Some Stuff About Open World Games

By Jim Rossignol on July 15th, 2009 at 6:32 pm.


The notion of open game worlds has always appealed to me, ever since Elite. When there’s even the faintest whiff on a free roaming environment, or virtuality that I can go off an explore, I’m interested. It’s an impulse that leads me to spend endless hours in Stalker, or to expend an entire day driving around Fuel. But whatever game I play, I end up feeling somewhat dissatisfied. It’s kind of dissatisfaction that does not seem to be so common with linear or arena games. I think it’s to do with a specific tension that open world games create: between what the game is about, and what the environment – and its openness – implies.


The most obvious example of this tension that I can think of exists in Far Cry 2. The game’s environment is a brilliant Africa-in-miniature, and everything from the flies buzzing in the air to the gleam of the swampy jungle has been conjured spectacularly. The combat too is entertaining: fire propagation, over-wrought grenade physics, ludicrous close-combat battle-horror at the end of a semi-automatic shotgun. But the two systems do not mesh comfortably.

Far Cry 2 tries to push your experience as close to that of a traditional shooter as it can manage in this open environment. Once you’re outside of the key “safe” towns, anything and everything is an enemy, or a target. It is, like any traditional shooter, a rolling battle. This surprised and exasperated many gamers, because while they were happy to suspend disbelief for a game like, say, Crysis, which could be seen as a very wide corridor, they could not make the same leap for a game that did not really funnel you continuously in a single direction. The verisimilitude of Far Cry’s world – with its network of roads, villages, rivers and army encampments – seemed at odds with our experience of it. Where everyone was an enemy, and everything would chase, shoot, and attack you, the world seemed at odds with itself.

The very notion of it being an open world seemed to suggest that the game would support more life: civilians, passive enemies, the illusion of a wider world. I think about this, and I think about Outcast, the voxel sci-fi adventure. Right there, back in 1999, was a game brave enough to say: “here’s a world, it’s full of life, politics, danger, go deal with it and save your own world in the process.” You traipsed out into its pixellated valleys and did precisely that. Thanks to the freedom of movement and general neutrality of much of the world of Outcast, when combat occurred it was an moment of high drama. Combat in Far Cry 2, meanwhile, is often reduced to a kind of road-clearance. The Outcast player’s experience of being in a particular, although virtual, place was therefore (despite its incredibly lack of visual fidelity by modern standards) incredibly potent.

The illusionism required for an open world game is different to that of a linear game. For Half-Life 2 the illusion is all about momentum. As Gillen regularly points out, such games are all about forward motion, and they break down the moment we don’t see where to go, or who to shoot. Open world games go for quite a different illusion. They might simple be a big arena for stuff to happen in, or they might try to be a little more indulgent of our imagination, and to try to create the illusion that there’s really something going on, that there’s life.

Perhaps the best illusion of a living environment is the one generated by GTA4. The city of Rockstar’s most recent game is a masterwork on its own, without any of the game elements considered. I find myself lost in it, staring out of the window of a taxi with a similar reverie to that of visiting a real foreign city. Except here I can be much braver, and explore more fearlessly into dangerous terrain. It’s the potency of GTA4′s illusion of cityness that really gets me: the chatter on the sidewalks, the slow chug of the traffic around town, the general ambient goings on that pay little attention to you unless you specifically interfere with them. The failure of Far Cry 2 (and also in a related sense Fallout 3 and Assassin’s Creed) was that the design never really made a bid for that kind of suspension of disbelief. You were the centre of what was going on in those worlds, and you always knew it.

The illusion of life outside of your own in-game activities is, perhaps, one thing open worlds need pursue and exploit, beyond even the essential mechanics of their game. Stalker, for example, was fundamentally a shooter, just like Far Cry 2, but the existence of neutral or indifferent entities, the very-slightly wider range of interactions (an inventory, non-combat items) seemed to expand the illusion into something we wanted to poke, prod, and understand the limits of. This spooky Ukrainian countryside-dungeon really could be The Zone, and I could be the rogue, hooded individual charged with exploring it. While not precisely open-world in the same way GTA4 is, the game provided a sense of life and non-linearity that allowed you to get lost in it, and invest in it, because you were always given reasons to value the idea of exploring it.

