I enjoy action movies (starring actors such as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Bruce Willis), writing, and video games.
Many video games funnel you right to the next objective and leave little in the way of choice when it comes to accomplishing your task. The video games on this list take that idea and run the opposite direction with it. These "open-world games" or "sandbox games" give you the freedom to do what you want. The environments they put you in usually range from big to huge and often give you a wide range of vehicles to get from point A to point B. There are a couple of parameters that determine whether a game can qualify to make this list.
The first is that a game must be as fun, if not more so when goofing off in the world, as it is when accomplishing objectives. The second is I must have played the game. That's why as good as I'm sure the Grand Theft Auto games are, I've never played them, so I can't comment on them. Now, like a sandbox game that has too many side missions, I've gone on too long, so here is my list of the best open-world video games.
7. Mafia 2
The original Mafia, a game for PC that was later ported to PS2 and Xbox, was a great game. Mafia 2, on the other hand, takes what was good and improves every aspect. The controls, the melee system, the driving—it's all better. When the demo came out, I played it over and over getting the police to chase after me and seeing if I could survive the entire time. It's incredibly satisfying to have a shootout against five police officers in a '50s diner while "No Particular Place to Go" by Chuck Berry plays in the background.
While the acting and story that spins a tale of happenings in the mafia, but as detailed as the story is, the city is just as, if not more so. Taking place over two time periods, the '40s and the '50s, the city takes on the personality of the respective time period. Complaints have been levied that the open world isn't as open or compelling as other open worlds, but that is where I disagree. Sure, it may not be packed with side missions or things to do, but in this case, its quality of quantity. The detail and feel of the city and surrounding suburbs lend the shootouts an extra punch. It makes you feel like you really are having a shootout in the time period that its taking place, and all your actions feel real. This is an experience that is far better than having hundreds of side missions.
This is the only game that I got through Gamefly and then ended up buying later on. There's a reason for that. While the environment is not the most compelling of all game worlds, it's the gameplay, particularly the leveling up system, that puts this game on the list. In a lot of games, you level up your character, but most of the time, the changes are inconsequential, offering only slight boosts to how the game is played. This is not true for Crackdown.
When you level up, the city becomes your playground. You're able to easily scale skyscrapers that were previously inaccessible, blow up a whole city block worth of people with a single grenade, and generally experience what it's like to be a gun-toting superhero. The city is split into three regions controlled by different mafia in each. Your goal in each region is to take down key players in every operation so that you can neuter the mafias assets, before taking down the head boss.
In many sandbox games, there's a split between the open-world gameplay and the linear driven story missions, but Crackdown 2 ditches all forms of linear progression and has everything you do exist in a seamless open world. My largest complaint with the game, though, is that the free shooting is sloppy, and the lock-on targeting isn't that fun, leaving a shooting experience with much to be desired.
5. Midnight Club: Los Angeles
With other games on this list, It's noteworthy for how many things you can do in the environments you're given. In Midnight Club: Los Angeles, it gets down to how fun it is to do one thing in such a great environment. In a realistically rendered version of Los Angeles in which most of the major landmarks are represented, you're given the task to race in a series of underground, illegal street races to rise to the top and earn as much money as possible. However, like the stipulation for the list states, that a game has to be just as fun when not taking on story missions, this applies here as well.
I progressed only so far in the campaign before I found the real joy in tearing across the city and weaving in and out of traffic. The graphics are some of the best on the PS3 and 360 even today. Everything from the real-time lighting effects to the well-detailed cars looks gorgeous. In a game that tries to immerse you in its world, this is key. The cars also handle very well, making this game as easy to get into, as it is to sink countless hours wandering LA.
One really cool feature is the working traffic system. Non-playable cars all act realistically, and the whole city has working traffic lights and rules of the road, which gives an extra layer of realism to an already fantastic game.
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4. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record
While the previous Dead Rising games are fantastic and definitely worthy of your time, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record is notable for being the first in the franchise to actually offer a sandbox mode. All the other games are on a timer, which restricts the joy and length of time you can spend messing around the mall or casino killing zombies. Also, the other games are not truly open world in the sense that you're always tied to the story mission. Even when you're not directly playing a mission, you're just waiting as part of the overarching storyline.
