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What does a high school bully, Spider-Man, a crime boss, and an immigrant all have in common? Not very much at all. If anything, the only similarity between them is that they all appear in sandbox titles ranging from “okay” to “extremely successful”. Bully: Scholarship Edition, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, Godfather II, and Grand Theft Auto IV are the top title in their style for the past couple of years, but why only these?

If we took Grand Theft Auto IV out of the picture, there are not very many high quality sandbox titles on the gaming market today. This is surprising, considering the success of GTA IV, and the positive reception of other titles that would be considered a “sandbox”. Why can no one else do what Rockstar can? That question frustrates me to no end simply because I do not like the source material for Grand Theft Auto.

Somehow going around killing without a good reason seems pointless to me. You could argue that in The Godfather series of games that you do the same thing, but at least The Godfather has a reason, and a high quality story behind it. Grand Theft Auto just gives a petty criminal some big guns, but I digress. This is not a rant on GTA IV.

The sandbox style of gameplay is one of my favorite genres next to first person shooters and role playing games. Rockstar has proven that they are kings at this. Bully is another example of a high quality title that takes place in a sandbox. This brings me to my first point.

I don’t know about the rest of the gaming community, but I am tired of the sprawling city filled with people who love to kill. Grand Theft Auto, Godfather, and even Spider-Man have been taking this to the extreme and back again. Why can we not have something different? I’ll use Bully as an example. Most of the game takes place on a sprawling boarding school campus with a theme that does not take things about the “Rated T for Teen” level. It is a unique story, unique location, and the gameplay is unique also it has the similarities of all other sandbox titles.

I could even take it a step further. You could consider Far Cry 2, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy both first person sandbox titles. Again, Far Cry 2 takes you to warn torn Africa, and Metroid takes you into the far reaches of outer space. Why is it that every developer who tries to create something just copies Grand Theft Auto for and adds “big titties” and even bigger guns? Shooting is fine, but prostitution, gambling, stealing, and murder is really getting old. I like all that as much as the next guy, but why couldn’t we play as the cops trying to take down these crime regimes instead of the bad guys creating them?

While discussing this with a friend he mentioned No More Heroes being a sandbox game. Although it appears that way, Santa Destroy is only a hub city that allows you to get from mission to mission. The world is not alive, nor does much action take place in the hub. But, what about Saints Row? Titties, killing, swearing, and cars. It’s no different than Grand Theft Auto 4, only less polished and far less entertaining. Bethesda has become the master at the first person sandbox, and Rockstar of the third. Who will step up and compete with them to provide a different story and experience?

I alluded to this before, but it seemed like all I can remember from Grand Theft Auto for is “Big titties” is a poorly executed Russian/Ukrainian accent. There was something about revenge, and angst. The protagonist was more emo than exciting. It seems like story after story it is all the same. It’s frustrating to me. Is there no other story to tell, and no other medium to tell it besides drugs, murder, and sex? If that is the case, the sandbox is getting less and less fun to play in.

Now then there is something to be said for The Lost and the Damned story for Grand Theft Auto IV. Johnny and his bretheren are different. Sure, they’re doing the same things as the main storyline, but somehow you’re brought to care about them so much more than you ever did about Nikko.  The characters were actually enjoyable, and seemed to even care about what they’re doing.

I want to see something different out of our sandbox games. I don’t care what, I just want something different. New stories and new open worlds are a must, things are getting stale. Okay, I’m stepping off the soapbox.

  1. “but why couldn’t we play as the cops trying to take down these crime regimes instead of the bad guys creating them?”

    Nice read… great idea, perhaps this would quash some of the anti-games or games are evil debates. Would a game like this “influence” somebody to become a cop?

  2. I loved playing the vigilante missions in GTA3. Pursuing vehicles as a cop is a huge rush, and doing PIT maneuvers is a blast. It’s yet to be done right, I think though.

  3. I agree about that, sandbox games are probably my favourite genre of games (well, kind of not a genre, but meh) they saw big leaps forward through the GTA series, but you’re right, we need something different done soon to refresh the rehashes we are currently seeing in this genre.

  4. avatar Oyvind

    Good article.
    However, I think you should have mentioned Crackdown.

  5. I want a more centralized open world game like Bully again.

  6. avatar Dirk

    People want to escape there regular life for a while and do something they normally wouldn’t be able to do. You’re asking how to make a peaceful war film. It seems to be a fact that most people are law abiding good citizens most of the time and it’s a lot more fun to be bad than good, which we are most of the time anyway.

  7. avatar DanBagg

    Animal Crossing is a sandbox game that you do none of this. What about Fallout 3? I think you dont like sandbox games that are like GTA. There are plenty out there that you can do so much more.

  8. I would of liked to see Saints Row 2 mentioned, as it was my favorite game of it’s year for the amount of stuff you could do in it’s world. I felt it was the first true “sand box” because you can be or do basically anything you want to within it’s world.

  9. avatar John Green

    The first 3 Harry Potter games were pretty much sandbox games. You could run around the castle and the school grounds just about as much as you want, talking and trading card with other students, and finding hidden areas, and the story only progressed when you went to the class you were supposed to go to. Granted, they’re not really great games, but they added sandbox type aspects to puzzle-platformers. The 4th game got rid of this, which made it not nearly as immersive. Haven’t played the 5th.
    Then there are games like Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and even Dead Rising, which even though violent aren’t quite the same as GTA.

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