Everybody loves sandbox games. By nature, it seems to be the most accessible type of videogame, allowing gamers all over the world to immerse in an escape full of thuggery, crime, chaos, unpredictability and freeform slaughter. Admit it; you dish out your $60 to have your fun with dumb A.I. civilian, thinking of creative ways to blow their bodies up in various situations, and it’s only gotten better.
Earlier in its infancy, the do-whatever-you-want gaming concept was mostly limited to the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) brand. Sure, picking up dirty prostitutes in a ‘love ‘em and kill ‘em’ fashion was hilarious, but the genre has come so much further than that. inFAMOUS gave us a karma system, allowing us to make bilateral choices between ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
Most of the time, we used Villain Cole to chuck glowing cluster grenades at the poverty-stricken pedestrians. Red Faction: Guerrilla allowed you to dismantle architectures piece by piece, watching it crumble as EDF scum were hit hard by the concrete floor above them. Prototype gave us a superpowered badass that impaled zombies and ate humans to take them as disguises. You get the blood-stained picture.
Why would you play sandbox games you ask – these games seem oh so violent! To a certain degree, yeah, they sort of are, but that’s the whole point. We play them “just for the lulz” and take it in stride. Just for you, we’ve compiled a few games worth a place in your cabin. Join Curtis, Martin and I as we take our capes and venture off for the definitive sandbox gaming nugget.
Jeff Effendi – inFamous and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
In regards to main missions, you can’t do better than inFAMOUS. It’s just a damn good game, with some of the best ‘holy-sh*t-look-at-that!’ set pieces a sandbox game can offer. All in all, the main missions were thoroughly impressive. I’ll concede to you that the side objectives were repetitive and somewhat lame, but come on, the epicness that oozed out of the boss battles was top stuff. Between you and I, no other game has come close to inFAMOUS’ story-driven objectives, with the exception of Grand Theft Auto’s San Andreas.
Videogame set pieces that make you feel a bit like Nick Simberg in a Barbie store probably make for some memorable main missions. Remember stealing the Hydra from that big, military tanker in San Andreas? How about breaking into Area 69 to snatch that devious jetpack? The last mission that had CJ chasing down Officer Tenpenny from a burning warehouse?
Yeah, exactly. inFAMOUS also excels in this bold bravado. While Sucker Punch didn’t create a world as large as San Andreas, it did a lot with the given environment. One of the most memorable PS3 sandbox experiences a gamer could have should be climbing that rusty, old Goliath of a tower in inFAMOUS, trying to save stupid, sloth-of-a-cousin Zeke. Did it not take your breath away, looking all the way down from high up?
A sandbox game is only as good as its cast of characters. Without the many memorable prostitutes (and maybe its protagonists) the world would be a vast veil of emptiness, and often detracts the overall vibrancy of a sleepless city. When it comes down to it, the key to a videogame city is indeed its set pieces, accompanied by a cast that make those central situations stick and sink.
Curtis Takaichi – Assassin’s Creed
Since the start of the latest generation console war between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, I’ve jumped ship toward PC gaming and discovered my favourite sandbox game, Assassin’s Creed. Many would disagree that AC fits the genre for the standard sandbox platform, but with the various missions and free-roam environments, I have to attest that it is.
The magnificent thing about this game was the ten different assassination missions. Sure, surveying the area and acquiring intelligence on your next targets became redundant even for PC gamers, despite the fact we had extra missions to choose from. But when it came down to assassination time, the handful of different ways to take out your target brought strategy to a whole new level.
Even to this day, I have specific save markers on a handful of boss battles, so that I can replay some of those thrilling moments over and over. My favourite assassination mission is when Altair has to kill Sibrand, but he’s protected by a handful of guards on a ship. The only way to reach Sibrand is to either fight through the guards or sneak your way aboard through the rear end of the ship. Both tactics were no easy accomplishment.
Martin Bigg – GTA 3, The Getaway and Red Faction: Guerrilla
When recalling memorable sandbox experiences, I can’t help but hearken back to the game that started the new wave of the genre – GTA III. Since its debut in 1997, the Grand Theft Auto series has always had a penchant for immersing the player in a believable and charismatic virtual world, but it wasn’t until 2001 with the release of the third instalment where things really took off – what followed was a groundbreaking revolution.
From the moment you were in control, the majesty of Liberty City towered above you and the sheer sense of freedom completely and utterly blew my fragile little mind apart like no other game. Of course, the ability to roam around a vast city landscape is nothing new now, but at the time it was truly mesmerising and successfully paved the way for the genre to blossom. Since then, the formula has been perfected by the likes of GTA IV and indeed other contemporary franchises, but GTA III’s influence cannot be downplayed.
Location-wise, I had always wanted to see a faithful recreation of a British city in a video game, and that is exactly what was delivered by The Getaway, Sony’s ambitious project from back in 2002. Granted, traversing around a garish and permanently cloudy city may not sound like the most exciting of prospects, but The Getaway’s eerily accurate representation of London reached new heights of authenticity for real world game environments. It’s such a shame they cancelled The Getaway 3 as I’m intrigued by what the developers could have achieved from the current generation consoles.
I won’t deny that I have a sadistic craving for mass destruction, but most sandbox games fail to completely satisfy these primal urges of mine. Yes, you can inflict untold damage to hapless pensioners, gun-wielding thugs and a multitude of vehicles in games like the GTA series, but, for the most part, the city environment remains unscathed from your venomous wrath.
When I deliberately drive my car into the side of a store front or run rampant with a rocket launcher, I want to see the target building suffer the consequences in a smattering of glass and rubble. Red Faction: Guerilla proved that this is feasible after it set the bar for real-time environmental destruction however, so I can only hope it will soon be applied to real world locations in future games. I hope you’re listening, Rockstar Games.
Well, hopefully half of you who came to gather around the campfire digested the marshmallows we shared today. Dance around, do a quick Lord of the Flies rendition and keep the tales comin’. Mind you, Martin’s British, so his The Getaway sentiments may be a little biased. The same can be said of Curtis’ thoughts on Assassin’s Creed, as he is after all our resident partial Ninja Extraordinaire.
That said, all values and views are welcome in this tribute to one of the most beloved genres of our generation. After you’re done, just watch your step, the cliffs are rather steep.