This article was originally written for "The Other Castle". For more blogs, videos and comics go to www.theothercastle.net
I can count the number of open world games I have actually finished on one hand. No, I take that back! I can count the number of open world games I have finished using my balls! Three!
This number troubles me, it troubles my wallet and it troubles the little guy inside me who acts like a kid on christmas whenever Rockstar announces a new Grand Theft Auto. There is a huge problem with that last sentence - I have never finished a GTA game. I have a couple of friends who would follow that company off the edge of a cliff. Personally, I would probably stop and the edge, look down, and if everyone is all right, I'll jump. We would probably end up just fine, I just want to play it safe.
I have always thought my problem with open world games goes hand in hand with an old saying: "When presented with everything, I tend to do nothing". To be honest, I have no idea who said it. Not even sure if thats the actual quote. But it always stuck with me, and I have used it as an excuse to never finish open world games even since.
I love driving around in a living, thriving city, watching the pedestrians flee while my car mounts the nearest sidewalk. I love opening fire in a park just to see how many cops i can attract. Unfortunately, this joy is short lived and gets boring fast.
But something happened in my relationship with open world games. It did not strike down as lightning, it came in waves. The first wave came in the form of a little game called "Saints Row 2". No, I am NOT going to start debating about the seriousness of GTA4 versus the wierdness that is Saints Row 2. What struck me was something else.
If you have never played Saints Row 2, I'll break it down for you. You break out of jail, your gang that used to rule the city is split up and it's your mission to reclaim what is yours. That is all you need to know. You do this my doing missions involving spraying poop, blowing shit up, killing, and pimp-slapping bitches. More or less anyway.
What caught my eye in this game was actually the world map. When bringing up the map of the city, you can clearly see what areas your gang had reclaimed and in what areas other gangs still ruled. Your area was coloured purple, other areas were coloured in another gans colour. Simple and organized.
The game let me see a visual represantation of my progress, not just with numers and charts - percentages doesn't tell me anything. Oh, I have finished 46% of all the missions in the game? How many purple square meters is that?
As previously stated, it came in waves. I just I liked the idea of a visual aspect of progress, Saints Row 2 as a game did not appeal to me as much. The missions were boring and running around just fucking shit up got boring fast. I never finished Saints Row 2.
Just like real waves, the next one was not far away. Red Faction: Guerilla took you to Mars and let you fight an evil corporation - Guerilla Style! Finally, blowing everything up was rewarded. Want to blow up and enemy base? Fuck yes! Want to blow up and enemy bridge? God Yes! Wanna blow up and enemy tank? I... guess, look, can I do something other than blowing shit up? Sure, but then you have to do main story missions. Fine. *cutscene*.
Guerilla was fun and all, but the things you could do while not on a mission did not stretch much further than "fuck shit up". Another game that did this but cranked it up to eleven was Just Cause 2. The problem with that game was exactly the same, you got rewarded for fucking shit up, but the ways in which you could do this always involved running, shooting and throwing grenades. I never finished Red Faction Guerilla or Just Cause 2.
The third, and most recent wave hit me in the face like something hitting me in the face. The game? The Saboteur. I know a lot of people did not like this game, and I know it is not the best open world game ever - just hear me out.
The story is not that important in this context, let's just say that it was entertaining enough. All you need to know is that Paris is under Nazi control and you have to take it back. One dead nazi at a time.
The first thing Saboteur did right was using the map system previously mentioned in this article. But not only was this system on the world map, it was also in the game. Wherever the nazi occupation was still strong and the people still scared, your environments were presented in black and white. Places where the resistance grew stronger, the environmets were bathing in beautiful colours and bare breasts. Well, the breasts are actually in black and white too, I just really wanted to mention that this game contains more than a handull of tah-tah's.
ANYWAY. The great thing about this game was the environments. Beautiful and cluttered with things to see it screamed out "EXPLORE ME, EXPLORE ME!". But if there is one thing I hate more than nazis, it's more nazis. While taking a relaxing stroll by a country road just outside Paris, a Nazi fueling station stood as a reminder of the hostile takover of the motherland. I Couldn't just let it be, reminding us that we are anything else but free.
I got as close as I could without being seen and snapped the neck of an unsuspecting guard. Disguised as a nazi guard I could now enter the closed off station, sneak in Behind the fuel tank and plant a bomb. Noone knew it was me, I was long gone before the bomb went off. "1/14 Fueling Stations Sabotaged".
Noone told me to do it. Noone told me how to do it. I just did. I later found out that you could buy maps that told you the locations of these so-called "freeplay targets". These targets ranged from blowing up guard towers and killing nazi generals to pulling off jumps with a car or motorcycle, and everything in between. Sometimes all you had to do was finding and artifact or a care-package that was not really ment for you. I spent more than five hours in a row not accepting a single mission. But I still made progress. I whiped the countryside clean of nazi scum.
There are games out there I spend less than five hours playing in total. The reason I am writing this, and not playing The Saboteur is simple. I don't feel like taking orders. To progress through the game you still have to jump through the hoops the story tells you to jump through. I just want to fuck things up. But to make real progress, to make everything colorful I have to do the missions the game decides I can do. Don't get me wrong, the missions in Saboteur are actually really fun and varied, but I had more fun climbing buildings and infiltrating nazi bases alone than with a storyteller looking over my shoulder.
I feel I might struggle to make a point, but what the hell, I'll give it a shot.
Videogame creators should dare to skip the story in open world games. Just have a wide goal. "Take back Paris" could be one. How? That's up to you! Feel like running in guns blazing and kick hitler in the teeth - DO IT! Want to infiltrate bases, gather intel and get out before noone knew you were even there? GO FOR IT! Noone should tell you which nazi to kill how and in which order. That is up to you.
What is the story in Just Cause 2? No one gives a shit, because you could grapple yourself on to a fucking jetplane. Now put a nazi general with a bullseye painted on his forhead in that plane and you've got a game.
What open world games HAVE I finished? Bully and Red dead redemption. A normal human being only have two balls. If you have more than that, you should go see a doctor.