Aug 09 2012
I appreciate challenging levels and a good story as much as the next modern gamer, but sometimes, you just want to play games to have fun.
What I mean is, you want to be free of mission objectives and cutscenes. You just want to dick around, whether that means killing every NPC in sight, or exploring uncharted areas the linear storyline won’t take you.
I selected five of my favorite video game sandboxes to play around in. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
San Andreas (Grand Theft Auto)
Since Grand Theft Auto went three dimensional, there are a lot of locales to chose from for this slot on the list. Liberty City, Vice City, Bigger Liberty City, but I ultimately had to go with San Andreas. Why?
San Andreas was the last time Grand Theft Auto wasn’t afraid to truly go goofy. GTA IV struck a more serious tone, but in GTA:SA you could fly around in a jetpack as a morbidly obese black guy. The map was enormous, and still feels like one of the bigger video game sandboxes to date (though it isn’t, really). There were so many areas to explore, and I remember trying to hunt down urban legends like Leatherface at the lumber mill or find UFOs using that mysterious map that I never did understand.
But ultimate, GTA was a great series for dicking around because it was one of the few games that still allowed cheats, so in between missions you were free to drop a tank in your driveway and go on a cross country murder spree until the entire US army was finally able to take you down.
Skyrim (The Elder Scrolls)
Skyrim is less about crazy police chases, unless your idea of fun is seeing how many Whiterun guards you can kill before they give up and leave you alone. Actually that is pretty fun.
But with such a rich and detailed map, it’s one of the first game where you simply felt like exploring rather than playing. Yes, if you played it from a linear perspective you’d just be doing a lot of fetch quests and following an arrow on your compass, but it really didn’t have to be like that.
Rather, the most fun I ever had was on my second playthrough as a stealth archer where if there was a point ahead on my radar, I simply went to it and explored it. With hundreds of places to find, you could sink a few hundred hours into the game and still not find everything. The downside was that combat got quite repetitive, and at higher levels you simply have to glance in most enemies’ direction and they’ll fall down dead.
The sights and sounds of the beautiful land of Skyrim were well worth it though, and it dicking around actually made the game better than if you were just actually playing it for the story.
Stilwater (Saints Row 2)
It may seem redundant to have GTA and Saints Row on here, as the two share many similarities, but trust me, it isn’t. While GTA up until recently has always been a bit goofy, it’s nothing compared to Saints Row which abandons any pretense of sanity in the pursuit of fun. And it’s amazing.
Much of this stems from your ability to alter absolutely everything about your character. You can do drivebys as a tiny Asian woman wearing nipple pasties. You can murder cops as an obese British man in a hot dog costume. The recipes for absurdity are endless.
The missions provide a fair amount of dicking around in and of themselves, but it’s in the overworld between tasks where you’ll truly have your fun. In Saints Row you have a wanted star level for the police AND a wanted star level for rival gangs, resulting in not one but two insane groups that are out to kill you. But fortunately they can’t f*** with me when I’m spraying them with shit from a septic truck.
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