If there’s one trend that’s defined modern gaming, it’s the rise and rise of the open-world game, which has grown to encompass a dizzying array of genres, styles and settings on the PS4 alone. Its ever increasing popularity is due to open-world games being the ultimate expression thus far of the unparalleled escapism offered by gaming in general. Their vital element is choice, you control your actions and direction in a way that’s simply not possible in other game styles, they offer worlds to wander around, essentially they’re like real life with less of the boring bits (fewer PowerPoint presentations and admin roles, more dragons and drug dealers).
The other appeal is what we might call virtual tourism, the sense that, done properly, open-world games impart an unrivalled sense of place, that walking around the streets of GTA V’s Los Santos for example gives us a real sense of real-life Los Angeles. Even those open world games that don’t take place in facsimiles of real world locations exhibit this trait, they still offer locales with a definable feel that can be explored at the player’s leisure, or sped through on the way to somewhere more exciting. They therefore offer a sense of immersion that films for example can only dream of.
Finally there’s the gameplay aspect, the fact that developers can now fill their game with optional tasks and trinkets to tempt players away from what they’re “supposed” to be doing, to offer the subversive thrill of going against the grain while in fact acting in ways anticipated and facilitated by the developer. This illusion of freedom has flourished on the latest generation of consoles and the PS4 offers everything from exploring the sun-kissed seas of the Caribbean to trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
To decide on the best PS4 open-world games, some of the finest minds at Gaming Respawn gathered together and, after a debate that raged long into the night, submitted their own personal lists. Points were allocated, scores were totted up and a final ranking was decided.
It should be noted that games were chosen based on how well they exemplified the open world genre, either due to the quality of the open worlds themselves or due to high quality open ended gameplay experiences that were powered by the tools the games gave to the player. For example, while the majority of the GR staff agreed that Shadow of Mordor is a very good game, its open world aspect is rather unimportant and it is therefore a poor example of the genre.
The other key aspect is that we wanted to assess games’ long-term impact rather than just going for whatever we were hooked on at the time. The cut off date for releases was therefore October 31st 2016 and the likes of Watch Dogs 2, Final Fantasy XV, Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda will be assessed for inclusion in a future update.
Criticisism, suggestions and disagreement are of course welcome in the comments below, a lack of personal abuse however would be greatly appreciated.
12. Watch Dogs
The first Watch Dogs was, depending on your viewpoint, either a serious work with much to say about the dangers of our steadily encroaching surveillance society, or a fun game where you could steal money, read people’s texts and make steam pipes blow with your quasi-magical mobile phone. While few were enthralled by protagonist Aiden “I haven’t smiled since the intro” Pearce’s prolonged revenge mission, it was enlivened by a diverse and entertaining supporting cast that featured charismatic psychopaths, punk-rock hackers and an elderly crime boss who was as vicious as they come.
More importantly, there was plenty to tempt you away from where you were “supposed” to go, from basic distractions like chess, poker, races and stopping crimes in progress to more esoteric fare such as the game’s digital trips. These fun-filled mini-games overlaid Watch Dogs’ Chicago setting with all sorts of digital craziness, from bouncing off giant flowers to piloting a robot spider and destroying everything in sight.
Although it perhaps lacked the spark of other open worlds, the game’s recreation of Chicago was meticulous and detailed, from the skyscraper clusters in downtown to the more deprived areas further out and navigating the city was fun, with arcade physics encouraging handbrake turns through fences and lampposts. Most of all though, there was great childish fun to be had simply wandering around, profiling people to discover their darkest secrets, eavesdropping on phone conversations, emptying bank accounts and causing chaos by hacking traffic lights and even setting off the odd blackout.
11. Just Cause 3
At first glance, there’s nothing particularly special about Just Cause 3’s Mediterranean mashup, with soaring peaks, red-roofed towns and picturesque bays all ticked off like the stock pics in a holiday brochure. It’s picture-postcard beautiful, sure, but what makes it special is just how much fun it is to travel around this natural wonder with the unique tools that define Just Cause 3, grappling hook, parachute and wing suit. With this trio, you’ll quickly abandon the game’s collection of cars, bikes, helicopters, planes, and tanks; instead using your grappling hook to propel your wingsuit flight like some sort of paramilitary Spider-man and then deploying your parachute for a graceful landing. It takes a few hours to master but once you get the knack, this combination gives one of the purest thrills in gaming as you zip through the skies, achieving a Zen-like flow that’s only ever a mis-timed button press from disaster.
