Freedom can become overwhelming. Who should I talk to first? What clothes should I wear? What should I have for breakfast? What game should I play today? All very much first-world problems of course, but problems all the same. Too much choice can lead to doubt, confusion and misery, with a diary becoming so full that you no longer have time for the special moments that make life truly worth living.

Video games inherit the same problem. We are witnessing an enormous ascendency in the open-world genre, almost to the point of saturation. Even a well-loved series like Metal Gear Solid has followed suit with their latest outing, for better or for worse. Don’t get me wrong, open world games can be outstanding (MGS V being a prime example, for most) and some of the greatest stories ever told in our medium have come from giving the player the freedom to do as they please. However sometimes the best option is to go down the one-way street, direct the player down a road with less diversions and maximise the impact of your story-telling in a more focussed manner.

What follows are not bad games at all, but what we believe would have made a much stronger impression had they relied more on a streamlined approach as opposed to the open world we navigated instead.


Watch Dogs


What we played:

Set in a highly-detailed version of 2013 Chicago, Aiden Pearce is a master hacker, using his incredibly manipulative smartphone to delve in to and utilise an array of personal and valuable assets from literally anyone on the street. In what is essentially a revenge story, Aiden must hack (and shoot, if preferred) his way through the alleys and hideouts of the city’s most dangerous criminals to protect the ones he loves.

There is plenty to do in Watch Dogs, with navigation through Chicago achieved mainly through driving a number of (probably hacked) cars. Despite the intriguing trailer long-before the eventual release, Watch Dogs didn’t really live up to it’s incredible hype. On the back of Assassin’s Creed’s success every year, Watch Dogs seemed like a positive step in a new direction. However, after many hours in Aiden’s world the growing sense of repetition that plagued the first Assassin’s Creed reared its ugly head, with the frankly awful driving mechanics the main force behind this.

What we should have played:

A more focussed approach to Watch Dogs would have maximised the main selling-point of the game, namely the hacking. Reducing the driving sections dramatically, ideally to none at all would have saved a lot of the grievances from players post-launch, and condensing the game to a 10-20 hour adventure would have allowed greater set pieces and more detailed environments for Aiden to work his technological wizardry.

There were some very clever sections in Watch Dogs where the player would clear out a section of enemies using his hacking tools by immobilising weapons, or even turn them against their creators, and expanding these missions to allow mastery of a whole street or hideout would have been very interesting and rewarding. Despite it’s relative failure, ‘Remember Me’, the futuristic 3rd-person platformer from Capcom brought a level design Ubisoft could have capitalised on, with Aiden’s limited parkour abilities having the potential for expansion. A sequel could then perhaps be expanded to create a more open world, but the clamour for Watch Dogs 2 isn’t really on anyone’s radar.


L.A. Noire


What we played:

A game relying heavily on it’s innovative facial motion capturing abilities, set in 1940’s Los Angeles and following the life of Cole Phelps, a rising star in the LAPD. Despite his primary role of Detective, Phelps is often caught up in gunfights, chases and general fisticuffs with elusive criminals and their allies. Rockstar and Team Bondi decided to apply their well-versed and highly polished formula of open world gameplay to move from objective to increasingly convoluted objective.

The game sold well, primarily because of the brilliant ‘MotionScan’ physics used to decide whether the characters being interrogated (or sometimes just chatted to) were downright lying, surprisingly truthful or somewhere in between. A lot of time was spent getting from A to B though, with the Grand Theft Auto influence hovering over the player unnecessarily for a game that should have been great in its own right.

What we should have played:

A game centering on the detective side of Phelps, trying to solve crimes by covering every nuance of the scene and unraveling the lies that had been weaved. The open world seemed to add unnecessary hours to a game that should be focused on the player’s detective skills, as opposed to his or her driving abilities that had been so finely tuned from Rockstar’s most popular franchise.

The gunfights would still be plausible and add the variety to the gameplay, but offering more time to the missions and expanding them out to more than looking around a room and asking a few questions would give the player a completely different experience. ‘GTA with interviews’ is what the game unfairly became known for, whereas L.A. Noire’s true potential was never fully unlocked.


Final Fantasy XIII


What we played:

Created within the highly controversial Fabula Nova Crystallis World of Final Fantasy, the 13th flagship outing was met with a lot of uproar amongst the passionate fans of Japan’s most-recognisable RPG. The game was in fact much more linear for the first two thirds of the game than any other outing before it, even the earliest games of the late 80’s, before extending out into a more open world when reaching the Archylte Steppe.

