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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

GTA V And Open World Games; Is Bigger Always Better?

With the recent release schedule for Rockstar’s upcoming GTA V have come a flood of new details; most notably, that GTA V is big. Really big. So big, in fact, that according to Rockstar it is “bigger than San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Red Dead Redemption, combined”. The game is touted to include military bases, wildernesses, and ocean floors to explore.  That’s a lot of surface area.

While this has many gamers drooling at the prospect of such a large landscape to explore, I’m always sceptical whenever developers start making promises such as “It’s so big it will take you days to cross the map!”, or “It’s bigger than all these games combined, wow!”

The problem is; developers tend to think bigger is better; which can ultimately lead to sacrificing quality for quantity.

Take GTA V’s predecessor. The hugely anticipated GTA IV was similarly touted for its game world, and though it was a resounding success, the game world was incredibly monotonal. You could’ve been at the very beginning of the game or at the very end, and you would be looking at almost exactly the same thing. Generic, cloned buildings, the odd patch of grass, all passed through a drab brown and gray filter. Aside from the odd unique landmark there is very little diversity, despite Liberty City’s size. It’s a similar story with the even bigger San Andreas. For all its cities and towns, there was nothing to compel you to explore outside of these. There was very little to do in those deserts or woods, that incidentally filled out half of the map.

Now, compare this with a game such as Skyrim. The land of Skyrim may not be as big, in fact it is roughly the same size as TES: Oblivion. However in one game world there are probably four or five distinct geographies present, from plains, to blizzard worn cliffs, glaciers, treacherous mountains and lakes. Aside from this, no matter where you are, almost everywhere you turn there is something you have never seen before. Nooks and crannies in buildings; secret stashes, mysterious dwellings in the woods, ancient ruins, dragon graves, easter eggs, there is so much to see and do, it boggles the mind. And it all looks astonishing. I count Skyrim among one of the few games where I actively tried not to use the fast-travel system, as I preferred to run around exploring this rich world around me. You genuinely do not know what you are going to see next; everything you see gives you the impression that a lot of love, care and attention has gone into making this landscape as rich and diverse as possible. However this seems to be the exception to the all too pervasive rule.

Even when developers do put effort into making a game diverse; this can still be a pointless exercise if the game world is too large. Take another example of Just Cause 2. To date one of the largest game maps ever made; comparisons have been made between this and an actual country in real life. But it is all too overwhelming; sure you can hijack a jet plane and speed all over the country but again, despite there being deserts and jungles and mountains; it all seemed too…pointless. There was no incentive to go to these places and explore apart to find them and put another dot on the map. What’s the point of finding yet another town or military base, when all there is to do there is wanton destruction, just like the last 20 or 30 towns you visited? After I put down the game there were still whole settlements I’d not even discovered;  mountains I hadn’t stood on top of. It was all just too much, too unnecessary.

Sure, occasionally large worlds are great. Necessary, even, when it comes to games such as Burnout Paradise; or the hugely ambitious Fuel. But when you are on foot; and you get sick and tired of walking or driving and just want to fast travel to your next objective to save you a pointless journey; surely that’s when you need to consider whether this is a world you enjoy being a part of?

In games like Read Dead Redemption or Skyrim; the game makes you want to explore because there’s so much unique and special content to find. When done right, open world games can be engaging, and full of content, but all too often they are done wrong. So when Rockstar says that GTA V is going to be huge; I honestly hope that by huge, they don’t just mean in terms of size.

What do you think about the size of game worlds today? Do you disagree and love the size and scale of things? Let us know!

Matt, 24 last time he checked, was born and raised in Manchester. A self-styled geek; when he isn't annoying his other half by fitting in as much gaming time as he possibly can, he can be found getting his fix of Fantasy and Sci-Fi elsewhere by reading, writing, or watching TV Series and Films. He is also a Michelin 3-Starred Chef in his spare time, and can be found experimenting in the kitchen, and generally poisoning his friends with obscure and mysterious dishes.

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