After months of putting it off, I finally handed over my hard-earned cash to my local gaming store in exchange for a copy of Ubisoft's Far Cry 3 with the promise of many hours of hunting, sneaking, driving and flying across a pirate-infested island sitting within my grasp. I'd heard it was a flat-out masterpiece with great mechanics and a stunning cast of characters, all brought to life with brilliant voice acting, to name but a few of its many positives.
But in my first few hours upon this ravenous, animalistic and sparse island, it hit me like a freight train to the face that, thanks to this title, developers had come one step closer to not only creating a great open world to explore but one that's an accurate and convincing replica of a living and breathing world.
I could sing Far Cry 3's praises for a very long time but no doubt you'd get bored of me way before I'd have finished my final song. There's a peculiar nature to the title, one that forces you to come back time after time to play more but it's never to do with the story; it's to do with the island. For me, regardless of how good the gameplay and visuals are, as long as the title has a great story then it's good enough for me to stick my nose in and take a peek. Usually, I struggle to become attached to the plot of open world titles due to the possible long breaks between each scene as you travel off and do something else. More story-oriented titles like The Walking Dead or Heavy Rain purposefully keep you on track not to confine the player but to deliver the best plot-driven experience around and, at least for me, that's more than fine.
When making open-world games, developers strive to create not just a great place to spend many hours in but a believable one too, an environment that could exist in the real world. However, after putting countless hours into such open world classics like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto IV, I can say that this hasn't really worked on me as I can never forget the two feet gap there is between my eyes and the television screen. Whilst I may get sucked into the stories and the characters and adore the gameplay, I've never really felt immersed in a world, as if I am the person I'm controlling, not just some sweaty teenager in his bedroom with an Xbox pad.
Far Cry 3, however, changed that all for me.
Running through the dense forests of Panau, the controller and the surroundings of the player vanish and are instead replaced by whatever environments Jason is traversing. A successful combination of realistic lighting and appropriate sound effects put the player in the midst of the jungle: birds flying from one tree to the next, the rustle of the leaves as the wind billows through them and more, each and every one of them combining to create a warm and deadly atmosphere.
The world's density also contributes to its believability, as there's never a lack of things to do: camps to overtake; animals to hunt; locations to explore. And just like a real jungle, there's continuously something to look at, whether that's a predator as they devour their prey or a group of pirates engaged in a brawl amidst the trees. There's a constant impression that the world is alive as events take place randomly, like they do in real life: this is an environment created on computers by the developers before being unleashed to operate and exist singularly and without help.
So it's obvious then that there is something very special about Far Cry 3's open world if it can take someone who previously found it difficult to engage with such environments and completely immerse them in a make-believe world. Could this be a singular experience or is it destined to happen again and soon for quivering on the horizon is a second title that might repeat such an event?
Grand Theft Auto V.
When the latest in the controversial series hits stores this September, it will no doubt sell millions of copies, make a heap of cash for Rockstar and, hopefully, be garnered with overwhelming praise. Renowned for its well-written stories and the outlandish characters that inhabit them, the GTA franchise has consistently been one step ahead of the rest of the industry with its impressive open-world and believability of it all. It is claimed that for the next instalment, Rockstar have created a word with expansive areas to explore such as beach fronts, mountains, the wilderness, a military base and suburbs with the inclusion of oceans with a fully designed bottom that can be traversed via scuba diving equipment. Los Santos, where the title is set, will also have activities such as yoga, triathlons, jet skiing, base-jumping, tennis, golf, scuba-diving or even attending the gym.
From this, it's clear that Rockstar have taken great lengths to ensure that not only is Los Santos the perfect place for the story to be set in but also is a believable and dense setting to be. Also, like in Red Dead Redemption, the concept of randomly occurring events will return, further emphasising that just because this is a video game it does not mean that the world cannot live by itself.
What Grand Theft Auto V is like will remain unknown until September 17th 2013 but it's obvious that whatever the quality of the product, the world of Los Santos will be fully-realised and dense with something to do at all times. And then in November, Watch_Dogs hits both this generation and the next, further promising another exciting setting to explore. With the next year jam-packed with stunning open-world titles, it seems that the genre can, like the size of the settings themselves and the ambitions of the developers, get bigger and better.