Exploring. That seems to be to be the other aspect of open worlds that developers need to make the most of if they want to have their world mean something to players. Aside from the randomly distributed nonsense-money of Far Cry 2′s diamonds, it had little reason for you to poke about in particular points on the map. You could not expect to find many secrets – perhaps a hang-glider here and there. Instead, you followed the missions and did the violence where it was directed, and therefore most fruitful. I’d argue that where the open world model prospers is often when it gives you reason to explore and investigate its limits: finding the very highest jumps or the most obscure billboards in Burnout Paradise, for an example that is neither a shooter, nor trying to create the illusion of a living world.

I often feel as though open world games create fantastic places, but then fail to create a game that is appropriate to the environment we find ourselves in. Fallout 3′s mechanics, voices, and character design left me struggling to enjoy what is, clearly, an astonishing feat of world creation. I know that many people felt similarly aggrieved with Oblivion, although I actually got on with that a whole lot better. Similarly, when I played Assassin’s Creed my continuing reaction (aside from my indignation at the cutscenes) was a disbelief that the design team had done so little to exploit their astonishing medieval city. It felt, at times, that the assassination game was going on in spite of their bustling city around me – as if the team had created this beautiful world and then didn’t really know what to do with it, because they had this assassin game to be getting on with too…

So to come full circle with the sense of dissatisfaction with open world games: I think the way we experience them, by comparison with linear games, says something about how our gaming imagination functions. We seem to understand that when linear games point us in a certain direction, that’s the way to go. When an open world game appears, its very structure suggests something about how we should behave, or want to behave, and predisposes us to judge on the basis of how it entices us to go somewhere that the game itself hasn’t suggested, and on how it then deals with that action.

Further, there seems to be a need for us to feel more embedded, as if our actions matter more where we can come back to the scene of our actions. In Far Cry 2 I didn’t expect the enemies I’d killed at a checkpoint to reappear: the open world had led me to expect some level of persistence. In Fallout 3 I didn’t expect to be constrained by the ropes of the story, or the level structure, because that moment stepping outside the vault said: the horizon is the limit to this. Perhaps my own suspension of disbelief simply becomes less easy to manage, because the illusion of “worldiness” isn’t strong enough, or the game is really a linear experience in a very wide corridor, with no real reason for us to stray off the path.

One day I should like to see a game perform the incredible genre-splicing process required to marry up the elements that make various successful open worlds so strong. I should like that game to give me a direction, a purpose, without telling me exactly what I need to be doing. I should like it to ignore me, but nevertheless carry my mark when I choose make it. This imaginary game will, I hope, dump me on the midst of a strange place, perhaps with with a pyre of smoke on the horizon, and instruct me: “survive”.

I’d like that.

(Also, it would have an absolutely incredible map, but that’s another blog post.)

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189 Comments »

  1. sigma83 says:

    Well articulated. Encapsulated my thoughts on open world gaming quite neatly, even the ones I didn’t know I had.

  2. Dan says:

    Bang on, Jim.

    My dream game which no-one will ever make is called ‘Life’ and has the player start as a homeless, penniless vagrant in a massive, sprawling city where no-one cares about him. Then you have to survive, get a job, make some money, find somewhere to live, etc. Then find love, have kids, get divorced, have a midlife crisis. Or become a criminal mastermind. Or run for office.

    That’d be ace.

    Ooh, or be a commercial pilot.

  3. wheres_my_gun says:

    I remember twinsen’s odyssey (while not really an open world game) doing something neat in this regard, by starting you off in your own home which was placed logically in a small town full of other people who all clearly had their own domestic lives just like your character. started things out on the right foot in terms of your relationship to the world, as opposed to the disjointed am-i-the-only-real-person-in-this-universe strangeness of the fallout 3 intro

  4. JimmyJames says:

    I feel the same way about most of the open world games I’ve played recently. I think they fail for me when they’re not quite sandbox games, so you still can’t really do what you want, even if you can move to any spot you can see.