Off the Record, however, takes the incredibly fun concept that almost everything found in the environment can be used as a weapon and throws it in a truly open-world setting called sandbox mode. Here Frank West, who finally returns to the series, acts as a one-man army against the army of the undead. Here you can level up at your own leisure by creating combo weapons (two weapons jerry-rigged together) or doing environmental experience point activities. Where you will not gain PP, or experience points, this time around is assisting survivors because now they are armed and want to kill you.
The best part is any progress you make in sandbox mode can be transferred over to the main storyline and vice versa. Add in downloadable cheat codes that give you invincibility, infinite weapon durability, super speed, and much more, and you've got a recipe for one of the most fun open-world experiences out there. Sure, it's basically Dead Rising 2 with a new coat of paint, but that doesn't take away from how much Sandbox mode adds to a winning formula.
Skate 1 or 3 can make this list, but not Skate 2. The reason Skate 2 doesn't qualify is that the developers put restrictions on your world, which means you can't fully enjoy the open world until you've progressed through the story, and, as I said, the game has to be just as fun goofing around without the story to qualify. While I spent much more time with the original Skate than I did Skate 3, both are fantastic in their own right.
While the Skate games have objectives to complete like doing a perfect line or scoring enough points, you'll likely find yourself simply cruising the city and doing tricks on whatever you come across. And you will come across plenty in each city. Nearly every object in the game can be used in some way to perform a trick, whether it's grinding a ledge or ramping off a make-shift kicker ramp. The third game takes it a step further by allowing you to drop any number of objects into the game world, allowing you to craft your ultimate run.
Besides the street skating, in every Skate game, there are a number of skate parks scattered around, which creates the ultimate skaters' paradise. I used to skateboard a lot when I was younger, and no other game has captured the freedom of skateboarding quite like Skate 1 and 3.
2. Just Cause 2
If I were to make a list of the best graphics in modern games, Just Cause 2 would still rank really high on the list. This list, however, is about the best sandbox games, and this game really makes you feel like a kid in a sandbox... assuming that sandbox involves explosions, skydiving, and grappling hooks. This game boasts one of, if not the largest open-world environments to date.
How you traverse the landscape is up to you. You could run and swim across the several islands, use your grappling hook and parachute together, or take a speed boat or airplane. Anything you take will treat you to some of the best graphics on current systems. The island is gorgeous, and skydiving down will give you a seemingly infinite draw distance with next to no pop in—an outrageous feat for such a big game. There are a lot of missions as well that cater to the game's strengths.
Often the best way to accomplish a goal is to make use of the air and destruction. I've tried to beat this game twice, and both times, I've ended up getting lost in the Island and never progressing. That isn't because the game is poorly designed, but rather because the island is so huge, and exploring is so fun that it's hard to choose linear progression over sandbox gameplay, making this an absolute must in the open-world genre.
1. Red Dead Redemption
The number 1 game on this list is truly one of its kind. First of all, because no other western game is as true to the genre of Westerns as this game, and also because the production values and gameplay is second to none. You play as John Marston, who is not as neutral or hard-nailed as I would have liked to play as given he's an outlaw in a Wild West setting, that has set out to win his family back from government agents. What separates you from your family is miles of Texas wilderness and settlements.
In these settlements are various things you can do, such as playing (or cheating) at poker, playing liar's dice, or selling and buying weapons and goods. The ability to hunt for animals, take on side quests, or have shootouts in bars and towns, makes the freedom in this game unmatched. The absolutely best functioning aspect of this game is the character animations when they die. Their deaths seemed to be pulled straight out of a movie and make every kill satisfying. You also have a bullet time mechanic called Dead Eye, which slows down time and makes chaotic gunfights more manageable. All in all, if you could only play one sandbox game, make this the one.
There you have it—the top seven open-world games. Were there any games you think should have been on this list? Tell me in the comments below.
arpit indian on January 03, 2017:
all games are good but mafia is great
nomnom on December 02, 2013:
Wtf? What happened to GTA 5
RaineNelson on July 19, 2013:
WTF???? what about Skyrim?? or Borderlands 2???? wow...really??
j. smith on December 07, 2012:
minecraft... infinite open world
Mark from Pennsylvania on December 01, 2012:
No GTA 3 or Vice City!! ?? lol used to love those games
ibnu on April 19, 2012:
I really like just cause,it's a huge open world with perpect gameplay and graphic,I really wanted to see the next sequel of the game
nnjm on April 01, 2012: