Posted by: bearskopff | June 27, 2008

Life in a sandbox.

Don\'t take it literallyBefore MGS4 came out, I was constantly playing GTAIV, driving around a wide open city, doing as I pleased – when I pleased, trying to find the quickest route from A to B and keeping an eye out for little secrets and easter eggs. The story was one of the best for it’s genre as was everything else (although, overall content didn’t compare to that of GTA: San Andreas). I was trying to think why the GTA series was so thoroughly addicting. Speaking for myself, I never finshed the story in previous GTA games apart from Vice City, so I put “Story” down on my list of achievements. Character development was nigh on perfect. If you forget the multiple-ending-syndrome (which is all to familiar in games now) which gave you one pointless decision to make and one that was actually worth it, then “Character Development” goes on my list aswell. I then started looking at the setting, the “living”, “breathing” urban jungle that is Liberty City.

It’s here where I scrapped my list for GTA’s achievements and realised that what GTA was most famed for – it’s city, was now apparent in many modern and up-coming games. It seems you can’t walk two paces in the games industry without hearing the word “sandbox”. Just a quick look on future releases we see Legendary, inFamous, Spiderman: Web of Shadows, Mercenaries: World in Flames, Far Cry 2, Saints Row 2, Prince of Persia, the list goes on….and on.

I’ll be honest. I’m quite partial to having freedom in games, ecspecially when the location makes good use of your abilities and imagination but it seems that developers are overlooking this fact. I was going to point you towards the recent Spiderman game but seeing that is a movie licensed game, well – the less said the better so let’s have a peak at Viking: Battle for Asgard, instead. Personally, I don’t think it was that bad a game. Overall, everything was executed pretty nicely. The only place I felt it had fallen was the environment. The lands were vast in size but had nothing for the player to interact with. Travel was slow and cumbersome and after a while it just got a bit, tiring. There were a total of three large areas to do as you please, but doing as you pleased got pretty boring because there wasn’t anything to actually do.

Let’s go back even further now and take a look at the True Crime series. Both cities in TC: Streets of L.A. and TC: New York City were absolutely massive. It could take you ages to get from one side to the other which for a PS2 release (and compared to GTAIII’s relatively small city) was a triumph. Yet, although you had all this space to do as you pleased, it managed to get boring. The cities had numerous glitches and looking at pure detail, paled in comparrison to the “life” found in GTA. There’s a stack of games that follow the same ingredients as Viking and True Crime and none of them have come close to GTA.

Maybe, just like how currently everything is an FPS (First Person Shooter), the future could be mainly sandbox/free roaming titles. While it was once a new and interesting thing, I can’t help but feel that the idea is soon going to become stale. What are your thoughts?

Feel free to vote on the topic here.



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