    I’ve been getting a lot of pleasure out of ArmA II lately, because of some of the truly excellent multiplayer coop user missions like Domination. You get objectives, like secure a town or city, and some side missions, but how you go about it is largely up to you. When the plans you make get fouled up and you have to change things on the fly – with very few limitations imposed on you – it makes for some great gaming experiences.

    I had fun with Prototype but it got old quickly.

  5. phil says:

    Nice piece, though have you played Hunter? It essentially plonked you in the middle of war zone and told you to blow up the one of the biggest things in the game world.

    Though incredibly sparse, finding things like destoryed churchs, a political prison, a hidden room in the ocean and and a family of ducks, whilst getting chased for kilometres over rolling hills by jeeps on a push bike, made the seeing what’s over the next hill complusive. Fallout 3 did the same thing for me, but Far Cry 2 not so much, I knew the developers were taking things too seriously to include anything freaky.

  6. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Hmm. In that sense some MMOs may be more open world games than some of the games mentioned. I think.

    Then again, the whole massively multiplayer aspect curtails further reaching forays into open world territory, I suspect.

  7. OoohShinyGraffix says:

    Space Rangers 2 felt like a cohesive living, breathing universe through simple things like the news updates of going-ons on other planets, fluctuating supply and demand for items, seeing other pilots and starships carryinga about their own agendas, etc.

  8. dumas says:

    great words

    I too dream of a better world of open world games.

    Here’s hoping Call of Pipyrat can finally focus on what Stalker does well (atmosphere and exploration), instead of traditional shooterism.

    Hopefully the persistent “a-life” system will finally start to come alive, and hopefully some greater non scripted interaction with other citizens of “the zone”.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    “the whole massively multiplayer aspect curtails further reaching forays into open world territory”

    Straight up and down level structures stop them being genuinely open worlds.

    EDIT: exceptions might be Eve, or WoW endgame.

  10. Arrrmo says:

    Ahh, Outcast. Now that’s a game I haven’t thought about in quite a while. I remember pouring HOURS into just wandering around and enjoying the world.

  11. Neut says:

    I’ve always wanted to see a remake of the original Unreal done in an open world fashion, with you crash landing on an alien planet and the only objective being “Survive” and maybe “Find a way off the planet”.

  12. Richard Clayton says:

    I think that one of Far Cry 2′s major problems is that it failed to live up to it’s first few minutes. That ride through the checkpoints was tense and fantastic – I thought this was how some checkpoint interactions might be (or at least those where you had the right papers).

    I knew it was all theatre when I returned back from my first mission back to the Slaughter House where I had started and got pulverised by bullets. Hey, I thought you guys were on my side!

  13. Michel says:

    The problem with Far Cry 2′s world can be described as an uncanny valley effect. The uncanny valley in animation or robotics is the idea that as something approaches visual realism, its behavioural imperfections become more noticeable and unsettling/uncanny. FC2′s Africa is gorgeous, but the underlying systems are not up to par. The interesting thing is the systems would be perfectly suitable for a game with a less realized world such as Crysis. It was like the designers and artists were working on completely different wavelengths towards different goals.

    Anyway, this is just to say that the uncanny valley should not only concern animators and artists, but game designers and creative directors.

  14. mister k says:

    I think you’ve pinned down what stopped me playing Farcry 2. I hated that everyone attacked me, and felt utterly disconnected. The missions seemed pointless to me (I had no real idea why I was hanging around in the country formenting rebellion), and the world wasn’t fun to explore: everywhere I went I’d have a samey fight against a handful of reasonably intelligent AI goons.

  15. Dr. Nerfball says:

    @Neut: It would be like the origional Pikmin with more shooting stuff and less befriending of the midget plant life wouldn’t it?

    Siiiigh, I wish I was old enough to have experienced these times when games were good and movie tie-ins were just a far off nightmare. Oh well! I’m going to throw myself into another game of Deus Ex now.

  16. autogunner says:

    the tutorial of far cry 2 was pretty much the most excitement that could be gleaned from the game. a shame really.

  17. tim says:

    I think there weren’t any civilians in Far Cry 2 because they had all left. The point of the game was that there was a civil war going on without any civilians – it was a civil war consisting only of foreign mercenaries.

