Also known as “Why I Hate a Genre Most People Love.”
When I discussed Fatal Frame V the other week, I pointed out my lack of nervousness about the game being described as “open.” During E3, I mentioned I was excited for Dragon Age: Inquisition even though it’s open world. Later on, I expressed my uncertainty about an “open” Zelda game. I’m not sure I ever explained it beyond, “I don’t like open world!” though.
It might be my least popular gaming opinion, and I’m a person who liked Amy, enjoyed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and disliked the Half-Life series. I’m not a big fan of Ace Attorney’s Godot, either.
But anyway, this has nothing to do with vehicle-based sequels to platformers or coffee-drinking prosecutors.
Open world games are so popular, I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who cringes when an upcoming game is revealed to be such. Everyone else is going, “Yeah, open world!” Worse yet, there are some people who think every game in the future should be open world, like linear and semi-linear games are outdated and should be eliminated. Or at least, every action game, every RPG…
I hope that isn’t the future of games.
Now, sometimes you’ll hear me complain about linearity in games. It often comes up in reference to Final Fantasy XIII or the newer Resident Evil games. However, I don’t want them to be completely open instead. I like semi-linearity–games where I have choices, but also boundaries. In fact, I often completely explore everything I can access before proceeding with the plot. Open world games aren’t built with that sort of gameplay in mind.
In contrast, let’s take a look at one of my favorite genres: survival horror. When I discuss the definition of survival horror, I tend to babble about unlocking things. You gotta unlock things! Backtrack and unlock things! Solve puzzles and unlock more things!
People who choose not to babble have dubbed this Recursive Unlocking, a design where “the player travels through the map in a very non-linear fashion, moving back and forth between rooms as items are collected and puzzles are solved, and eventually passing into areas with entirely new rooms. The map opens itself up like a spiral shell.”
When you enter an area, you’ll only be able to access some of the rooms. These rooms will give you the tools you need to access new rooms. By the end of the game, you’ve opened up the entire map.
I like that. It appeals to my obsessive-compulsive side. There is something incredibly satisfying about gradually opening up more and more of the map, one piece at a time.
An open world game is the exact opposite of that. It’s open. You can go anywhere. There are no boundaries to find. No satisfaction from expanding your access.
Survival horror is an easy example, because it fits so well, but other genres work, too. In RPGs, I like being bound to a specific area until the plot or gameplay expands to allow me to reach a new area. I like seeing things I can’t reach yet. “Metroidvania” games are excellent. Open world… the very idea disturbs that obsessive-compulsive part of me.
So no, I don’t want my games to be open!
On the other hand, people often point out to me that because the idea repels me, I haven’t played open world games, so I can’t really judge them. Fair enough. I try not to judge things I’m unfamiliar with. For various reasons, I’ve ended up buying a few open world games, and I intend to play them so I can give a solid opinion of the genre.
First up is Batman: Arkham City, which I’ve been playing for a while now. And you know what?
I like it. It’s a fun game.
…Just not as much fun as Arkham Asylum, which has a much more closed, Metroidvania-esque, not-quite-recursive-unlocking structure. Asylum made it on my list of the top 5 games I played last year. I loved it. And I like Arkham City, but I don’t think it’ll be one of the best 5 games I play this year.
So far, it’s softened my impression of open world games from “I hate them!” to “They’re not so bad, just not my favorite.” We’ll see what happens as I try others…Like this post? Tell your friends!
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