Often, a game is better served as a linear experience, especially if any amount of effort has been put into the story. Now, please don't misunderstand me - when I say 'linear experience', I do not mean a linear succession of combat arenas that lock the door behind you as you enter, makes you kill X number of enemies, and then opens the door to the next one. I like organic movement along a linear path. And for what I consider the best example of that, look no further than my own love interest, Half-Life. It is presented linearly, but each individual area has several routes and interconnecting hallways, and it frequently loops around and revisits areas to provide opportunities for environmental storytelling.
You can do crazy things in Half-Life, like, rather than killing all the enemies vizzin ze area designated for ze task, you can run back to the last room, lure enemies back with you, and bottleneck them at the door. Or maybe you could just run straight past them to the next area and hope they don't follow. And here's the even crazier thing, game developers: allowing this organic approach to enemy encounters, uninterrupted by awkward cutscenes showing the doors locking and the enemies filing in, would actually be less work than the locked-off arena jamboree. I know! What a crazy world.
There's an idea: maybe if it's so bloody important you could show off the console's hardware by not unloading every single fucking room just because we've gotten to the next one. A back-and-forth approach, like the Metroidvania style I'm so very fond of, is better than sandbox play.
But here's the punchline to the joke, readers: what I described up there, tedious linear room-by-room encounters, that actually describes half the gameplay of a lot of what are alleged to be open-world games. Sleeping Dogs, GTA4 and Assassin's Creed 3 all do this: massive, lurching disconnect between sandbox gameplay and story missions. You can knock about having your open-quotes "fun" in the sandbox as much as you like, achieving sod all, but the moment you start a mission to progress in the game you're fitted with blinkers and bit and sent along a veritable join-the-dots puzzle of linear objectives. Go here, contextual button press, go here, shoot a guy, get in car, follow other car - but don't get too close or too far behind, remain perfectly within this ring around the pursuee or we will hit you. With a stick. And don't even think about speeding ahead to where you know they're going to go. We have an even bigger stick for your type.
So. In conclusion. By all means look forward to your bright, glittering future of open world games, next gen console forward-looker-toers. But know this: when open world has become the standard, you can expect many, many, many more Ride To Hells. Um. Rides To Hell? I think I fucked that up.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.