At this point the player may have become disillusioned and almost overwhelmed with a game that felt like it had forced this freedom on the player to ensure it was a ‘true’ Final Fantasy production. Square Enix would have been better suited to an all or nothing approach, considering the huge step away from the norm they’d already created with the world and characters.

What we should have played:

A fully-linear experience. Without the expansive latter sections, Square Enix would have focussed more on (arguably) the game’s biggest downfall in the combat. The idea was sound, and Final Fantasy as a series has never been one to replicate the combat system from game to game, but once the player had become accustomed to how fighting could be mastered, simply pressing one button to confirm was all that was needed (along with the occasional ‘Paradigm Shift’). They clearly wanted a much more linear experience for XIII, so by perhaps expanding the individual sections, such as the towns and NPC’s within, the lack of open world would have been compensated with more rewarding combat and a richer, tighter experience.




What we played:

An open world destroy-a-thon as anti-hero Alex Mercer. Possessed with powers he did not want, Mercer can shapeshift to take the form of anyone he meets, or to mould his limbs into massive weapons of near-unlimited strength. Set in Manhattan, a disease has spread throughout New York City that causes mutation of humans into demon-like beings, yet Mercer is seen by two groups of Special Forces Units as the biggest threat, and must be contained.

Alex, however, has his own quest to discover the truth about the virus in whatever way possible, leading to havoc being wreaked wherever he strays. The open world is basically Mercer’s playground, which becomes tedious after blowing up the 100th tank, and the promising story dissolves into a tangled, unrelatable mess.

What we should have played:

A hack-and-slash with inspiration from God of War. Allowing for upgrades and progression through Mercer’s weapon-like limbs, crashing through enemy after enemy would have served a much more believable purpose. Perhaps even portraying Mercer as the bad guy, which he could easily have been, would make the action more enjoyable and rewarding, with combo builds and puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. The open world we see isn’t exactly filled with many things to do, as Mercer is hardly the type to help out a damsel in distress or a burning building, so condensing his actions into a platforming adventure makes much more gaming sense.


Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody's Gone To The Rapture Screen2

What we played:

The last game on this list is also the most recent, and possibly the most controversial entry. Rapture is set in the fictional village of Yaughton in the heart of the English countryside, where an unnamed, unknown protagonist wanders the deserted streets in search for the answers to the occupants’ sudden disappearance.

The game has split opinion all over the World, with many finding this particular ‘walking simulator’ a lovely, gentle and thought-provoking stroll through the quaint little settlement; while others find it a boring and downright painful crawl through an unrewarding world. Walking is almost too realistic, with the default motion slower than how the average person would actually walk in real-life between buildings that, from personal experience, are too far away from each other (‘running’ in the game is no more than a brisk walk).

What we should have played:

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a unique game. It is hard to criticise such a brave effort from The Chinese Room for creating an experience unlike anything else you would have played (regarding you haven’t played their previous outings). However, despite the outstanding music and subtle story-telling techniques, the game can become a chore, especially to players used to the fast-paced worlds we have become accustomed to. At first we are intrigued, but by the fourth or fifth chapter we just want the game to be over, and the reason is the amount there is to actually search, combined with the speed in which you can do it.

The game may have been better served as a point-and-click adventure, with some sort of puzzle-solving and actual objectives to complete. The ambiguity of the story could remain, but to unlock the interactions we witness in Yaughton could require some work from the player further than just walking up to it and tilting the controller. The open world can easily bore the player, so streamlining into specific sections, such as the town hall or the chapel, would break the game up into more manageable chunks, as well as keeping the player entertained.

Everybody has opinions. These are ours, so let us know yours in the comments below, or on facebook and twitter.

Rhys Cooper

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  1. Witcher 3 also should have been a linear game. But great list.

    1. Witcher’s3 Open World “strength” – namely non-levelled areas was also its weakness. I found I was stuck in 2 scenarios – under levelled and getting one shot killed or over-levelled and killing things with no major challenge – there was no real sweet spot.

    2. But…’s SOOO pretty! I have to disagree with you here on that one, CD Projekt RED did a fantastic job of making the world feel adventurous and adequately spaced stuff out so you’re finding something “new” every few minutes.

