Like the great explorers of the Age of Discovery, we’ve got a natural human need to uncover the unknown—to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes with being the first to find something. This need to solve life’s mysteries and discover new and uncharted realms is a motivating factor in many games, but it’s especially true in open-world epics. Whether trying to save the world or simply survive in the most brutal of conditions, open-world games usually provide the most nonlinear experiences while allowing players to craft experiences specific to each individual—some in more ways than others. So, EGM has decided to look back at some of our favorite open-world games.
The Simpsons: Hit and Run
Released: September 16, 2003 – Xbox, Gamecube, PS2, PC
It’s an endless debate among hardcore Simpsons nerds: When was the last time The Simpsons was actually funny? Well, it might’ve been this 2003 open-world Grand Theft Auto spoof by Prototype developer Radical, which captured some of the zaniness of the show’s earlier years. Homer, Bart, Marge, and the rest of the yellow-hued family took to the streets of Springfield in various vehicles and encountered clever cameos by some obscure fan favorites, such as the Sea Captain, Comic Book Guy, and Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel. But Hit & Run might’ve been funniest when it was taking videogame conventions to task—such as Bart mocking the boring tutorial text present in most modern-day releases. Oh, and for the record, the ironclad answer to that first question? 1997. Don’t even try to argue with me.
Released: February 17, 2010 – Xbox 360
Deadly Premonition was notable for being an attempt by a Japanese studio at a “sandbox” game, a genre typically the playground of Western developers. Even more than that, though, the bizarre creation of designer Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro filled that open world with a fascinating collection of characters, locations, and quirky charm. From the moment we join FBI special agent Francis York Morgan in stepping foot into the small American town of Greenvale, we’re taken on an adventure rich in storytelling and drama—and yet, as enjoyable as that adventure is, taking time off to drive around Greenvale to learn more about the unfolding lives of its citizens is often just as engrossing. Isn’t that right, Zach?
-Eric L. Patterson
Assassin’s Creed II
Released: November 17, 2009 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Continuing the framework story of Desmond Miles, Assassin’s Creed II takes place in Renaissance Italy in the shoes of his ancestor, Ezio Auditore de Firenze. Following Ezio’s rise up the assassin ranks, you’ll continue to uncover the growing global conspiracy behind the Templars while exploring some of the most beautiful architectural structures in the world. And there’s an added bonus for world travelers—I studied in Italy in college, so I found it breathtaking to be able to actually recognize streets and buildings in those hues, as if the cities themselves had somehow been remastered. Mix this attention to detail with the exploratory aspects of looking under every nook and cranny for various artifacts and collectibles—if you’ve got the time, that is—and it’s hard not to want to get 100 percent completion in this Italian epic worthy of the Renaissance masters.
Red Dead Redemption
Released: May 18, 2010 – Xbox 360, PS3
In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m a bit of a grumpy gamer when it comes to the creative rut our industry seems to wallow in, and as a country boy raised on the likes of John Wayne and Roy Rogers, I’ve often wondered why we could beat military and fantasy themes to a bloody pulp, but no one wanted to craft a proper Western. That is, until Rockstar San Diego stepped up and decided to unleash Read Dead Redemption on the masses, forever solidifying the idea that we could branch out into other themes without our collective heads exploding. Westerns may not be your thing, but there’s no denying that John Marston’s quest for justice blazed an enticing new trail for open-world adventuring, and I can’t help but hope his story’s success will spawn a series of similar endeavors.
Released: October 28, 2008 – Xbox 360, PS3, PC
My affection for open-world gaming exists somewhere between “don’t care” and “still waiting to care.” There’s that rare offering that’s kind of interesting, but the GTAs of the world continue to leave me disconnected. And then there’s Fallout 3—a magnificent game that just nails so many beats I don’t feel in all the other examples of the genre. It’s a powerful adventure. It creates a lived-in world I want to touch in every corner. The most mundane treasures are somehow priceless. The characters matter, and my choices seem to tell a story I can’t stop caring about. I was lost to its fantasy, and that’s the greatest compliment I can give any form of storytelling.