It also has a refreshing refusal to take itself even remotely seriously, instead placing you in the shoes of slicked back special agent Rico Rodriguez to blow up and destroy pretty much the whole island in the name of deposing a vicious dictator. Throughout, there’s the sense that no one ever said “is this too much?” as the explosions get bigger and bigger, you gain abilities like being able to hurl trucks into fuel tanks and take out entire battalions single handed. The end result is a love letter to creative destruction, each upgrade to Rico’s impressive arsenal encouraging further experimentation and the rapid transitions between sea, land and air combat making Just Cause 3 a fluid, dynamic ode to videogame escapism.
10. Batman: Arkham City
Yes, it’s technically a PS3 game, but, along with Arkham Asylum, the first open-world Batman game was fully remastered for the PS4, with the two games released together in 2015 as Return to Arkham. The remastering process resulted in a notable shift to a more detailed and realistic world, and the release included all DLC from both games. Although surpassed technically by 2015’s Arkham Knight (see No. 6), Arkham City (originally released in 2011) was preferred by many GR staffers, who argued that Batman’s original open-world adventure offered a stronger narrative and truer experience than the chuck-everything-in approach of Arkham Knight (epitomised by the divisive inclusion of the Batmobile as an ultra-mobile tank).
In terms of story, it stuck closer to the Batman canon, with psychiatrist/super villain Hugo Strange overseeing the Arkham City of the title, a vast super prison encompassing the whole of Gotham’s slums and housing everyone who Batman would really like to avoid. Inevitably, he ends up inside and, while attempting to figure out who is truly behind Arkham City and what its purpose truly is, the Caped Crusader works with and fights against a host of classic characters, with everyone from a mutated Joker to Killer Croc making an appearance. It’s this narrative that powers the game, twisting and turning its way to an explosive and shocking conclusion.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter whether Arkham Knight or Arkham City is better, they’re both great games filled with compelling characters, narrative twists and spectacular set pieces. Moreover, they’re only two parts of one of the best trilogies in gaming, Arkham Asylum kicked it all off and is still a fantastic game in its own right. The packaging together of Asylum and City gives you no excuse, this story-driven epic really should be experienced the whole way through.
9. Mafia 3
Mafia 3’s appeal essentially boils down to one word: cool. It’s a game that carries itself with an effortless swagger, sucking players into its vision of 1968 New Orleans. The story is classic hardboiled pulp fiction, with protagonist Lincoln Clay returning from Vietnam to find himself betrayed and left for dead, and his protracted revenge involving taking over an entire city that’s rotten to its core. While the game has its bad points (most notably a lack of mission variety), what Mafia 3 gets massively right is far more intangible, it just feels right, whether you’re slinging muscle cars around city streets, creeping up on a gang hideout or going in all guns blazing with a semi-automatic, the whole thing drips with atmosphere and draws you in ever deeper. It’s also one of the few games that has the courage to take itself seriously and avoids the cartoonish oversimplification favoured by the GTAs of this world, with the narrative refusing to shy away from the racism that dominated the era. Indeed, it places it front and centre, Lincoln is black and his blackness defines him in the minds of others, he’s patronised, insulted and reviled by his predominantly white foes.
Perhaps Mafia 3’s greatest achievement is that it feels genuinely distinctive, its take on the open world genre is gritty, realistic and packed with period detail, everything from vintage Playboys to wiretaps and payphones. Last but by no means least, it’s got one of the best videogame soundtracks ever, with the likes of Wild Thing, Bad Moon Rising and, of course, House of the Rising Sun accompanying your criminal escapades.
8. Far Cry 4
You can never accuse Ubisoft of straying from a winning formula. Far Cry 4 builds on the success of 2012’s last generation Far Cry 3 by importing the same mix of stealth, gunplay, open world exploration and trying to stay one step ahead of a charismatic sociopath to a beautiful new setting. In this case, you’ll be trying to stay alive in Kyrat, a fictional Himalayan country that’s a beguiling mix of soaring peaks, lush green forests and shimmering azure lakes. It’s also been split down the middle by a vicious and bloody civil war: the south is home to the Golden Path resistance movement, while the North is the stronghold of sharp-suited designer dictator Pagan Min (he would be that charismatic sociopath we mentioned earlier) and his Royal Army.