  18. Motherpuncher says:

    This gives me a lot to thank about. Makes me think about how good Fuel could be, if there was more purpose to the game. I think Neut’s idea is pretty cool. It would be fun if you had no human contact at all, just start exploring and hope you survive.

  19. JKjoker says:

    the problem with farcry2 was that the missions were all the same (kill a camp, kill a person or destroy a car, rinse and repeat)with a long drive between objectives and mission givers made even more annoying by the infuriating, respawning “guard posts”.

    one thing i liked about Prototype was that the world changed as you finish story missions, watching the masses go from walking in the park to run screaming from a zombie apocalypse made the city feel more alive (well, as long as you look at the world from a distance and ignore the crappy AI), i wish i could see these changes in “open worlds” more often, bonus points if the change is slightly random and related to choices and actions performed by the main character (if i destroy a building i want it to stay down!)

  20. Pstonie says:

    As someone who spent years of late nights absorbing GTA3, then Vice City then San Andreas I have to say that I was excited about the new features in GTAIV, but it left me ultimately disappointed. Below these features, such as updated graphics and the wonderful Euphoria engine, it was the same old world full of people and cars that exist to go nowhere.

    It gives you the illusion of a city full of life and stories, then puts a gun in your hand as the only way to interact with this world.

    GTAIV also has a good example of what will be happening to open world games in the future, I think. You can’t put car modding in GTA because then you can’t sell Midnight Club, so you leave it out.

  21. Stilgar says:

    I found the savage empire game to be a compelling world, i remember spending hours as a kid figuring out all the stuff you could play with, there was a wealth of interesting characters, and to my young mind an overwhelming amount of items to carry around (I was a hoarder), many of which had no use, other than to populate the world with realistic flavor.

  22. Moot says:

    Indeed Jim – A second thanks for capturing and expanding on certain nagging feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction I too often experience yet have struggled to identify.

    I know that my approach to both Oblivion and Fallout 3 was one followed by many gamers:
    slowly and deliberately walk in the opposite direction from the main quest-line towards which I am pushed and try to pursue a life befitting of my character…until such time as I eventually run out of side-quests, or am unable to unlock more that the world has to offer without grudgingly spending an hour or two breaking character to appease some particularly persistent NPCs.

    On my first play through Oblivion and it’s add-ons, I must have clocked up nearly 60-70 hours of play before finally catching up with Sean Bean and begrudgingly flailing about in a series of tedious Oblivion gates at his whim.

    I avoided Liam Neeson almost as diligently.

    At least this was something that I could do (to a point) yet I was still – perhaps churlishly – annoyed by the games insistence that I spent time chasing these main quest lines as I had spent a considerable amount of time building and creating characters to whom such things didn’t really matter – I hated my dad for abandoning me and never wanted to see him again. I was happy to let the authorities deal with these irksome Oblivion gates as long as neither interfered with my ability to turn a profit as a master thief and assassin…

    I gave up on FarCry 2 quite early on as I found the game mechanics insurmountably and unforgivably at odds with the beautifully crafted and immersive environment. I am still eagerly awaiting a mod which rectifies this…

    Is it likely that a developer/publisher will have the confidence to ever release a game with such a richly realised open world that they will deliberately omit a specific narrative conclusion to chase if all you want to do is live the life of a member of the Fighters Guild or a mercenary outfit or indeed, become the most powerful Wizard in the world and then use that power to achieve dominion over all it’s inhabitants?

  23. kikito says:

    … ump me on the midst of a strange place, perhaps with with a pyre of smoke on the horizon, and instruct me: “survive”.

    That is what dwarf fortress is about.

  24. Kommissar Nicko says:

    I think that’s one of the biggest obstacles to open-worldliness: guys with guns. I mean, really, Stalker, Far Cry, AND Fallout 3 all had these random guys with guns that REALLY hate you the MOMENT they see you for NO REASON and will pursue you to their deaths. Not only that, but you have to clear them from the bush like roaches in a tenement. Bothersome. At least in Assassin’s Creed, the guards left you alone if you didn’t fuck with them, but then again, the novelty of Assassin’s Creed’s architecture wore off after a while.

