Maybe it was because the cowboy setting sat more comfortably with an older generation; maybe it was because there was simply less skulduggery to be done on the dusty plains; or maybe it was because Red Dead's artistic qualities really did outweigh any amount of bloodshed, but Rockstar somehow managed to woo the broadsheets, earn the public's respect and even bag a bit of BAFTA recognition as it dodged the pitchforks.
(Apart from the old Irish backlash, that is. Can't please 'em all.)
Now L.A Noire looks set to push Rockstar even further beyond the preconceived ideas surrounding it - and drag the games industry kicking and screaming with it. The publisher has already told CVG that it believes Noire can attract lapsed and non-gamers to the medium, and it's not hard to see why.
First of all, like Red Dead's setting, Noire's detective thriller context will justify any violence that would usually have lights flashing on the complain-o-matic for a game based on drug-pushing or serial killing. You can't have a murder mystery without murder - and any rough and tumble interrogation techniques, well, that's just history, my friend.
More important, though, is L.A Noire incredible motion capture technique. You only need to watch last week's L.A Noire gameplay trailer to see just how accurately every subtle smirk, grimace and gulp registers. Yes it's an integral part of the investigation gameplay mechanic, but it also allows for the acting talents of the L.A Noire cast to be appreciated.
Last year, possibly pre-empting criticism for Read Dead, Rockstar's Lazlo pointed out that a gritty, violent, crime drama like The Sopranos is hailed with awards whereas a game of similar content is roundly abused.
He's completely right, and it happens because games are still seen as child's play, without the artistic nuances of film and television. And because they're still seen as child's play, that also gives uneducated parents - and the press they read - reason to fear them. L.A Noire will be the next title with a real chance to change that perception.
In 1997 there was little to hide the fact that Grand Theft Auto was little more than an unapologetic, light-hearted crime-sim. It's irony was not easy to explain to the two-up-two-down brigade, who still saw gaming as an extension of playground japes.
Rockstar has steadily improved this image, by slowly developing narrative aspects - portraying GTA IV's Niko Bellic as a slightly more reluctant face-beater, for example - but not enough given the gangland context and the heavy Grand Theft Auto name.
It's not intentional pandering to the public on Rockstar's part; it's absolutely just a matter of circumstance. But L.A Noire is looking likely to be the publisher's most intelligent, performance-based offering yet.
Back that up with a killer narrative and this could be Rockstar's chance to finally put out a blockbuster title that isn't hampered by the weight of controversy. So long as they don't give us some Hare Krishna DLC.