Lunchtime Discussion: Linear and Open World

“It’s too linear” is a comment heard all too often in reviews nowadays. There are a few buzzwords and phrases that annoy me nowadays but this is one which sticks out in particular because I love a linear game. This is probably down to my love for a good story driven experience and the on-rails rollercoaster rides that come with them. I like the progression of a linear tale and I thrive on watching the set pieces grow larger and more complicated as the story moves along so when people try to threaten that by sprouting nonsense about how the game would have been improved with an open world it angers me. A lot.

Lets take Prince of Persia for example. The Sands of Time trilogy was a great, fun, story-driven platformer. The latest game in the franchise which dropped all subtitles and opted just to reinvent the series from the ground up did things very differently. Along with the subtitles, it dropped the time-warp gameplay, ditched the art style, reset the story and biggest of all, it ripped down the walls and offered an entirely open game that had it’s path be chosen by the player. This, on the one hand, empowered the player and gave them a large open area for them to run all the way through.

On the other however, a lot was sacrificed. The story was designed to be rich, deep and even went to the point where the game wouldn’t let you continue after the final cutscene as it wanted to have an ending that stuck. The problem was that because of the open world nature of the title, there was no way to advance the story during the entire game so we get a fantastic premise in the opening and are then left to collect light seeds for 9 or so hours before the final cutscene. I can see how stories can work in the more traditional open world title such as Grand Theft Auto which handles it’s stories well, but for an adventure title, it just doesn’t work.

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It’s not just the story that I find suffering in an open world adventure, but also the difficulty. Regular open world titles combat this by hiking up the enemy’s health bar and giving him a bigger gun. The enemies are your challenge, but in an adventure game, shooter or platformer, you depend on the level design to challenge you. This is another thing that’s dropped in an open world game. You can’t judge the players level of skill and therefore you can’t give them the challenge they deserve. One player’s last path is another players first.

When I first played Grand Theft Auto III, I loved the fact that I could go anywhere I wanted, but that’s old for me now and when I played Jak II, I thought it was the greatest thing since Vice Versas because you had a GTA style world, with large linear levels keeping the story and challenge flowing. Unfortunately, like Vice Versas, that’s not around anymore because, outside Jak 3, the open world with linear side levels disappeared.

But that’s the middle ground. It would be too easy to say that every game should have that perfect balance, so when it comes down to it all, which do you prefer? Open world or linear? Open world titles are there to give you freedom, though in my opinion, they actually restrict your experience more than they open it up.

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