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Red Dead Redemption 2 - man/horse screencap Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

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Rockstar Games’ 15-plus years of delays, revisited

Red Dead Redemption 2’s new release date is no surprise

For many Rockstar Games fans, a delay for Red Dead Redemption 2 — from fall 2017 to spring 2018 (and then again to October 2018) — was expected. The publisher’s known to have a thing for announcing release dates, only to change them again and again. It’s something Rockstar’s been doing for most of its life, marking nearly 20 years of delays.

The Grand Theft Auto series is full of ‘em

The first fully 3D entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto 3 was one of 2001’s biggest hits. But following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Rockstar pushed its release back by three weeks.

“Our decision is based on 2 factors,” said co-founder Terry Donovan in an interview with IGN. “Firstly it has been a little difficult to get work done in downtown Manhattan in the last week since basic communications infrastructure has been intermittent at best, and secondly we felt that a full content review of all our titles and the marketing materials we use to represent them was absolutely necessary for us in light of the horrifying event we all witnessed in the United States last week.”

Both Grand Theft Auto 3 and Smuggler’s Run 2, another Rockstar title due for a fall launch, received content edits to some of their more tricky portions. (Smuggler’s Run 2, in particular, was set partially in Afghanistan.) Grand Theft Auto 3 ended up launching in late October, which was a minor delay, all things considered.

grand theft auto 3
Rockstar sent Grand Theft Auto 3 back into development after 9/11.
DMA Design/Rockstar Games

Its follow-up, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, received another brief delay the following year. The game launched a week later than initially scheduled. (Funny enough, the same thing happened to its tenth anniversary Android port in 2012.) Rockstar again proved its love of weeklong delays when it pushed back Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas by just seven days in October 2004.

Grand Theft Auto 4, on the other hand, suffered from reschedule after reschedule. Rockstar Games pegged it for an October 2007 launch at first — only to make an about-face in August 2007, when Take-Two told investors that “technological problems” were tying up production. A new release date came in January 2008, when the company said Grand Theft Auto 4 would finally arrive at the end of April — a date it kept to.

None of these delays did much damage to the Grand Theft Auto franchise’s renown or reception, of course. All of the preceding games received critical and commercial success, and all of that was trumped by the latest game in the series: Grand Theft Auto 5. The game was set for a spring 2013 release, the longest wait between mainline Grand Theft Auto titles, but Rockstar Games pushed it to the fall just ahead of its planned launch window.

Once again, development issues were to blame, the development team said.

"[Grand Theft Auto 5] is a massively ambitious and complex game and it simply needs a little more polish to be of the standard we and, more importantly, you require,” it wrote in a post about the delay.

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Grand Theft Auto 5 went through delay after delay.
Rockstar North/Rockstar Games

The game’s PC port was reshuffled around Rockstar’s schedule three separate times: The first, from its original fall 2014 launch window into January 2015; the second, from January to March; the third and final, from March to April. Grand Theft Auto 5’s online component, Grand Theft Auto Online, was also affected by Rockstar’s constant rescheduling; its heists feature launched in March 2015, more than a year after its initially planned spring 2014 release.

Rockstar’s other games get pushed back all the time, too

Games outside of the Grand Theft Auto tentpole aren’t immune to Rockstar’s unstable release calendar, obviously. Bully, a cult favorite of action game fans, was announced in May 2005 for an “expected” October 2005 release. Rockstar Games fans knew the drill by then; the game launched a full year later, in October 2006.

In October 2008, Rockstar Games published Midnight Club: Los Angeles, a racing game that hit store shelves — you guessed it — a week late. It was just a few months later, in 2009, that fans began to see some of the biggest delays in the company’s history.

Rockstar announced the first Red Dead Redemption in February 2009 — four years after showing off a tech demonstration of it, seen below — but a trailer didn’t arrive until that December. Perhaps those should have both been warning signs that the game wouldn’t make it to its April 2010 release date — although players were lucky to get their hands on it a month later, in May.

In March 2009, Rockstar finally revealed that Max Payne 3 would be out that winter. That window shifted to 2010 later that year — and in June 2010, the company moved it again, into 2011. By the end of 2010, the game was completely off the release calendar. A new launch date came in September 2011; Max Payne 3 was then set for a March 2012 release. Surprise: The game missed that. In January, Rockstar delayed it yet again to May 2012 — when it finally, finally launched.

Of all the Rockstar games to get jostled around before launch, L.A. Noire got the worst of it. The game languished in development hell from 2004, when Sony Computer Entertainment held the publishing rights, until its release in May 2011. Rockstar Games picked up the project in September 2006, but the game’s first trailer came more than four years later, in November 2010.

That obviously means L.A. Noire missed both its original 2008 fiscal year release date and rescheduled September 2010 launch; Rockstar pushed the game again to March 2011 following the trailer reveal, only to then delay it one last time. That makes for a total of three delays, made all the worse by the protracted development.

That brings us to one last game: Agent. It may be unfair to even assess this one, because it might as well be dead in the water at this point. The secret agent action game began development in 2007, as an untitled PlayStation 3 exclusive. Rockstar Games unveiled the project as Agent at E3 2009 ... and then it vanished. Although Take-Two and Rockstar continue to insist that the game remains in the works — and keeps renewing its trademark for it — we have neither seen nor heard from Agent since that E3 presser.

This is reason to believe that Agent has been abandoned, and that Rockstar is just intent on keeping anyone else from using the name. But you never know: Seeing how many times the publisher has pushed its games back, Agent could rear its head again some day.