I have to confess that I’m a bit of a super fan of Rockstar’s games, from the ubiquitous Grand Theft Auto series, to the lesser-heralded Bully. Originally on PS2, this cult classic was set in an open-world secondary school, with Bully 2 recently mooted as being in development for next-gen consoles. Rockstar’s games play fantastically well, have brilliant themes and are presented so stylishly, but my favourite moments are all to do with the dialogue.
Rockstar is always so very strong on characterisation that, even going back to beginning of Grand Theft Auto, its games always contain delicious scripting. There is so much quotable scripted dialogue in Red Dead Redemption 2 that we could fill this entire post just with those gems. However, it’s the more incidental moments of chatter that really impress.
With Red Dead Redemption 2's massive voice cast and 12,000 lines of dialogue for every key character (creating over 500,000 lines in total) everyone’s got something unique and funny to say. The game is packed with chatty non-named NPCs too, from farm-hands having their own hilarious conversations to an English bloke looking for his mate, Gavin. I absolutely have to go and check out a flashing Stranger blip, just to witness a little bonus nugget of NPC dialogue, even if it has nothing to do with Arthur.
Making a public nuisance of yourself
The most ingenious touch, though, is Red Red Redemption 2’s system of social interaction - probably the most finely-tuned piece of world building ever put into a game. Arthur can interact with his fellow gang members in ways that feel convincing and often give deeper insights into that character. You can also interact positively or negatively with any NPC at any time, and the results can fall between matter-of-factly civil to wonderfully rude, but it always feels natural, no matter how far you take it.
A simple walk around Saint Denis can show Rockstar’s wizardry at work. Stopping at a bench where a man and a woman are sat, minding their own business, I decide Arthur should antagonise them. "Look at you fools!" sneers Arthur. They shuffle in their seats uncomfortably. I defuse the situation by saying, "I’m only joking with you!" The French-accented woman replies with, "You have a cruel sense of humour, monsieur." I continue to taunt by saying, "At least you’ve got each other." The woman rises to leave, mightily offended. ‘Antagonise’ is pressed again, and Arthur says, "I’m sorry, I don’t know why I find this so amusing."
No, he really doesn’t - but childishly, I do. A man rides past on his horse, and I ‘call out’. He reins his horse to a stop. I ‘dismiss’ him with, "Ah, I can’t be bothered," He replies by saying, "Well okay then," and trots on a couple of feet. I ‘greet’ him again, he stops, and gets hit by a tram. Arthur, you’re such a jerk.
Bully for you
It all helps the world feel like it’s actually populated, although this is not the first time Rockstar has used this idea. Bully uses a similar system for social interaction that makes Jimmy Hopkins’ school come to life with self-obsessed preppy kids, greasers, nerds, and jocks. Running around the Bullworth Academy, you can greet or antagonise kids. Insult them and they’ll respond with anything from, "You’re not going to hurt me are you?" to the spunkier, "I can see why people say you’re a true diplomat!"
Smaller kids will say things like, "No no, please, no wedgies!", but push a bigger kid, even a nerd, and he’ll say something like, "You sir, are cruising for a bruising!" and it might end up in a bundle, as he attacks you screaming, "That’s a level five attack!" Conversely, strike up a ‘greet’ conversation and it might go from a cordial, "What’s up?" to the kid complimenting your clothes. The funniest one I’ve heard was when Jimmy tried to greet a preppy kid, who responded with, "Those are the worst trousers I’ve ever seen!" At this point, off-screen, another kid yelled out, "Funny pants!" It’s oddly authentic – every school has a Nelson from The Simpsons, primed and ready to join in the ‘ha ha’s, right?
The real genius of the system is how simple it appears – responses are reasonably generic, but sound so natural. It creates at least the illusion of a world that is alive and full of characters with whom you can interact, and you feel that have a choice in how you interact with them, providing an incredibly rich backdrop to the sandbox gameplay. With Red Dead Redemption 2, this has been refined to such an extent that you can have kind-of conversations with random NPCs, which never fail to amuse me. Then again, maybe that Saint Denis NPC was right when he said "Your sense of humour is an acquired taste!"
This article originally appeared in Official Xbox Magazine, your #1 source for Xbox news, interviews and interviews