The Saboteur, and the beautiful randomness of open-world games

Sameer Desai
The Saboteur, and the beautiful randomness of open-world games

I’m not a fan of open-world games. In the present scenario, where customers are so vocal about console restrictions and where pay-what-you-like indie bundles and free-to-play are all about giving gamers more choice, it sounds strange for me to say this, but I don’t enjoy the amount of freedom most open-world games afford. I’m all for open-endedness and I like choice in my games, but only to a point. Beyond that, I like there to be a linear thread that ties that open-endedness together, so the sandbox nature of an open-world game that lets me do whatever I want and whenever I want does dilute the experience for me.

With all the big publishers focussing their next-gen triple-A efforts in open-world settings, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The Division, Infamous: Second Son, The Witcher 3, The Crew, Mad Max, Watch Dogs, Mirror’s Edge – these are all promising next-gen open-world games. It’s hard to ignore the genre because even in the current generation, some of the world’s best developers are creating fantastic open-world games. The likes of Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Forza Horizon, Infamous and Sleeping Dogs aren’t just some of the best open-world games; they are some of the best gaming experiences period. So even if, like me, you’re not a fan of open-world games, you will play them, and I think there’s reason to be excited about open-world being a core concept in next-gen game designs.

There are many reasons why gamers love open-world games – the freedom, the choice, the replay value. But by sheer virtue of the sandbox, non-linear nature of these games, they offer the potential for some unique, memorable moments no other game genre can. With all the various elements in these games – the vast locations, the dynamic time of day and weather, the different modes of transportation, the ambient soundtrack, the NPC interactions, and the in-vehicle soundtracks – there can come a point, where all of this randomness falls into place like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle to create this magical moment that will last only a fleeting moment, but will remain a fond memory forever.

You don’t have to play a Rockstar game to experience these moments. My most memorable gaming moment of this generation came from Pandemic Studios’ The Saboteur, a painfully underrated game set in World War II France. I was, as you do a lot in open-world games, driving around Paris aimlessly in one of the game’s many burly civilian cars that, at full throttle, reached what seemed like jogging pace. It was a dark night and it was raining heavily; not uncommon in The Saboteur’s noir-like setting. As I drove along a narrow road lit only by street lamps, a massive, heavily barricaded Nazi structure appeared on one side. It looked cold and imposing, but its red Sawastika banners pierced through the otherwise black and white scene – another unique aspect of the game’s art style. In contrast was a park across the street, with fountains, cobbled walkways and benches. Nina Simone’s Feeling Good came on the car’s radio, and at that instant, all those elements came together to from the perfect gaming moment. The dark skies, heavy rain, street lamps lining the street, a vintage car, the sinister brass of the Nina Simone classic, and two contrasting views of Paris – one that we picture it as, and one the game’s own creation. Individually or in certain combinations, these are elements that you’ll encounter all through the game, but never all together like this.

If you’ve played enough open world games, you’ve had these moments. When they occur, it’s like the stars have aligned, and try as you may, you cannot recreate them. So the memory of it is all you have left, and the fact that - thanks to all the variables involved - no one else in the world has probably experienced that exact same scenario makes it even more special. With the Xbox One and PS4 constantly recording your gameplay, saving and sharing these moments may now be possible, but they’re unlikely to evoke the same emotions from others. You just had to be there. These moments are impossible to find in other game genres. So while I may not enjoy open-world games as much as the next guy, I’m glad to see so many game developers going that route with their next gen games, even if only for their potential to catch me off guard with the delightfully unexpected.

Have any random, memorable open-world game moments of your own? Share them with us.

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Tags: Opinion , MCV India , open world

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