As Kyrati-American Ahay Ghale, you end up slap bang in the middle of this situation when, on a mission to scatter your mother’s ashes over a sacred Kryati site, you’re hailed as the Golden Path’s spiritual leader (it quickly becomes clear that your parents founded the group) and encouraged/emotionally blackmailed into joining the fight. The stage is therefore set for your typical open world shenanigans, you’ll attack enemy bases, collect lore-revealing trinkets, scale towers, take part in races, level up a skill tree, and try to stay alive in a hostile wilderness.
What’s special about the Far Cry series is that you’ll do all this in first person and the series has always done an excellent job of emphasising the physicality of your encounters, whether that’s rappelling down the side of a mountain or digging a bullet out of your arm with a twig. In short, everything feels like it has real weight and impact, vital to bringing home the reality of the situation. The first person view also really showcases the game’s often stunning graphics; Kyrat is a war torn paradise and the game alternates between scenes of death and destruction and picture postcard natural beauty.
Really though, it’s all about the elephants, Far Cry 4 brings a lot to the table, a stunning setting, well developed characters, open ended gameplay, mystical sequences set in Shangri-La, and the level of polish that you only get when a talented team is able to diligently work on a project that they genuinely care about. What most players really remember though is the sheer childish joy of charging into an enemy camp riding a rampaging elephant, and you don’t get that anywhere else.
7. Infamous: Second Son
A non-stop thrill ride on the streets, alleyways and rooftops of Seattle, Infamous: Second Son is one of the PS4’s most underrated games. In some ways, that’s no surprise, Infamous is one of the most underrated series in gaming and its developers Sucker Punch are also rarely mentioned in terms of elite developers. All this seems a little unfair, as Second Son is, among other things, the best superhero simulator ever made, eventually allowing you to zip and glide across the city at light speed. The other thing that really stands out when progressing through its story is the sheer wealth of ideas, while most games give you one set of distinctive powers, Second Son gives you more and more abilities, which you can then shuffle like a deck of cards.
The story is this, years after after the atomic bomb-style event that kicked off the first game and gave a select few “conduits” superpowers, the future US government has finally got a grip on the situation and is doing its level best to imprison anyone with even a hint of the extraordinary. To accomplish this, it’s created the more than faintly Orwellian Department of Unified Protection (DUP) which has major US cities on lockdown as it uses its black-clad forces of evil to track down and catch every conduit (or bio-terrorist in DUP parlance). You come into this dystopian scenario as Delsin Rowe who, after a chance encounter with an escaped conduit, discovers that in super power terms he’s hit the jackpot, he’s able to absorb the abilities of others simply by touching them. Of course as far as the DUP is concerned, this paints a rather large bullseye on the back of his denim jacket and places his Native American community in serious danger. The stage is therefore set for a superpowered collision as, with the occasional help of other conduits , Delsin takes on the full might of the DUP, including its own extraordinary troops.
The storytelling is excellent, with Troy Baker playing Delsin as a smart ass tempered by his obligations to family and tribe, but it’s the powers that make Infamous really special, with the initial smoke class augmented by other types until you can sprint up walls as a neon blur, deploy polygonal fantasy beasts to aid you in battle and encase yourself in concrete to deflect bullets and bulldoze cars out of the way. In terms of sheer glee-filled escapism, not much comes close.
6. Fallout 4
The year is 2287 and the Earth, well the Earth’s not doing so good. The lore of Fallout is long and complicated but essentially boils down to the world having annihilated itself on October 23, 2077 after ongoing wars over limited resources culminated in the US, China and the USSR having a two-hour nuclear war that killed or mutated most of humanity. Only those that heeded the warnings and entered underground nuclear shelters known as Vaults survived and, 200 odd years later, humanity has fractured into various groups with competing ideologies and belief systems.
In Fallout 4, you’re one of the lucky ones, initially at least. After choosing a gender and ethnicity, you enter Vault 111 with your partner and child by your side. Then the screen fades to black, you wake briefly, immobilised and powerless to intervene as your partner is shot dead and your child is kidnapped before your eyes. You’re then put under again and finally emerge 210 years after you went in, blinking into the daylight to find a vastly different world.