    3. Are you serious?

  2. Most open world games devolve into the same old “collect 100 items” or “travel from point A to the other-side of the map”. It defocuses the player on the reason behind the game. Clear/focused game design can easily make a linear game feel more free than it is – take Dishonoured, Bioshock and Deus Ex.
    Having just played Dying Light as well Open World games can work very well even when core mechanics are not quite as smooth as you want them as long as the world is interestingly populated.

    1. Dishonored and Deus ex are less clear focused games and more of the game telling you to just figure it out yourself
      ,but i get your point

  3. I’m at the point now where I reconsider buying any games that are open world because they are deliberately bloated beyond reason to make the games seem more interesting than they actually are. Not to mention, open world games are designed to be larger than the current gen consoles are able to properly run causing low framerates, lower resolutions, texture pop ins and other jarring visual anomalies that remove me from the experience. For me, any open world game must be on PC to eliminate those things because consoles cannot properly contain today’s new breed of open world games. I prefer console gaming for the convenience but damn, GTA V on PS4 looks like ass compared to the PC version.

  4. I would put Dragon Age: Inquisition firmly at the top of this list.

    1. Open world is great and immersive, but only if you can fill all that space with meaningful stories and content. DA:I was so boring so much of the time. The endless mmo style side quests still haunt me..

      1. Yeah, that reminds me of L.A. Noire, lots of interesting characters and fun crime solving, but too light on gameplay for my tastes. If Rockstar makes a sequel it needs more gunfights, melee combat and car chases.

        1. I thought LA Noire was like a large scale tech demo. I found the gun fights, melee and car chases incredibly tedious.
          The detective aspects were ok if simplistic (walk around till you hear the chime) and the interrogation scenes confusing…

          1. So what would L.A. Noire be like if you were developing the game? Curious as to what ideas would make it your ideal game.

          2. Better combat – there are plenty of good 3rd Person shooting games.
            Better driving – it felt like a bad GTA game. TBH Mafia had the same problem so it might be they were trying to capture the cars of the age. However vehicles you can’t control at high speeds aren’t fun just frustrating when you crash for the 50th time….

            Real consequences to your investigations in world – I never felt that it really mattered if I caught the real criminal or not.

            However like I said – it felt like a tech demo somebody decided to create a game out of.

            Day 1 DLC as well . the ba5tards….

      2. DA:I was ok but its very tedious walking in circles to collect herbs for potions – your supposed to have a giant army lol. I thought the Witcher style of creating a potion once and its there was much better

    2. DA:I has alot of flaws and the too much open world-open world is one of them.
      Ok im going to get punched for this, but am i crazy for liking DA2 combat better? I mean i obviously think the series should go back to DA1 in general, but with DA2 it just felt better.
      Maybe its the fact that im playing on a last gen, but the combat feels very… bad. It just doesnt feel good

  5. To the editor Mr. Cooper, you’re missing a plot point here. Mercer was the bad guy in Prototype 2 and I don’t see how he could return in a tentative Prototype 3 either. I personally a Watch Dogs sequel has open world potential, the gameplay just needs a serious overhaul that’s all. Lastly about L.A. Noire, how can going to different parts of a city to solve crimes not be interesting, I liked the detective parts and crime solving in L.A. Noire. My beef with L.A. Noire was that it was too light on the action, more gunfights and chase scenes would be a step in the right direction. Another Rockstar idea could be a game where you play as a 50’s gangster and have the storyline centered around a crime family. It could be like the Godfather game that came out for the PS2 and XBOX or similar to Mafia 2 with much more to do. With the exception of Max Payne 3, I have to feel that linear games go against Rockstar’s grain too.

    1. In regards to Prototype, my issue isn’t so much with the story but with the gameplay. I reckon a more streamlined ‘hack-n-slash’ style would have provided a more enjoyable experience with the abilities made available. Much in the same way Devil May Cry or Bayonetta plays, and by doing this the story and possibly setting may have changed as well. I looked at the first Prototype as its own game, as I realise Mercer became the enemy but this could have possibly been made more apparent in the original.
      For L.A. Noire, the game became more of a GTA clone the longer it went on, hence the reason for its inclusion. I enjoyed the game for the most part, but adding more action and car chases etc would have taken away from the nucleus of the game, which was the investigating side.
      Still, gaming is all about opinions which is why discussions like this take place :)

  6. I have to agree with the author on all points. Especially LA Noire.

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