suits us just fine. We’re huge fans of open world games and having all of these systems in play just makes our mouths water at the prospect of spending so much time in the game world.
There’s not just RAGE of course, there’s also Euphoria and this is one of the best animation systems to have come out of the game industry for a long time. First seen in GTA IV and later Force Unleashed, even though it was in Force Unleashed before GTA IV, Euphoria by Natural Motion models animation based on skeletal animation techniques, giving the characters a life-like quality that traditional animation and rag-doll physics is largely incapable of doing. With Euphoria it’s possible to allow the character’s in-game skeleton and muscle structure to feel the nature of a fall or bullet wound, reacting to protect itself from harm and tumbling in a variety of realistic (albeit Hollywood Western tweaked) reactions. Shoot someone in the knee and they’ll hobble or fall to the floor in agony, trying to crawl away. Shoot them in the gut and you can sadistically watch them crawl off and bleed out somewhere.
Euphoria doesn’t just model the gunshots, the reactions and the physics of combat; it’s used for subtler interactions. Marston and the townsfolk in their day to day lives for instance, you’re going to encounter a lot of stairs and Euphoria can model the character’s reaction to those stairs, saving animators a lot of time and trouble. Get drunk and there’s a lot of fun to be had with Euphoria, even with GTA IV, its better implemented in RDR however and there are a lot more subtle interactions with the environment too.
Euphoria also models the horses and these are the best in-game horses that we’ve seen. Just looking at videos, we can see that a massive amount of care and attention has been paid to the creatures and this level of detail runs through the whole of the game, the wild animals with their AI and Euphoria animations act like wild animals. So with RAGE, physics, Euphoria and the various random events RDR is shaping up to be one heck of a time sink and a fantastic game.But there’s more!
We’ve mentioned the single player up until now, but RDR is coming loaded for bear with a massive multiplayer that supports up to 16 people. The true star of this particular multiplayer is Rockstar’s take on the game lobby, gone are screens where you wait for a host to select a game mode, the entire single player open world is there for you to use as the game lobby. You can create posses of 2-8 players and go explore every nook and cranny, every interior locale and every town and bar. You can choose to interact with the townsfolk, kill bandits, hunt wild animals and basically have fun the way you want.
You can skirmish with other players or play structured modes like deathmatch, and capture the flag variants by assembling at locations designed for such play. You can ignore it all and just ride as far north as you want in a huge group, galloping across the plains and into the forested regions where the rain becomes snow. Rockstar have managed to revolutionise both multiplayer and the open world game with this simple addition to RDR. This is the feature that we are most excited about and we can’t wait to explore with our friends across the vastness.
We’ve already got plans to hunt bears with bowie knives, ride wild into a settlement and see what kind of bounty we can get, holding off waves of law enforcement in our own version of Firefight or Horde mode. We might even attack the outlaw locations in the cooperative team based challenges. With the wild animals, random emergent events and the like just waiting to drag us further in we can see a lot of hours spent just roaming the wilderness with our ever-increasing posse and teaming up with another posse to do a mass assault on the bad guys.
Key to the structured events is the unique and very Sergio Leone, Mexican Standoff start where you begin with either one big group or several teams. You must shoot the chosen target and hope to be the Last Man Standing before the others respawn and hunt you down for being a great shot or just lucky as all heck. With so much freedom of choice, specific map areas that have horses, wagons and other surprises in them like cannons, RDR’s multiplayer looks set to completely ignite our love of shooting things as a team once again.
We want to see so much more of the multiplayer free roam though, we’re quietly hoping that you could play poker with your friends and indulge in some other mini-games like horse wrangling and drinking until you fall down. Of course these are pipe dreams that can only be answered by Rockstar when the game finally comes out, it’s so close now that we can literally taste it and we’ll have a full review of RDR when the game ships on the 21st in Europe (18th for the US).
Check back then!