    I’d say another thing that makes GTA4 fascinating is the resolution of the city itself: not only is it vast in scope, it is minute in its detail, with a lot of little buildings that you can pop into to shoot the occupants. Most open world games particularly prohibit you from poking around the micro stuff, in favor of jogging you across vast distances.

  25. Kommissar Nicko says:

    @kikito:
    OH NO YOU DIDN’T! I was going to mention Dwarf Fortress, but I didn’t want to be That Guy.

  26. Duckmeister says:

    I also hate not having persistence in open world games.

    I hated in Prototype how you could destroy a military base, or destroy an infection nest, and then you’d come back and they’d be right there like you hadn’t just been there 5 minutes ago. There was no incentive to do anything as it had no impact on anything.

    I was thinking of getting Far Cry 2, only because I’m a sucker for upgrade systems and open worlds and tactical battles with preparation. Now that I see that there’s no persistence, I’m having second thoughts. Now, I can see checkpoints respawning, I’m okay with that, but some things look like they would be infuriating to see filled with enemies even though you just took them all out a second ago.

    I remember seeing one of the first youtube videos of Far Cry 2 being a guy shooting a bush, walking past it, turning around immediately and finding the bush completely restored. Whatever.

  27. Jim Rossignol says:

    That is what dwarf fortress is about.

    No, it’s not, at least not in the same personal-narrative adventure way. Dwarf Fortress is an open world management game, I suppose, but its quite different from what I’m talking about here.

  28. Sam says:

    Outcast is still shockingly playable to this day. Even the ease and “snappiness” of the UI and menu system does things PC games today haven’t nailed down.

    I have to agree with Jim, the way they kept as many elements as they could diegetic (guess what the GamSaav Crystal did) really struck me, even when it was goofy. I tend to appreciate the attempt at that sort of lampshade hanging rather than pretending a strange “game-y” part of the experience doesn’t exist at all.

  29. suibhne says:

    Gothic 3 also deserves some mention as an open-world game, since many of the quests led to you actually changing the face of the gameworld – altering ownership of temples, cities, camps, etc. Never mind all of its bugs – Gothic 3 was one of the better open-world designs that I’ve played, despite its many problems, and I’m hoping that Risen exhibits a similar design direction.

    Great piece, Jim. This may have resonated with me more than anything else I’ve read here about game design, because these are the games that most excite me and I’m happy to see that they push the same buttons in some other folks as well.

  30. Heliocentric says:

    Could someone mod farcry 2 so if you stay in a factions good books only half the spawn soldiers want you dead?

  31. Pace says:

    One of my favorite parts of Civ IV is after several hours of play when you finally research the tech required to build your first ocean-going vessel, and then send him out to discover new continents and civilizations, to see the world. Exciting!

  32. MrMud says:

    Outcast was so ahead of its time.

    I also have to agree 100% with everything you said about FarCry 2, it was just a bizarre experience playing that game.

  33. Smurfy says:

    ALAN WAKE PC IS OFFICIALLY CANCELLED GUYS

    FFFFFFFFFF-

  34. Smurfy says:

    The “entire day in Fuel” link is dead.

  35. Citizen Parker says:

    I can definitely agree that being “the most important person in the universe” in an open-world ruins any suspension of disbelief in the “world.” However, I don’t neccessarily understand what expectations an open-world game creates about how we should behave in it.

    Perhaps we’re not defining open world too well. Is merely the lack of corridors open world? Does that mean that a game with set levels and rigid constraints on behavior like, say, Syndicate is open world? Or does open world mean a game that is specifically designed to let you inhabit someone fully, rather than just those moments of their life when they are shooting people?

    I may be mistaken but the latter seems a more rational approach. If that’s the case, then Far Cry 2 totally fails against that definition. It is a game designed to let you interact with someone solely via the barrel of a gun. As such, I don’t have a problem with guards respawning and civilians staying the heck out of the country, because it isn’t trying to model what it’s like to live in Africa. It’s just trying to model what it’s like to kill people in Africa.

    Would the former be more interesting? Probably, but that would be a different game with different expectations too.

