From cruising Regent Street located somewhere in London’s West End in The Getaway, to solving a murder mystery in Yokosuka, Japan, circa 1986 in Shenmue, open world environments are massive, immerse, and at most, beautiful. Open world video games have had a long history, starting with 1984’s Elite on the PC, to 1986’s Turbo Esprit on the Commodore 64. The Driver series helped the genre make the successful jump to 3D and the Grand Theft Auto series revolutionized it (…and at the same time, made it popular so that any open world game that would follow would be unfairly branded as a “GTA clone.”)
Listed below are the top open world environments listed on the following criteria: realism, fidelity, and interest. How realistic is the environment featured in the game? Does it stick to real life or is it unconventional. On fidelity, how does this environment adherence to fact or detail, and in the case of some video games, how accurate to it’s real life counterpart does it stay? Finally, interest. Is the environment interesting? Can a player waste time just exploring and taking it all in? Well, find out below.
These are in no particular order.
1) Yokosuka, Japan in Shenmue (1999)
The $70 million dollar masterpiece created by Yu Suzuki and Sega-AM2 detailed Ryo Hazuki’s adventure in Yokosuka, Japan. The four areas, Doubita, Yamanose, Sakuragaoka, and Amihaba, were clock-full of masterful detail, every single item could be touched, almost every building could be entered, and the people that inhabited these areas had their own schedules to adhere to, from waking up in the morning to going to work, to going back home. Shops opened and closed, snow gathered and melted, and even Christmas was celebrated. While this may not seem like a big deal now, it was back then and no other game has come close to what Shenmue accomplished.
2) 16 square kilometers of London, UK in The Getaway (2003)
When Metropolis Street Racer recreated a small amount of streets in London, Sony Computer Entertainment decided to one-up Bizarre Creations by promising to recreate 113 square kilometers of London for the yet unreleased The Getaway. Of course, this was a nigh-impossible task as the final game only featured 16 square kilometers of central London. The recreation of London was stunningly accurate to the very last detail, featuring tons of stores, buildings, and locations in their right place. It was so accurate, that you could take a photograph of a location in London, and it would match up perfectly to the London featured in The Getaway. Sadly, the rest of the game was flawed, but it was still nice to drive around the virtual recreated London and explore.
3) Washington, D.C. in Fallout 3 (2008)
While previous games in the Fallout series where set in California, Fallout 3 was set in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., titled the Capital Wasteland. The first time we stepped out of Vault 101, players are treated to a landscape so hauntingly beautiful and depressing, that almost instantly we realize that life won’t be easy out in the Wasteland. Exploring the small neighborhoods of what once was, broken homes, desecrated highways, and ruined structures, to visiting the ruined White House, there lies a sense of desperation and fear. People used to live here and now they are gone, all that remains are man-made structures that have withstood the mistakes of humans.
4) Unnamed Central African nation in Far Cry 2 (2008)
Upon arriving in this unnamed African nation in Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2, players are treated to a taxi ride from the airport to the main village of Pala where various aspects of the country are shown, from the rolling mountains to the rivers to even the wildlife. This nation is huge and awe-inspiring. It features every kind of terrain from deserts, mountains, and hills to the savannas, and dense jungles. With almost 70 miles of land, divided into northern and southern sections, no two areas look nor feel the same. Nothing is better than driving in a Jeep Wrangler as the sun slowly sets over the horizon and zebra roam the plain, nothing except using a flamethrower to ignite a small bush and watch it expand to engulf the surrounding grass …and maybe trees, and even the player themselves. Oh, well.
5) The entire island of Oahu, Hawaii in Test Drive Unlimited (2006)
The Test Drive series has been around for a long time, a simple racing game featuring exotic cars in exotic locals in simple point A to point B races. When Test Drive Unlimited was released, this all changed. Instead of tracks, TDU featured the entire Hawaiian island of Oahu, with more than 1000 square miles of road and highway. Instead of trying to perfectly recreate everything, like The Getaway did, Eden Games decided to get the island to look like the real thing, with minor differences. Ultimately, the island of Oahu featured in Test Drive Unlimited is fun to explore and beautiful to look at, not to mention it almost takes 30 minutes to go from one end of the island to the other. There’s nothing like the feeling of driving at almost 200 miles per hour in this vast tropical setting.
6) KabukichÅ, Tokyo (or “Kamurocho”) in Yakuza (2006)
The almost spiritual sequel to Shenmue, Yakuza by Sega’s Amusement Vision team featured one of the most realistic representations of Tokyo and a visually stunning PlayStation 2 game. Set in the red-light district of Kamurocho (fictionalized version of KabukichÅ), players would control Kazuma as he explored the seedy underbelly of Tokyo. The nightlife ambiance was captured perfectly. From the flashing sky-high neon and ultra modern structures Tokyo is known for, to the small Hostess clubs and bars, every inch of the environment could be interacted with. Hell, players could even purchase beef bowls, ramen, or beer. Of course, with the main character being an ex-gangster and all, traveling around Kamurocho would result in some clashes between rivals, all set to the beautiful neon backdrop of Tokyo. Good thing Yakuza 3 is set to be released soon.
7) Liberty City, United States in Grand Theft Auto 4 (2008)
Based on New York City, Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto 4 was a living, breathing environment. While nowhere close to the level of detail seen in Shenmue, Liberty City felt like a real place, despite being utterly fictional. From cross promotions of fictional products around the city to ultra realistic architecture, Liberty City presents itself as a major metropolitan city. With many New York landmarks, like the MetLife building and Times Square, along with city streets that actually have names, this recreation of New York takes on a new life that is entirely different from it’s inspiration.