Ah, the open world. Perhaps the most tricky element of modern video gaming for developers to master, the idea of creating a huge gameplay area for players to roam at their own pace and explore to their heart’s content is certainly not unique.
But which open-worlds stood out the most in the last generation and can serve as a guiding light for this one? Where can you go to be completely immersed into the storyline experience of a particular game? Here are my Top 5 picks of the best open-worlds we saw on Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 and the other, now, last generation consoles…
5. ROME (Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood)
From the moment that fans got a glimpse of the legendary city of Rome in the Renaissance era of Assassin’s Creed II, Ubisoft must have known they were destined to fulfil expectations and head there next. In doing so, they gave us a beautiful portrayal of the ancient landmark, showing us vast rural landscapes juxtaposed with the iconic Colosseum and its neighbouring developing urban areas.
The Montreal studio didn’t just make their depiction of Rome realistic, though – they filled it with countless tasks and highlights. From the dangerous Borgia Towers to the plenitudes of Brotherhood recruits and side missions, there wasn’t a moment when something couldn’t be found to do in Brotherhood‘s rich world. It’s not often that an environment is one of the title’s main selling points, yet that was most definitely the case in this sublime continuation of the ACII trilogy.
4. GOTHAM CITY (LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes)
In the past, Rocksteady have created some amazing locations for us to discover (and I’ll get back to them later), but there’s one iconic place in Batman lore to which they’ve never truly allowed us access. Any self-respecting Dark Knight fan out there will know I’m talking about Gotham City itself.
That didn’t have to mean that we wouldn’t get to see a version of Bruce Wayne’s hometown this generation, though. In fact, the city’s on-screen salvation came at the hands of the fantastic second LEGO Batman game. I could go on about the countless ways in which developer TT Games succeeded in portraying the classic fictitious crime central perfectly, but I need only refer you to the breathtaking experience of flying amongst the skyscrapers and stars of Gotham as Superman to sum it all up.
Soaring around the city using the digital map as the Man Of Steel is a video game event that few other licensed titles have hoped to match this generation. TT’s attention to detail is incredible, with references to the DC universe scattered throughout the world. Perhaps the actual interactivity of the city is a little lacking, but that can’t possibly lay a notable scratch on such a beautiful blocky creation.
3. PARADISE CITY (Burnout Paradise)
Criterion never needed to prove themselves in the racing genre. The Burnout franchise had always been a consistent cult success long before the release of their 2008 entry Paradise. All the same, their divisive choice to enter the open-world fray with the aforementioned current-gen debut was to prove a major hit, as their fictitious Paradise City was a groundbreaking work of innovation.
Anyone who has played Burnout Paradise will no doubt recall that you can barely cruise a mile in your vehicle before stumbling upon a new race or trick event, allowing for a level of engagement and constant addiction that isn’t found in many other racing titles. That the game world looks so impressive for its time is of no detriment either, nor that there’s a brilliant backing soundtrack of hundreds of rock classics to blaze along to as you go.
2. ARKHAM CITY (Batman: Arkham City)
Remember when I said I’d get back to Rocksteady? Well, here we are. It is rather uncommon for me to choose two instalments in the same licensed franchise to appear in a Top 5 feature, but for the Caped Crusader’s current generation run, I just had to make an exception.
For all the good TT Games’ great, somewhat cartoony take on Gotham City could do for Batman fans, there was one key element which it lacked to make it higher on the list – realistic immersion. In this respect, the titular Arkham City soars – to make a believable game depiction of a historical or modern real-world location is one thing, yet to adapt a fictitious comic world in a way that it makes it seem completely real is another challenge altogether.
What Arkham City lacks in sheer size and breadth, it makes up for in subtle scale. The intricate layers of detail the team’s artists and programmers have integrated into their world reach their peak in a moment that some players may have missed, yet to me stands as one of the most emotional sequences in video gaming ever.
Having entered this cordoned-off district of Gotham, Batman can choose to fly to the rear of Monarch Theatre to the back streets of Crime Alley. This dark and dingy alleyway holds the drawn silhouettes of Martha and Thomas Wayne (who were killed there in Bruce Wayne’s childhood) along with a bouquet of flowers. As the Dark Knight examines this tragic monument of his inception, the player has the option to have the protagonist bend down and pay tribute to his folks. At this point, a melancholic melody slowly begins to seep into the game’s gothic soundtrack, until the latter has all but faded away and the player is left only with the haunting vision of a man forced into darkness by the seeds of crime.
If ever fans wanted proof that Rocksteady truly understands their fanbase and indeed the universe their games inhabit, this touching moment is it. That this sequence is but a fragment of what Arkham City has to offer as an open-world stands testament to its quality and legacy.
1. LIBERTY CITY (Grand Theft Auto IV)
It would be impossible to even contemplate the development of the open-world genre in the current generation without referring to GTA IV‘s breathtaking Liberty City. As such, this stunning benchmark for video game environments stands tall at the top of this prestigious and tightly-fought list of rankings.
I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve simply just lived in the world of Liberty City. What do I mean by this, exactly? In all of video gaming, I can’t name another time where I can truly just walk, drive or fly through an environment and remain totally immersed by its random events and characters. This even carries through to Chinatown Wars to some extent, the pixelated top-down world being the only thing that breaks the immersion in the DS spin-off.
Liberty City has its own radios, television stations, internet cafes, dating services and so many other elements that place it high above its competitors, simply because they can almost lure you into forgetting that you’re playing a video game. Play Super Mario Galaxy 2, Portal 2 or The Force Unleashed and you’ll be left in no doubt as to what entertainment format you’re taking ahold of, yet head back into GTA IV at any time and you may become so dazzled by the lights and heights, (bar the dated graphics) the lines between digitalisation and reality may start to blur.