Over the course of last year I became completely burned out by open world games. If a game had an open world, I probably opened it up, played it for a few hours, and then set it down to gather dust. Too many games that would have fared much better as more linear titles have taken the open world route in the past few years. Metal Gear Solid V, LA Noire, and of course, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst are all prime contenders for this complaint. The best example, however, is Mafia III from Hangar 13.
Mafia III is a game that I was excited to play when it was announced. I love the time period it’s set in, and the mob revenge story was interesting enough. After the great introduction, the game just fell flat for me. It pushed me to drive long distances to complete the same few objectives over and over again.
Taking out a mob boss’s outpost almost always ended in the same way: take out all the goons, and then kill the boss as he hides out in his office. This part in particular was completely immersion breaking as the bosses were bullet sponges. I felt no sense of accomplishment when taking them out. Aside from that, you’d do a few other things like set fire to piles of drugs, interrogate people, destroy shops, and so on.
This all makes sense for the player to do in the context of the game, but once you ask me to do the same thing over and over and over again…well, good luck pushing me to finish your game regardless of how good the story might be.
The world building of Mafia III was great. The developers did a fantastic job of recreating the time period and providing you a sense of what life was like. They even included a lot of direct social commentary on subjects few games dare to explore like racism. Not to mention the game is a AAA title. Polygon further explored this in a pretty good piece about the game.
I fail to understand, however, why the developers couldn’t provide this same story and commentary within a linear space. Linear titles can be just as immersive as open world titles and are able to tell more intimate stories when you’re not forced to trudge through a bunch of filler content to get to the next mission.
It could have also been publisher 2K’s decision to make the game an open world title. Regardless, it didn’t work out all that well.
Some of the most immersive games I’ve ever played like Bioshock, Alien: Isolation, The Last of Us and, most recently, Resident Evil VII, build atmosphere with ease. I feel, for the most part, the point of making Mafia III an open world title was for the sake of atmosphere and making it authentic.
But what do you do when you have an open world like that and are trying to tell a more direct story? Well, in the case of Mafia III and many other open world titles, you fill it with a bunch of extra content to give the rest of the world meaning, regardless if that content is good or bad. I honestly wonder how developers fill their worlds with content like that, and not get bored themselves.
Maybe they do, but because a lot of games nowadays are valued based on the amount of content they offer, or better yet, how many hours they offer, it doesn’t matter. As long as they artificially extend the length of the game anything goes in terms of content.
Mafia III, in my opinion, would have been a much stronger and more impactful game if the developers had not gone the open world route. The commentary on social issues would have stuck longer and Lincoln Clay’s story would have been more engaging. I wouldn’t have been so bored out of my mind playing the game that it put me to sleep in some places.
All I wanted from Mafia III was to play through Lincoln Clay’s story. After such a great introduction that made the player invested in Clay and his motives, it was a shame to not keep that momentum going forward. I was excited to take out my first mob boss, and then the game asked me to do the same thing again not 20 minutes later and I knew what type of game I was in for.
I think there’s a bigger topic to cover within this editorial regarding open world games and their overuse, but I’ll save that for a bit later after I’ve had a chance to play some of the upcoming open world games this year. Here’s hoping the previews for Horizon: Zero Dawn are correct in saying the game focuses as much on story as it does its open world. I’m not sure I can handle another disappointment on the scale that I did with Mafia III.