  36. Player2 says:

    This article hits the nail right on the head. I’d been trying to figure out -why- I couldn’t enjoy these games, and then you go and point it out so very eloquently.
    I think the other part of my dislike for most open world games is that the game sets you as some amazing demigod whose prowness in battle is unmatched. Take Red Faction 2 for example. You, a miner who just picked up a gun, can go and rain death down on trained soldiers in armor, taking down swathes of them before you’re finally overwhelmed/ run off into the sunset. And of course, the fact that as soon as you join Red Faction, suddenly the movement shifts from first to fifth gear and goes hauling through the EDF.

    Even in other games, enemies seem like they’re made of papermache whilst your composed of some indestructible foreign space metal. In my opinion, until you are finally geared for taking on your aggressors, you should be afraid of them attacking, running for your life whenever a gunfight starts. You should have to slowly and steadily build your character up while trying desperately to survive in a world which refuses to acknowledge you until you finally pull yourself up to the top of the mountain of life.

  37. Skyfort says:

    As far as being dumped in the middle of a strange world with absolutely no guidance, and limitless possibilities — Asheron’s Call before all the expansions managed this quite well. =) I know an MMORPG is a bit of a different thing because you don’t have NPC’s to worry about. But in terms of feeling utterly lost (in a good way), it was the very best. It has a huge world, and you can probably still find obscure places to hunt that nobody knows about, and if you run into another person there you become best friends just so you can be sure to keep the location a secret. ;)

  38. Sam C. says:

    I think you hit one of the main problems with Far Cry 2 right on the head: the lack of persistence in the game world. There was really no point to clearing out the checkpoints. Supplies were common enough that I never seeked out a checkpoint, since I’d probably use up more resources than I’d gain clearing it out. Since there’s no reason to return, it’s the equivalent of making the player retrace their steps in a linear game – it’s a chore, and even the brilliant, substantial combat didn’t save it from being tedious at times.

    Besides just making it a corridor shooter, they could have saved it by adding a more dynamic mission system – instead of forcing you to go back to the city for missions, have one of the groups call you when you near one of their objectives . They lay out the plan for you right there, and now you have a reason to wander the map. The main points could still be obvious (the marked areas where you got a zoomed in detailed area map, like the airport or slaughterhouse), with hidden side missions to make exploring more worthwhile. This would save the other annoyance – finding awesome villages and combat areas, and seeing that they’re completley empty and pointless.
    Then if they added faction relationships that mattered, checkpoints that you could capture and hand over to friendly factions, neutral civilians going about their daily lives, and maybe even hunting mini-games, and they could have had something truly compelling.
    I would be very curious why the developers didn’t go that route.

  39. OoohShinyGraffix says:

    q[I can definitely agree that being “the most important person in the universe” in an open-world ruins any suspension of disbelief in the “world.” ]q

    The flipside is that having no tangible consequences of your actions (going back to areas where you killed everyone only to see that they’ve respawned and going about their business as if nothing happened) breaks that immersion as well.

  40. OoohShinyGraffix says:

    Damn I used some other forum’s quoting code instead of propah HTML. Blarrrgh.

  41. cyrenic says:

    I’ve always though Shadow of the Colossus had a great “open world” mechanic. The world wasn’t huge, but I really enjoyed exploring the world.

    The guidance mechanic with the sword was also very well done, just a vague direction you should head if you want to continue the story. And there were little rewards for exploring, such as fruit or lizards that would increase your health or stamina if you found them.

    I was a bit disappointed that Team Ico’s next game doesn’t look like it’ll have another big world like in SotC. Oh sorry, I’m yammering on about consoles :P.

  42. Mr Wonderstuff says:

    “staring out of the window of a taxi with a similar reverie to that of visiting a real foreign city.”

    One of the most memorable gaming moments…I don’t have many…but once in a while a game comes along and you just say wow.

  43. moo says:

    I have to say that I had no idea where Megaton was for the first 5-6 hours I spent in Fallout 3, and I ended up gawd-knows-where, and I had a blast scouring the skeletons of houses for loot, or dealing with pesky raiders. The people at Rivet City had their own lives, and I really couldn’t care less about them. I only really started pursuing the quest lines because I wanted, at some point, to finish the game. Barring that, however, I was happy picking up side quests or raiding robot factories.