Here’s where Fallout 4 truly begins, with your main character hellbent on avenging his wife and finding his son, a journey that will take from the Massachusetts suburbs that he called home into the heart of what Boston has become. What makes the game special is just how much work has gone into it, ever since the Cold War, humanity has been fascinated by the prospect of what the world could be following a nuclear apocalypse, but Fallout is one of the best realisations of such a future in any media. Over what most people believe is at least five years, Bethesda created a meticulously detailed universe that is shaped by and reflects the particular circumstances of its fictional timeline in which the transistor was never invented and instead atomic power was the catalyst for global progress. Coca Cola becomes Nuka Cola for example and groups you’ll fight with or against include The Institute, a secretive organisation that believes the future for humanity lies in producing and using lifelike robots called synths.
This is the sort of detail that you’ll readily soak up in Fallout 4, as with all of Bethesda’s best work, it’s not so much a game as an alternate reality to get lost in, where you can play for hundreds of hours and still not uncover every mystery that lies behind locked doors or down abandoned alleyways. The main story and primary side quests generally rely on exploration, shooting (with or without the slow-motion assist of the VATS system) and branching dialogue where your decisions have a genuine impact on the fate of this wasteland, but there’s plenty more to do, from building and defending bases to obsessively hunting down parts to evolve your weapons and power the tank-like suits of power armour found in the game.
More than anything though, Fallout 4 is a superb example of the unrivalled scene-setting power of open-world games, each interaction, mission and decision fills in a bit more of the unknown mass that is the Fallout universe and it’s this superlative worldbuilding that truly sucks you in and doesn’t let go.
5. Batman: Arkham Knight
Ah, yes, Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy, the games that made us all put on our best gravelly voice and announce “I’m Batman” into the bathroom mirror. While some (including me) still prefer the focus and pacing of Arkham Asylum, it’s hard to deny that there’s a certain irresistible attraction to a Batman set free to soar above the rooftops of Gotham, dropping down when he pleases to deal out punishment with maximum prejudice. Away from the main story (Batman’s pursuit of, and confrontations with, the mysterious Arkham Knight and assorted criminal underlings), there’s plenty to do, with the Riddler having kidnapped Catwoman and set up fiendish puzzles across the city, serial arsonist Firefly on the rampage once more, Two-Face robbing banks, and mutilated bodies strung up on rooftops and in alleys accompanied by opera music. There’s also the option of simply patrolling the streets, looking for any opportunity to explore the nuances and complexity of one of the best fight control schemes ever made, a rhythmic dance of strike, evade and counter strike that is balletic and brutal in equal measure.
And then, for the first time, there’s the Batmobile, a muscular, malevolent, high-octane presence on streets solely populated by Gotham’s criminal underworld following Scarecrow’s threat to use a chemical weapon. You’ll also find plenty to do with your high-powered ride, puzzles often require precision control while a single button press transforms the Batmobile into a tank for drone combat sequences that are a fun change of pace even if not exactly fitting the Caped Crusader’s MO. What makes Arkham Knight though is its atmosphere, the way it puts the gothic into Gotham, the entire game taking place under a rain-soaked night sky that makes the pavements glisten under streetlight and skyscrapers sparkle.
Finally, Rocksteady have also been able to introduce some classic British humour into the mix, with goons overheard conversing about whether the sun ever shines in Gotham, the difficulty of maintaining relationships in their particular line of work (“I launder her money without her even asking me”), and just how smart it was for the Riddler to kidnap Catwoman given that she largely leaves the city’s criminal fraternity alone unless provoked. Bottom line, without a serious head for heights, deep pockets, military contacts and a sartorial obsession with black and grey, this is as close as we’re ever going to come to being Batman.
4. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The undisputed winner of the ‘game most likely to make you feel like you’re on a Caribbean holiday’ award, the first PS4 Assassin’s Creed was fondly remembered by many of the GR staff, particularly those who have also always dreamed of a lawless life on the high seas. It is after all a pirate sim far more than an Assassin’s Creed game, protagonist Edward Kenway may be related to the major figures in Assassin’s Creed 3, but he is neither an assassin nor a Templar and is more interested in coin than ideology.
