Top 7 Open World Games

Updated on March 14, 2012

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.

Number 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, lends 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.

Number 6. Crackdown

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 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 its 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.

Number 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 look gorgeous. In a game that tries and 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.

Number 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 of 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 a 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 its basically Dead Rising 2 with a new coat of paint, but that doesn't take away from how much Sandbox mode add to a winning formula.

Number 3. Skate

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 progress through the story and like 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 its 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.

Number 2. Just Cause 2

If I were to make a list on 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 environment 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 games 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 its hard to choose linear progression over sandbox gameplay making this an absolute must in the open world genre.

Number 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 liars 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 makes 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 7 open world games. Were there any games you think should have been on this list? Tell me in the comments below.

which is your favorite game on this list?

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    • profile image

      arpit indian 12 months ago

      all games are good but mafia is great

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      nomnom 4 years ago

      Wtf? What happened to GTA 5

    • profile image

      RaineNelson 4 years ago

      WTF???? what about Skyrim?? or Borderlands 2???? wow...really??

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      j. smith 5 years ago

      minecraft... infinite open world

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      Mark 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      No GTA 3 or Vice City!! ?? lol used to love those games

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      ibnu 5 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      nnjm 5 years ago


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