Sinister Soups Serving Musings On Game Development and Play


Such Great Heights

Open world games have grown increasingly popular since Grand Theft Auto 3 was released. The huge, open city of that game, combined with a fully 3D perspective, really got people excited about the idea of go-anywhere, do-anything emergent gameplay. GTA 3 had missions, but they weren't really the point for most players, who instead spent their time wreaking havoc on the artificial populace of Liberty City.

Technology and time have marched on, and these days there are open world games of all sorts, not all confined to cities (though urban settings remain popular), the present day, or even our blue planet.

I'm a big fan of these sorts of games; I enjoy finding my own brand of fun within the confines of the world a game creates. I do have an annoyance with them, however, a pet peeve that makes me lose interest and often stop playing once it rears its ugly head.

The annoyance I speak of, is restriction on vertical freedom of movement.

Have fun getting down from there...

I don't know why, but when a game gives me an open world to explore, I demand to be able to explore every bit of it, and that includes the bits that are really, really high up. Nothing gives me a greater joy than being able to fly around and get on top of buildings, mountains, whatever precipitous projections the game can offer me.

Getting on top of things can be accomplished in many ways, depending on the game. In Assassin's Creed, I had a lot of fun climbing things, long after the game's core objectives lost my interest. In Crackdown, I never got tired of jumping my way up the sides of enormous skyscrapers.

Somehow, I want to be able to get on top of things, and then, I want to be able to jump off!

This is where many games fail me, however. Even a critically acclaimed game like GTA 4 lost my interest at one point, because while it let me steal helicopters and explore the airways of Liberty City, I would inevitably get stuck on top of some building, or jump out of my helicopter to cause a spectacular disaster, and I'd have no way to get down without dying.

There came a time, while I was playing GTA 4, where all I did was repeatedly steal choppers, cause mayhem, die, and steal more choppers. It was a lot of fun, but the constant return trips to steal more helicopters, and the constant deaths, eventually made me lose interest.

I couldn't understand why GTA 4 didn't have parachutes, or some other way to get down from heights safely. Even its predecessor, San Andreas, had included parachutes for intrepid daredevils such as myself, and it's worth noting that the DLC for GTA 4 did add them later on, but I didn't really have any desire to go back to the game and buy the DLC.

I think a parachute or a glider is the perfect companion in this sort of game. I love nothing more than to sail serenely over the landscape, surveying my stomping grounds from on high. A game that can give me vertical freedom, both in going up and getting down, is a game I can enjoy immensely, even if it has other flaws.

Now that's what I'm talking about!

Just Cause is a perfect example: a deeply flawed game, with boring core gameplay where you assault identical villages to liberate them, and iffy controls for driving and shooting.

And yet, I found a ton of fun to be had in Just Cause, because I could ignore all the missions and other distractions, and instead climb hills and mountains covered in lush jungle.

I could steal planes or helicopters and fly high into the sky. And above all, I could soar above the archipelago of the game on my parachute, snagging onto cars with my trusty grappling hook to stay in the air.

I wonder if I'm the only one who enjoys the freedom of open virtual air so much. What about you, gentle reader? Do you value vertical freedom in open world games? Are you ever frustrated by the limitations that games impose on you in the third dimension? Can you think of some games that are particularly good (or especially bad) about this?

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