With Grand Theft Auto V, rightly so, causing a tingle in many gamers pants with its latest trailer, and games like Saints Row The Third getting enough sales to fund the development of a country made of brothels it’s easy to just think of these two series as the only open-world games in existence. Clearly that’s a stupid way to think and with that narrow mindset put to one side we at PixelBedlam present the Open-world games that didn’t change the world, but deserve a play; whether it’s the story, the gameplay or just the experience, here is our top 5 most underrated open-world games.
Totally Overdose was a game for PS2, with a pseudo port/sequel on PSP. It featured some of the most blatant rip offs from the El Mariachi Trilogy I have seen. The plot is as crazy as you would expect from a game called Total Overdose and as such is near on impossible for me to explain Unlike most of the games in this list, vehicles aren’t around to make this game fun, the fun comes from the setting and style of the fighting. When your point combo reaches certain levels from killing random drug goons you get special abilities, Loco Moves, including a Tornado move that sends bullets flying in all directions, a golden gun that gives you a couple of instakills or El Mariachi where you pull two guitar cases out and from the machines guns hidden within you send bullets spraying like saliva from a rabid tramp’s mouth. The game has wall runs, slides and Max Payne-esque dives all of which make this game the balls out crazy fun it was clearly made to be.
In 1991 Hunter for the Amiga was released, this game to me was the first Open-world Sandbox game, and for that we should all bow down in front of it. Without these blocky green graphics and solid blue sky I firmly believe we wouldn’t have Grand Theft Auto.
The game was hard, or at least for a child under the age of 10, like I was, it was bloody impossible. In this you play as, actually I have no idea, the plot of this game irrelevant to me at age 7 and it is now, all I do know is that the combat was atrocious, but it did have a 3rd person camera and vehicles. With the ability to just hop in a jeep, bike, aircraft, hovercraft or windsurf; this was clearly an early precursor to everything gamers hold dear today.
This is the second game in this list to, lets say “borrow”, from the El Mariachi Trilogy, this time the main character steals the clothes, hair and accent of Banderas to produce our protagonist. Sometimes you just want to sit back and watch the world burn, sometimes you want to get involved and help out the fire a little bit, Just cause is a game that lends itself to this. Open-world and Sandbox games, to me, are different things, with Open-world it does what it says on the tin, you can go anywhere at anytime, Sandbox games are where you can set up elements in the world and create your own fun. Just Cause is the latter more than any other game in this list.
Until Saints Row 2, where the bat shit crazy was embraced, you were able to think of crazy stuff but not always achieve it in games. San Andreas for example in principle let you arse about like a gap year student, but setting up stunts was a challenge or near impossible. Just Cause was the first in my mind to essentially make a Sandbox game with what I can only presume was a 14 year old boy at the head of development. “I want him to be able to surf a car, then to shoot a grappling hook up to a passing plane and steal it, then he jumps out of the plane, holds onto the wing then parachutes down onto a passing motorbike, all the time shooting a pistol.” and like any spoilt brat, what he asked for he got. Bad marketing, and the end of console cycle life meant Just Cause fell by the side of most piles of shame, but thankfully enough interest was garnered in a sequel. With more insanity and more stuff to do, sales and critical response was good, this seems like a series with potential but to me it’ll always feel like an under-dog trying to get the same attention as GTA and Saints Row.
2.The Skate Series
I’ve seen people online and in real life profess their love of just going into GTA IV or San Andreas and just aimlessly driving or flying around, even I would select a particular station on the in game radio and just enjoy the experience. Very few games have the accidental by-product of relaxation, some puzzle games or art games actively seek it, but few master it without intention from the outset.
On top of the GTA series I propose the Skate series as the antithesis of open-world chill out. Skate 3, once you have progressed through the game to open up the city a bit, has what feels and looks like a properly fleshed out city, you can just ride through the streets for a long while before you reach what is the equivalent of a dead end. As a competitor to the Tony Hawks series EA took Skate down the serious route, with the “flick controls” meaning that mashing buttons doesn’t achieve anything, jump heights are realistic and 20 trick combos aren’t an option. With this in mind the game does sound stressful, and yes, during the story you can easily get annoyed with the control system holding you back, but when let loose, with the music playing you will lose yourself; To me the realism just adds to the effect, no load times and nothing to break the fourth wall. When you skate past a set of stairs with a rail you think “What can I do with that?”, after a couple of bails and a bruised ego you nail an awesome grind and then off you go just enjoying the experience.
This could be one of many examples of me playing a game when I should be doing the activity in real life, but I’m inept, over weight and I live in rural England so nipping off on my deck isn’t really an option, that is unless someone can teach me how to wall ride a cow or do some lip tricks on sheep.
Saboteur was a game that I gave no notice at launch, I had seen a couple of trailers and knew it existed but the game just slipped me by. A few years later my brother loaned me a copy and this game blew me away.
Set in Paris you play an Irish man who for some reason enjoys being a stereotype; fighting, swearing, drinking and with a “knowledge of explosives”. You put these traits to use by killing Nazis, yeah that’s right, you are a permanently drunk Irish explosive expert who takes on the Nazi occupation of Paris. If that alone doesn’t entice you to play then this is a lost cause. The game features an art style that deserves admiration. The sadly now defunct Pandemic Games created a Paris broken down into areas where occupation by the Nazis is indicated by the world being in a perpetually nocturnal state where all colour is drained from your surroundings. When you infiltrate and overthrow the local leather clad men colour is returned the world and you’re shown a beautiful 1940’s Paris. Of course, many of you may know this game from the Youtube videos where you can head butt a cow and it explodes.
If you make it to the final mission then you are in for one of those in game experiences that just sticks with you, more so than Bioshock twists or a Call of Duty nuke. The Nazi’s in Paris have been over run, your efforts to thwart them have succeeded, the Eiffel Tower is their Alamo. As you step off the lift and begin your climb up the stairs you hear the following play;
Nazis all around you have killed themselves, rather than surrender they hang from the girders and lay in pools of their own blood, one lone Nazi is playing Nina Simone’s Feeling Good on a piano. You can’t help but stand and watch as the presumably evil man serenades you and his fallen comrades with this awesome music. There will be a few people who put a bullet in his head and ran off to their objective, but I imagine a lot of people just left him sat playing the piano until he decides to end it all. As you may be able to tell I found this one of the most poignant moments in my gaming life, and one I will praise until I put down my controller and grow up.