I’m lazy in 90% of the aspects of my life, I just can’t be arsed to do stuff. Partially this is down to me being self-centred and wondering “what’s in it for me?” but also because as soon as I hit university some 10 years ago I lived on a diet of pasta, Pringles and Rustler’s microwave burgers. It turns out a film making degree and a sedentary lifestyle are neither helpful in keeping slim and able to walk up some stairs without feeling like my left lung is going to collapse. The problem is my apathy isn’t only a physical thing, it’s a mental problem, there’s barely a day that goes by where my response to something isn’t “fuck that…”, this has reached a peak recently with my falling out of love with anything open world.
There used to be a time where I knew my way around every street in all the 3D Grand Theft Autos. I knew my way to the nearest Burger Shot, the nearest Ammunation and where all the single use vehicles were. Now in GTA V I can find my way around everywhere, as long as I have a waypoint set. Far Cry, Batman, Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto and Assassins Creed; all games that have gone from humble beginnings to epic sprawling land masses that take hours to traverse on foot and give you a million distractions en route.
I love and hate Assassin’s Creed in equal measure, the problem is I love it a lot, but that means I also have to hate it a lot. I recently spoke about how much I enjoyed being the outlier and had a great time with Assassin’s Creed Unity, but there’s no denying one of its major flaws, the cluttered mess of a map. When you’re about half way through the game you would have unlocked the ability to do the majority of the side missions, find the collectibles and do your various towers, the problem is that the map looked like the aftermath of an icon bukkake party with a Jackson Pollock mess of symbols littering the streets.
There’s a fine line to be trodden with open world games, your goal is to give the players the feeling of freedom but also giving them something to do. This is why in most open world games you as the player are given a variety of tasks, each with a different focus so you feel like you’re playing 15 games in one. A prime example is the sheer number of open world games that somehow manage to shoe horn in a racing series of side missions despite, more often than not, the driving mechanic not being a strong point of the game, I’m looking at you Far Cry.
Recently when finishing up Far Cry 4 I realised that I was essentially avoiding playing the game for the most part. Early on when a mansion is given to your character you have the ability to buy a Buzzard, a mini chopper that lets you fly around at low altitude. As soon as this was available I bought it, and from there on out I fast travelled to my mansion and flew to my next location. I avoided random encounters, animals, patrols, side missions, getting lost and stupid mistakes causing me to lose my car to gravity and the pointy rocks at the bottom of a cliff. I wanted to play the game, but I didn’t want to have to work too hard for it. When we started making these worlds so big we forgot something, we forgot that the player will have to traverse this distance. A number of games clearly do this just as filler for their games, they manage to make their 6 hour game into a 14 hour game just because of forcing the player from point A to point B at every opportunity. Mafia II in particular would have you start your mission in your apartment, you’d drive to meet character X, X would tell you an objective and give you a location, you’d then leave character X and drive to the location. It’s like game designers of the open world variety all subscribe to the concept of the Dogme 95 manifesto principle that all journeys should be shot in real-time.
There’s a certain fear that comes with hearing how big a world map is in games these days. Knowing how big a map is can be a truly daunting prospect. The Witcher 3 has been sat in its box on my shelf since launch, anytime someone brings it up I mumble something about having just moved house and wanting to make sure I give myself plenty of time to get into it.
Open worlds are getting too big for me, my enjoyment is waning. I’ve been playing Arkham Knight, and the whole time I’ve been playing I’ve been reminiscing about how awesome Arkham Asylum was, there was a simple beauty to that game. Here’s a logical closed off environment that fits in a story logic and but also the world around it and whilst it is a big sandbox allowing you to explore where you need or want, it also feels concise. Jump forward a few games and not only are you now having to sit through a whole game where Scarecrow is the big bad but also the city is massive, so massive they’ve had to give you a car to get around. People wanted a Batmobile in Arkham Asylum and City but it wasn’t needed, we could get around quickly enough and as you progressed you found shortcuts of sorts. Arkham Knight has given the players a need for a car but only because they themselves made the city too big to traverse. With all this space it’s harder to get a feel for this location, it also means that the lack of innocent civilians is far more noticeable. Asylum was the best game in the series and being 4 games deep at this point it’s hard for me personally not to blame Rocksteady, and Warner Bros, from having diluted their game with land mass.
Whether it’s the size of the turf you’re on or the sheer number of side missions you have littered on the map, it’s getting harder and harder not to just say ‘fuck that…’. There was a time when every other game was an open world game, the late PS2 early 360 era especially was trying to cash in on that sweet GTA money. Some succeeded in getting their franchises off the ground like Saints Row and Just Cause, but games like The Godfather, Scarface and Gun struggled to get a series going. I know that modern open world games sell like hot cakes no matter what the content, and it’s a shame, because with each open world game getting a sequel and the developer thinking they need to go bigger means we’re now at a point where we’re getting Just Cause 3 boasting 400 square miles of to play in. It’s hard to love an expanse that big. When you ask someone to say where their favourite place is in the world they’re like to name a beautiful area they know, a house or even maybe a city, not often will they name somewhere which is 400 square miles in size. Bigger used to be better in open world games, in fact that used to be the requirement, but as I get older and as I have gotten lazier I can’t help but look back with rose-tinted specs at those days where I was in a sandbox rather than an open world and games didn’t force me to walk for 20 minutes between missions.