  44. Jordan says:

    The tangible concept of real progression is what’s absolutely necessary for me in order to make an open-world game interesting. It’s exactly what I loved so much about both STALKER games (and why I can’t wait for Call of Prypiat), and why I loathed Far Cry 2 so much.

    In Far Cry 2, there’s this completely false sense of progression. You’re given the illusion of discovering new areas, only to realize that they look exactly like the old areas. Copy-pastes of the same look with slightly different layouts or pathing. When it opened up to the completely unnecessary second map, that was the last straw.

    Even the weapons you unlock in Far Cry 2 – they do gradually open up the gameplay, allowing you to tackle encounters in various ways, but the problem is that the enemies you’re encountering never change things up at all. The location of the encounters doesn’t change at all either – it’s just the same checkpoints, over and over again. The prison building in the second map was the only truly *different* (and thus memorable) area throughout the entire game. It also doesn’t help that you can easily unlock all the coolest weapons of note in less than half the playtime it takes to actually finish the game.

    In STALKER, on the other hand, the enemies, environments, tactics, and even the atmospheric effects change things constantly throughout the entire game. New types of monsters, more intelligent, more powerful enemies. The underground lairs are some of the most engrossing levels I’ve ever played. Entering The Sarcophagus and the Brain Scorcher were some of the most memorable events I’ve had in gaming. All the way up to the final battles in Pripyat, it just kept progressing. Better weapons and equipment went along with it to keep you from getting bored.

    Ubisoft Montreal’s open-world games – Far Cry 2, Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and more – all exhibit the same problems. They brag about quantity without improving quality. They brag about open-endedness without giving the gamer a reason to care about all that open territory. They lack any sort of tangible progression, and that is hopefully what they address going forward.

  45. ilves says:

    Freedom and exploration is pointless when there is no point to it. Yea its great that I can walk three hundred miles in that direction, but if everything I see on the way is repetitive and similar to the thing I saw a mile ago, what the hell is the point? If I can go through an area, blow it to hell, and come back and have it be there again, what’s the point? Or if everyone respawns again? It gets boring to have to fight EVERYONE. Exploration and freedom has to have some type of reward or point to it… being able to change the game world is good, that way you can actually see your impact, giving you purpose in just being meaningful. If you’re not really meaningful in the game world, you’re just basically playing a real life simulator, which is just boring. Yes, in the main ‘plot’ you’ll have influence, but that’s besides the point.

  46. OoohShinyGraffix says:

    Freedom and exploration is pointless when there is no point to it.

    Not unless you like to LARP in your games.

  47. OoohShinyGraffix says:

    Again with the quoting. Fuuuuuuuu-

  48. Frye says:

    Glad everyone here seems to agree on Far Cry 2′s (obvious) limitations. Makes you wonder why Far Cry 2 got the ratings that it did. There were lots of better fps shooters around back then and i played those instead, so i gave fc2 an hour or two at most. Nice engine though, homemade by UBI Montreal if i remember correctly.

  49. Richard Clayton says:

    Jim, you’re absolutely right about the player testing the boundaries of the world. It’s what children do in real-life and its the first thing most of us do when we’re dropped into a game world. We interact with everything, shoot windows, barrells, fire-extinguishers, trees, lights to see what happens.

    Our expectations are often set pretty high and, in Far Cry 2′s case, the opening sequence does just that.

    It is the gap between expectation and delivery that the developers have to manage. I remember reading at E3 several years ago that after visitors to the Crytek stand had shot trees in half in Crysis they started to compare that to other games “huh, this game sucks: you can’t shoot down trees”.

    Few players are going to expect the phones to work in game and on finding out they don’t most of us will shrug and move on to fiddle with the next item as its not an immersion breaker. Magically respawning, characterless enemies, colour coded signposts etc. repeatedly remind us that this is a game.

    Elegantly managing the gap between expectation and delivery is the key to maintaining immersive gameplay.

  50. reginald says:

    good one jim, I agree with your sentiments. I’m hoping ID’s RAGE, or Gearbox’s BorderLands will provide what fallout didn’t

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