Published on September 19th, 2013 | by Jeff Derrickson11
Three for Thursday: Best Open World Games
In honor of GTA V’s release this week, I thought I’d take a brief look at three of my favorite open world games. Given enough time with the game, I’m sure I would have to add GTA V to my list. That’s okay, though, because Rockstar is already getting a little bit of love on this Three for Thursday. Dare to enter these sandboxes, and you’re sure to get lost, or at least lose hours of your life.
Far Cry 3
From its opening moments, in which you escape imprisonment and must run for your life, Far Cry 3 immerses you in the tropical Rook Island. Featuring a cheesy but compelling story, a memorable villain, and open-ended gameplay in an open world, it had no problem distinguishing itself from other first-person shooters and making it on my short list of the best games of 2013. From hang-gliding to hunting, there is no shortage of things to do in the game, and some activities (such as hunting), help to improve your character. But perhaps my favorite quality of Far Cry 3 is how well the action plays out in the open world. None of the high-octane intensity of most FPS games is sacrificed for the large canvas on which it’s painted.
And the open-ended nature of the combat only makes Far Cry 3 more fun than its peers. There is no one right way to accomplish a goal. You can set a field on fire to create panic among enemies, or shoot open a cage to unleash a tiger. At one point, I invaded a base by sneaking in and stealing a bus. A mile down the road, I ditched the bus, and while everyone in the base chased after the vehicle, I circled back around and snuck back in an empty base. In the rigid structure of most other action or stealth games, I would have somehow failed that mission. Instead, Far Cry 3 made me feel like a genius and earned its spot on this list.
Just Cause 2
While it lacks variety in side missions or a story worth caring about, Just Cause 2 does one thing incredibly well to make it more than just a generic sandbox action game: freedom of movement. The combination of grappling hook and parachute made navigating Just Cause 2’s truly massive world fun in its own right. At first, using both tools together can feel awkward, but once you get over the learning curve, you can scale a mountain without ever touching the ground. (In fact, there is an Achievement/Trophy for doing that.) Sure, you can fly in Saints Row IV now, but I doubt it’s quite as exhilarating as grappling onto a tree to get some height and then pulling out your parachute.
Oh yeah, and did I mention there is a strip club in a blimp floating far above the map? Just sayin’, guys.
Red Dead Redemption
The greatest thing about Rockstar’s open world games is the attention to detail. You can get lost for hours just exploring every nook and cranny, looking at signs, admiring decorations on a wall in a shop, or cruising around just to see what’s around the next corner. As for gameplay, the early GTA games—including GTA IV—left a bit to be desired. Red Dead Redemption took the foundation Rockstar built with GTA, refined all the mechanics, and set it in the Western genre. It amounted to one of the very best games of this generation. Nearly everything there is to do in the game is fun, from core mechanics like shooting, to hunting, or playing poker in a saloon. Even the online multiplayer is a blast, whether you’re trying to accomplish objectives or just hanging out with friends. And all of that is wrapped in a story that stands up with the best Westerns, including one hell of an ending.
But what makes Red Dead Redemption’s world such a perfect sandbox is what Rockstar has always done best. Attention to detail. Atmosphere. The music sets the tone, and the visuals transport you to another time and place. There is nothing quite like riding on your horse through the desert as day to turns to dusk, or sunrise turns to storms. You can almost feel the raindrops plopping against your skin, and you may just forget you’re not John Marston. If a game can make you forget you’re sitting on a couch in an apartment in the city—even for just one second—that’s a sandbox worth visiting.