This all changed with Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008, which saw Rockstar's open world environment presented as a living, breathing city which was better and more believably constructed than ever before. The game also boasted one of the best stories in any game that year, following Niko Bellic, ex-soldier from Eastern Europe, as he tried to make an honest living in his new chosen homeland, the United States. Bellic was a classic noir character; his quest for the American Dream was a starting point, but gradually, as he ran afoul of shady characters and desperate situations, he was forced to turn to the talents he'd learned in war to survive. As a result, hell opened up beneath his feet.
Bellic, it turned out, was one of the first of a series of fully-fleshed characters to star in a Rockstar title. Over the next few years, the publisher's GTA DLC and Red Dead Redemption releases presented players with a host of damaged characters; all of whom had violent pasts, all of whom were surrounded by antagonists and danger and all of whom were trying to make good in the worst possible circumstances. Rockstar's protagonists are no longer ciphers, like the silent Claude Speed in GTA III. They are complete, well rounded individuals that the player comes to care about.
This strong emphasis on character is more front and center than ever before in Rockstar's upcoming game, L.A. Noire. Set in 1947, the game follows the fortunes of one Cole Phelps, a soldier back from the war turned policeman on the means streets of Los Angeles. The post-war period setting instantly brings to mind classic noir entertainment such as Chinatown, The Big Sleep and L.A. Confidential; here, perhaps more so than in any Rockstar game before it, players find themselves walking in a world of shadows and intrigue. Phelps is a man set against the rules of his time; he's an honest cop trying to make good in an era of endemic police corruption and heightened racial tensions and in a city where everyone seems to be playing an angle.