This lends the game a welcome lightness of touch, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a marked contrast from the philosophising and moralising that characterise many previous games in the series. Basically, Kenway is a chancer, a cocky dreamer who often acts without thinking things through but can usually get himself out of whatever scrapes he gets into. His constant companion is his black quartermaster Adewale, whose composure is often a vital counterpoint to Kenway’s headstrong impulses, and together the two pursue fame and fortune. Kenway gets dragged into the Assassin vs Templar conflict when he accidentally kills an assassin and then decides to impersonate him, hoping as always to make a few bob out of it. The story then progresses as Assassin’s Creed games tend to, both sides are searching for a magical artefact/weapon to tip the scales in their favour and Kenway is hunting for it too, although he’s only interested in selling it to the highest bidder. He also gets involved in attempts to establish an independent pirate colony (a challenge, given that admin doesn’t tend to be high on a pirate’s CV) and there’s a nice meta-plot where jump out of the Animus you play in first person as an employee of Abstergo Entertainment and find out there’s far more going on than simply turning Kenway’s experiences into a pirate-themed computer game.
Another consequence of this emphasis on piracy is that the typical elements of an Assassin’s Creed game often feel shoehorned in, Kenway gets his hidden blade by killing an assassin and the game’s islands feature towering wooden structures that seemingly only exist to be climbed. When it gets away from pretending to be an Assassin’s Creed game though, Black Flag is fantastic, there’s an undeniable thrill to crashing through the waves, raiding vessels and searching for buried treasure. Of course, there’s the usual host of historical figures, with Kenway fighting and feuding with the likes of Blackbeard and Captain Kidd, and a basketful of aquatic diversions, from navigating the depths in a diving bell to harpooning whales. Vitally, Black Flag’s commitment to historical accuracy rivals any other game in the series and the game comprehensively exposes the reality behind the pirate fantasy, a precarious, dangerous existence only undertaken by the truly desperate. In the grand tradition of the BBC then, Black Flag entertains, informs and educates, what more could you want from an open-world adventure?
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The muscular presence of Geralt of Rivia is at the heart of The Witcher 3, an action movie anti-hero who’s the central point around which all the action revolves. The fulcrum and only constant presence for the swirling mass of witches, nobles, mages, soothsayers, sorceresses and soldiers that is the epic, sprawling narrative of The Witcher 3. The witcher of the title, Geralt has been bred for only one purpose, to fight the monsters that terrify the populace and make the game’s recreation of the Middle Ages a constant menace. To this end, his childhood was an unholy mix of combat training and being subjected to mutations which eventually made him and his fellow witchers stronger, faster and tougher than normal humans.
Witchers also learn magic, and Geralt is able to cast various spells to help him combat the nightmarish variety of monsters, ghouls and beasts that he encounters throughout the game. Once their training is complete, witchers wander the land as monster hunters for hire, taking on fearsome beasts to earn enough to live on. At best, they are regarded as a necessary evil, constant outsiders and the last of a dying breed. Geralt’s gruff manner and battle-hardened eyes often give The Witcher 3 the feel of an old-school Western, as you ride around on your faithful steed Roach and do your best to survive in a world where you’re a constant reminder of what most people don’t want to think about.
While Geralt is generally a decent man, a lifetime of being shunned and insulted has left him guarded and he reserves genuine affection for other outsiders (his fellow witchers and other magic practitioners such as witches, sorceresses and pellars). The relationships that really shape him though are with the three women in his life, the sorceresses Yennefer and Triss, and Ciri. The first two he shares a torrid romantic history with, his on-again off again relationship with long-term love Yennefer further complicated by shacking up with Triss while suffering from amnesia. The most important though is Ciri, a descendant of magical nobility who possesses immense supernatural power and who Geralt raised as his adoptive daughter, training and teaching her at the witcher school in Kaer Morhen.
He would go to the ends of the earth for her and indeed traverses nearly every corner of The Witcher 3’s world in his attempt to find her after she goes on the run from The Wild Hunt, a mysterious army that want Ciri for their own unspecified, nefarious ends. The world of The Witcher 3 is taken from the fantasy novels of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and it shows, while his compatriot developers CD Projekt Red have created their own stories within it, it’s the world of The Witcher 3 that is its defining quality, the characters, settings and attitudes all have a depth and nuance that you’ll rarely find in video game writing.
