Red Dead Redemption is riding high in the charts, but it won't be too long before people start pondering about Rockstar's next project. Max Payne 3 and LA Noire are both somewhere on the horizon, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, there'll inevitably be a GTA 5. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to explore a few of the ways in which RDR has improved on the structure of GTA IV - lessons that Rockstar could take forward into its next game. What follows is entirely my opinion, of course - so feel free to call me a knob.
Spoiler note: while I've aimed to avoid spoilers wherever possible, the following article does discuss the general themes and tone of Red Dead Redemption. There's nothing big in here, but be warned nonetheless.
Keep the open world open
GTA IV's Liberty City was a milestone in open world game design: beautiful, memorable and absolutely packed with intricate detail. Aside from the satirical representation, it was also a very impressive approximation of New York - but this achievement had an unfortunate side effect: it was an extremely busy place. As enthralling as it was to steal a sports car and drive up to the gleaming lights of Star Junction, the sheer volume of traffic could be a real drag at times - particularly in the latter stages of the game, when missions had you travelling right across the city to get to the fun stuff.
The vast plains of Red Dead Redemption represent an even larger (and better looking) playground, but the key difference is space. Traffic jams are obviously no longer a problem, and because you have the freedom to literally break away from the beaten path, you feel that much more inclined to do so. There's always something on the horizon - a rocky outcrop to explore, a wild animal to hunt, or an NPC to torment or rescue. Due to the open design of the landscape, these distractions are clearly visible, and whenever you decide to return to your primary business, it's easy to get back on the right track. Fine, you might get unexpectedly snuffed out by a bandit or a sneaky cougar, but you'll never have that classic GTA problem where you bump into a cop car and inadvertently start a disastrous, five-star chase.
If anything, Red Dead's problem is that it's almost too big: by my reckoning it takes almost seven minutes of playtime to ride from one end of Mexico to the other. Still, that's what the fast travel options are there for - and I think it speaks volumes that lots of gamers seem to be proudly avoiding these shortcuts. Rockstar would do well to emulate this openness for GTA 5, so perhaps it's time to return to a San Andreas-style world design?