Grand Theft Auto III ushered in a new brand of game design on consoles, the open-world game, largely thanks to its runaway success when it was released in 2003. Since then, the genre has expanded considerably to encompass everything from destructible playgrounds to realistic historical periods and pieces.
Both established franchises and new IP continue to grow the open world and sandbox genre, from well known titles like Grand Theft Auto to new and somewhat risky ones like Assassin's Creed, each one still offers something unique for players. We've even seen games of different genres grow into the open world space.
In particular, the current console generation has produced a wide range of memorable experiences. So many that we decided to restrict entries to one title per franchise. Here they are, the best open-world games of recent years, in alphabetical order.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Every iteration of the Assassin's Creed series could have easily made this list. Ubisoft Montreal's work has popularized open world parkour and set the current standard for lifelike animations. In the end, Brotherhood's singular focus on recreating Renaissance Rome, macro-managing of an entire city and the grand scope of it, pushed it over the top - the numerous, interconnected side missions also helped.
While the majority of open world games tend to focus on character action, Criterion's Burnout Paradise stood out by making vehicular racing the focus. Paradise City felt every bit as real and detailed while accelerating to ridiculously fast speeds, as opposed to the genre standard of leisurely walking the streets. A steady stream of downloadable content and expansions to Paradise City kept Burnout Paradise in the headlines and its community strong and healthy.
Crackdown was one of the first games this console generation to show what a modern sandbox could truly do. It also helped popularize the addition of superhero aspects to the GTA formula, followed a few years later by Infamous, Prototype, and more. Orb collection became an iconic obsession that turned many unsuspecting gamers into achievement whores.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Bethesda Game Studios
Another early entry this generation was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which showcased what high-definition games could achieve, open-world or not, when it was released in 2006. Oblivion brought Bethesda Game Studio's Western RPG mastery to a wider audience, with a massive, fantastical world for players to explore. Here's to looking forward to Skyrim!
Bethesda Game Studios
Todd Howard's team at Bethesda hit a home run yet again shortly after Oblivion, when they revitalized the revered Fallout series in 2008. Fallout 3 maintained Oblivion's vastness and array of side quests, but focused on a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic setting. The game was also notable because it successfully verged realtime shooting with many traditional RPG elements. To this date, the Fallout series has been kept strong with a series of DLC and expansions with the full-fledged entry being Fallout: New Vegas.
Grand Theft Auto IV
It should come as no surprise that Grand Theft Auto IV, the next major step forward from the original console open-world game, made the list. Gamers waited patiently for Rockstar to set the bar this generation, and, for the most part, were rewarded. Liberty City was incredibly detailed and skillfully crafted - some glaring contradictions between the gameplay and narrative being one downside.
Sucker Punch Productions
As mentioned above, inFamous took some of the foundations laid out by Crackdown, and took them to another level. Playing as Cole, with all his electrified abilities, was fun, plain and simple. Everything from traversing Empire City, to dispensing with hordes of enemies made you feel powerful. It should be very interesting to see what Sucker Punch can do with an engine actually optimized for the PS3 with Infamous 2.
Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar San Diego
While Rockstar North is generally considered the creative force with Rockstar, the San Diego team stole some - ok, a lot - of the spotlight with Red Dead Redemption. Much more than simply 'Grand Theft Horse', Red Dead was able to recreate the GTA magic in an old Wild West setting, with grand vistas, memorable characters, and inventive multiplayer options. Redemption's success further raises confidence in Rockstar's ability to branch out with upcoming titles such as L.A. Noire.
Red Faction: Guerrilla
Red Faction: Guerrilla was a surprise hit when it came out in 2009, amongst fierce competition in the genre with Infamous and Prototype. It defined the playground aspect of sandbox games with seemingly endless destructible possibilities. While the story was lacking, finding the most creative way to collapse a massive building, offline or online, never gets old.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
GSC Game World
Gaming on PC has been thriving as of late, which includes open-world titles thanks, in large part, to S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. Ukranian-based developer GSC Game World stroke a chord with gamers because of the game's dark, oppressive tone and emphasis on player choice.
Far Cry 2
Just Cause 2
Saints Row 2