HOW MUCH MORE MOMENTUM MIGHT FAR CRY 5’S STORY HAVE HAD IF THE GAME DICTATED THE PACE INSTEAD OF THE PLAYER?
Open-world is in a rut – bring back corridors
There’ll always be Luddites calling for a return to the ‘old ways’ in the face of any technological or cultural advancement – it’s human nature. Never mind that the old ways involved children up chimneys and asbestos roofing. Old is familiar. Old is comforting. But when I say I want a return to corridor shooters, I don’t want to go backwards.
I want games to keep moving forwards. And as Far Cry 5 recently demonstrated, they’re not doing so under the open world design template that’s proven so dominant throughout the last generation. That’s no slight on Ubisoft Montreal’s latest in a specific sense: it does everything you could ask an open world shooter to do. There are lakes to cruise by boat, many a dirt track to have a quad bike adventure on, and nigh-constant confluences of enemies, big explosive events, and aggressive local wildlife. A wilderness wonderland. And yet you can’t shake the sense that you’ve seen and done it all before.
Because you have. Sure, the vegetation might have been different, and the exact breed of aggro fauna too. But by this point we’re all so well-drilled in taking down an enemy outpost, marking each hostile with our binoculars then sneaking up to break their spines, that we could do it relying on muscle memory alone. And this isn’t just a Far Cry thing: there are echoes of it in every open world I visit. Every new instance when I find myself gathering herbs from a roadside bush, sprinting between map markers, or watching a new map region appear in colour, I become more like that bad lad off The Matrix, Cypher. He looked at the code so long that he only noticed the people it created – well, I’ve looked at facsimiles of the same game for so long I only see the code.
Here’s what I propose: let’s give the open world thing a rest. We were all very excited about being free to run off into the horizon any direction on the map ten years ago, but by now we’ve learned there’s probably not much going on over there and it’s likely not worth the slog. So let’s put the whole concept aside for a while and, in its absence, let’s see what can be achieved in linear games.
WALK THE LINE
Tightly choreographed sequences, inevitably connected by corridors. This was, for a long time, the prevailing mindset in shooter design, and it gave us genre-changing titles like Doom, Half-Life, and BioShock. Linear games still exist, obviously, but they’ve been pushed sideways slightly from the limelight over the last decade, cropping up less frequently than Far Cry in its many guises. Linear games can still captivate, as 2016’s Doom and 2017’s Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus both did. How much more exciting might it have been to experience the Project At Eden’s Gate Cult and the Seed family at the top of its hierarchy via a constrained, focused experience like Half-Life 2? How much more momentum might the story have had if the game dictated the pace instead of the player?
Unlike the aforementioned Luddites, I’m not saying we throw all our open world games into the fire and dig out our PS1 copies of Doom. Open world games have many more wonderful evolutions yet to come, but let’s give them some space for that to happen. It’s hard to reinvent the genre on a yearly cadence.