“This is Snake..” the first line voiced by David Hayter in what was arguably gaming at its peak back in 1998. The player would experience the fast paced, exciting but clostraphobic game that defined the stealth genre. Fast forward to today and I have the fifth console installment of the franchise, Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain and after completing the gruelling monologue, I am introduced to the open world, literally, as the latest instalment is an open world game. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but with more and more open world games being released and some which were once linear games transforming into open world, I can’t help but wonder if the market is becoming too bloated.
I’ve seen countless interviews from game developers informing the viewer with delight that this new game would be the biggest open world game they have seen, with almost a tip of the hat to other developers that doing this was the future of gaming. Now whilst playing through The Phantom Pain I find one of many patterns emerging – calling in that helicopter, waiting 2-4 minutes for it to arrive, get back to Motherbase, then getting back on the helicopter, loading another mandatory, and eerily similar side mission, waiting through loading times and then being dropped back into the gameplay – this process eventually takes me out of the gameplay, which inevitably made me lose interest in the entire game after a while. I’m not saying all open world games are terrible, or boring – but is the line becoming blurred between quality and quantity? Are games wasting our time? Yes its cool that you can play tennis and do yoga in Grand Theft Auto V and you can throw horseshoes at posts in Red Dead Redemption and yes, I may be nitpicking, but I also remember crusing around the city in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City blasting V-Rock through the radio, never feeling bored, lost or overwhelmed.
Does creating an open world game always work? Nope. Do you remember Mafia 2, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag or Watchdogs? Hell, even Need For Speed jumped on the bandwagon with Need For Speed Most Wanted. It’s not all negativity though, I’ve recently finished playing The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, which again had massively expanded from its predecessor, I would consider this open world game absolutely brilliant. I sat there for 2-3 weeks and happily invested 200+ hours into the game, and this is okay – if you have the time. This is another issue with modern open world games, they are almost an investment – you really need to dedicate your time to them.
Now I am not a fan of games with 4-6 hour campaigns either. I also would have thrown Star Wars Battlefront out of the window but it was digitally downloaded on my PS4. But is creating an open world game always the answer for innovation?
Most of us have played open world games, and understand, by definition, know that they will be large. But the majority of them fail to offer a compelling sense of direction coupled with good story telling. “But look at all the side quests and optional things you can do in Skyrim!” My friends would tell me, then later on I would find my very own character lost in some cave for which my character level was too low for, looting crates and dead bodies in the hope for extra currency and/or XP, only to find junk I already have by the saddlebag load of hiding in my inventory. Side quests, if done well can be a brilliant addition to main quests, but most feel like the player is going through the motions, waiting to dig into the main course. More often than not I would embark on a side quest happily due to the XP on offer, I would bring up my map and sigh as the location was a good 10 minute treck on horseback – yes I know fast travel is available, so there are two decisions – you can chose between a loading screen or a long run through the games landscape.
I am (as you probably can tell) playing through Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain again – and I find myself asking the same questions. I adore being immersed in a story and gameplay, maybe I’m becoming bitter as I simply do not have the time I would like to play the modern day open world games…..maybe I’ll go back to playing The Last Of Us for the 50th time this year.