A game is not worth playing unless its open world. A Strong statement isn’t it, and let’s be honest, a lot of people think this way. These days if a AAA game is not open world it is immediately devalued. Just look at all the franchises that have jumped to an open world format, Metal Gear Solid and Legend of Zelda to name but two. It’s not just established franchises either, Days Gone and Horizon Zero Dawn are two of Sony’s big new IP’s and both are going to be big open worlds.
As console hardware becomes more and more powerful, developers feel able to push the boat out when it comes to new games, and the best and most established way of doing this is to make it a huge open world. If you have a large, dynamic and populated open world then your game is seen as a technical marvel. The major consequence to this existential growth in open world games is the devaluing of a purely linear experience.
Linear is not a dirty word. A linear game is not boring or one-dimensional or short! In many ways, a linear game can outstrip it bigger, more bloated rival. For a start, linear games are far better than their open world counterparts at delivering a well-paced story. One of the advantages of a massive open world is they are usually crammed full of things to do, whether that be side quests, collectibles or secrets. The problem is the very fact there are these menial tasks to accomplish means the mainline story falls to the back of the queue, thus ruining the pacing. It’s not just the pacing of the story either. You can easily go for hours between main story missions, collecting items or doing side missions to the point that when you come back to the main storyline you have totally forgotten what’s going on. Linear games don’t suffer from these problems. Uncharted 4 for example, is a wonderfully well written, well-paced story that absolutely wouldn’t work in an open world setting. It’s perfectly paced narrative would become diluted by players going off to do other things, then, when they’re ready, dropping back in.
Blame it on the Beauty.
Sticking with the Uncharted 4 comparison, open world games use up so much of the consoles power in rendering and populating their worlds that the finer details become lost in the shuffle. Without a doubt Uncharted 4 is the best looking and best-rendered game on consoles today. The minute facial details it adopts take almost all of the PS4’s grunt to achieve, to the point where mine sounds like it’s going to shoot off into the atmosphere every time I play. I’m not saying that open world games are bad looking, far from it, what I am saying though is that linear games can use the grunt open worlds use for world building, on more intricate details. That can’t be a bad thing considering how a game’s aesthetics is important to people, otherwise, there wouldn’t be the console arms race or the obsession with 1080p vs 4K.
Frame Rate Fixation
Another fixation for developers and consumers today is frame rate. With a more streamlined game, developers can push the frame rate up, all the way to the fabled 60 frames per second if they want. While it can be done in an open world game, the continued one-upmanship surrounding the overall size and populace of an open world–to the point where games like No Man’s Sky create near infinite universes–means something like frame rates (which I’ll admit I struggle to tell the difference between) are sacrificed.
Open world games are here to stay. That’s not a bad thing, many are good to brilliant, and there is nothing like getting lost for hours in a well imagined, beautiful sandbox. But this belief by game developers that new games need to be the next GTAV is wrong. Some of the best experiences in gaming have come from streamlined, linear games, and the unbridled love of Uncharted or the selling behemoth that is Call of Duty–the most quintessential of linear experiences–show they are alive and kicking.