I’ve known it for a very long time, but Batman: Arkham City has confirmed it: videogames set in a sandbox-like open world just aren’t for me.
I didn’t get into videogames because of open world games. I started my gaming affection with Space Invaders in the arcades and kept it going with an Atari 2600. These were designs that thrived on a simple idea, and you got your fix in quick five-minute shots. Even on the NES, Genesis and Super Nintendo, unless it was a Final Fantasy epic, games were pretty straightforward.
Grand Theft Auto arguably set the precedence of “do anything at any time” in game design. Deviate from the story and just tool around. Rack up points by stealing cars and finding the coolest jump in the world. Climb to the top of the tallest building and simply jump off to see what happens. I certainly appreciate the encouragement that I can do whatever the hell I want, and there’s definitely a thrill in finding something new outside of the designated game progression.
The problem: I find it difficult to return to the fixed path.
Maybe it’s my insanely short attention span, that I’m easily distracted. But when game designers dangle carrots to encourage me to stray from the main storyline, I’ll take it. When I don’t, I end up with this nagging sensation that pokes at me: what am I missing if I don’t jump on that side quest that just opened up for me?
Open world games have gotten so complex in their web of extraneous tasks that I find it nearly impossible to enjoy the core experience.
I think the only open world game I finished was Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, but that really doesn’t count since the designers were limited in scope by the restrictive power of the Nintendo DS hardware, and it was designed around the get in/get out environment of the portable market. My last attempt to truly enjoy an open world game was Red Dead Redemption, but by the time I got to Mexico I just couldn’t find myself galloping any further.
It’s clear to me that, after completing games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, I appreciate videogames when they’re far more structured. When the designers have a set vision for their game, and don’t depend on extraneous gimmicks to make a game “longer.” I get a far greater sense of accomplishment when I play out a simpler game to the end, not when I complete a little segment from a vast videogame experience.
Now you know why I’m into handheld gaming: I feel more at home with short spurts of a linear design.
As soon as I picked up a telephone in Batman: Arkham City and opened up the Victor Zzazz challenges I realized I was in trouble. There are so many tiny tasks here that will certainly appeal to people who want their videogames to last them nearly forever, but for me, I just don’t have the focus for all these distracting little butterflies.
In short: don’t expect me to get excited for Grand Theft Auto V.