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Opinion: Don't Fence Me in - why open world games rule

Steve Boxer explores the joy of the sandbox

Now that the unexpected joyfulness of the Olympics and Paralympics has dissipated, it's back to the drudge and dreariness of the daily grind. But I've planned an escape. It involves heading to an idyllic tropical island, where I'm going to drink too much and shoot my way out of life-threatening encounters with psychotic guerrillas. And all without leaving the house. As you may have surmised, my chosen means of escape will be Ubisoft's mighty Far Cry 3.

If money was no object, I'd make a beeline for some tropical island exoticism, but you might prefer to take a virtual holiday in more apocalyptic, desert-strewn surroundings - as provided by Borderlands 2 - or if you were of a historical bent, Assassin's Creed 3 would let you time-travel to the fascinating environs of revolutionary America. But whatever your preferred environment, don't go there unless it's via the medium of an open-world game.

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Leopards leaping - the joy of the sandbox

In this day and age, it seems astonishing that people still make single-path games. What's the point of expending the vast amount of effort required to craft atmospheric game-worlds, when you can only experience a tiny part of them, along a pre-defined route? Single-path games are the equivalent of holidaying at a Club 18-30. If you're going to be confined to a single place, you might as well save money and head to Butlins at Bognor Regis.

Open-world games may have a reputation for being patchy in terms of gameplay, often buggy and lacking in a coherent storyline, but such criticisms are becoming increasingly invalid. Far Cry 3 is a classic example of a game which, while giving you complete freedom to roam, has cracked the challenge of providing an involving storyline. As the likes of Skyrim and Dragon's Dogma have proved, we're happy to accommodate the odd bug if it means we can fully explore a fantasy world, and won't just encounter the same enemy each time we go round the same corner.

Tacit acknowledgement that open-world games are best has arrived from some unexpected quarters - most notably Forza Horizon, which benefits enormously from being the first Forza game with an open world. Even Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is grudgingly paying lip-service to its open-world peers, with its addition of branching routes and sandbox missions.

So why do people still make single-path games? They would tell you that it's because, when your movements are carefully shepherded, you can be constantly immersed in a storyline and at the centre of a never-ending pyrotechnic storm. In other words, it enables games to resemble Hollywood movies. But why do developers still insist on paying homage to Hollywood? Modern games are much more inventive, original, involving and - especially -- satisfying than anything the Tinseltown sausage-factory has disgorged for decades. Except for when they're trying to be movies rather than games.

One clear advantage games have over movies is that, as long as they don't fence you in, they can transport you to a fantasy world that throws up a steady stream of surprises, even if you're just in the mood for bimbling along with no particular plan. And that's why they provide the perfect means of taking a virtual vacation from the prosaic nature of everyday life. Sadly, if you'd rather go to a virtual holiday camp, there's no hope for you.

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