What Projekt Red bring to the table in return is technical excellence, the dialogue is generally superbly written, the voice acting is excellent and the game is often incredibly beautiful, with dynamic lighting effects and a kaleidoscopic range of colour. The gameplay is solid enough, but it’s the world that stays with you, a fascinating mix of warring kingdoms, magical creatures, nightmarish beasts and a vast populace helplessly caught in the middle of it all that’s fleshed out so fully that you’ll genuinely care. And it’s a world that you’ll come to know intimately, tackle every side quest and you’ll be with Geralt for hundreds of hours on a journey that takes in everyone from beggars on the street to emperors and kings and which culminates with the fate of the world at stake. What’s truly remarkable is that throughout this lengthy playtime, the commitment to immersive, emotional storytelling never wavers, the world always has more secrets to show you, quests will take you places you didn’t even know existed and you don’t feel like you’re interacting with NPCs but helping out living, breathing characters with their own motivations, passions, needs and desires, with lives that continue once you’ve ridden off into the sunset.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim often feels like the ultimate expression of the open world ideal, not so much a game as an endless space of possibility full of stories, experiences and life-altering decisions. What it offers is the option of escaping into an epic fantasy world, and of creating your own bespoke experience in this land of elves, mages, soldiers and dragons.
It’s the last of these that are the most prevalent, whichever one of the 10 races you pick (and these span the gamut from magic elves to reptilian humanoids), you are the Dovahkiin or Dragonborn, a hero with the soul of a dragon that, in Skyrim’s main quest, will take on the Nordic god of destruction with the fate of the world at stake. Being the Dovahkiin also gives you another benefit, through a combination of defeating dragons that randomly spawn across the massive game world and discovering walls carved in the dragons’ native tongue, you’ll unlock dragon shouts that give you extra abilities such as a telekinetic blast that will knock unwary foes off cliffs or even the power to summon a dragon to fight by your side.
The thing that defines Skyrim though is that, outside of the first 20-30 minutes, you’re not bound to the main quest, it’s simply one option among many. Yes, you’ll find great moments and an intriguing story there, but you’ll find that pretty much everywhere, and there’s so much to distract you. You’ll quickly come across Skyrim’s factions and guilds for example, and each of these have their own quests involving everything from burglary and assassination to fighting for either the imperial army or rebel forces. Competing these nets you some pretty cool rewards, such as fancy armour and weapons or the ability to transform into a werewolf.
Or, if all that sounds a bit hectic, you can simply focus on making money, whether that’s by crafting and selling potions or farming vegetables. For those who dream of domestic bliss, Skyrim even offers the option of getting married, building a house and seeing out your days with your beloved. If you’d prefer an ally in combat to a romantic partner, then be sure to find a companion, these range from dogs to fellow warriors, and will make those dragon ambushes a bit easier to handle, as well as keeping you company on those long treks from city to city.
Speaking of combat, it’s fun and hugely varied, from firing magic bolts at fearsome beasts to stealthily taking out enemy camps with a bow and arrow before wandering in with your broadsword and slicing everything that moves. There are also some very cool slo-mo death animations to showcase your most stylish kills. It’s in combat that the game often looks its best, the new particle effects on the remastered PS4 release lending a welcome dynamism to proceedings and volumetric lighting giving the action some cinematic flair. Generally, while Bethesda’s next-gen update hasn’t quite brought the 2011 PS3 game up to modern open-world standards, Skyrim continues to be a visually distinctive, dramatic and often stunning game, and things like draw distances and textures have been much improved to really show off the snowy peaks, lush green forests, and shadowy catacombs that make up the gameworld.
What’s perhaps most special about Skyrim though is that despite the fact that you’re a legendary mythological figure, this is not a world that entirely revolves around you, in fact numerous critics have noted that it doesn’t need you at all, an oddly empowering feeling as it means that there’s no nagging feeling that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. In short, you’ve got complete freedom and, whether you shape the fate of this divided kingdom or get distracted at its edges, you’re guaranteed a memorable, rich and and involving voyage of discovery in one of the most detailed and immersive open worlds ever created.
1. Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V was first released for the PS3 back in September 2013, only three months before the launch of the PS4. As expected, it blew everyone away, overcoming the stratospheric expectations associated with any Rockstar release with a combination of the best fundamentals ever seen in a GTA (driving and shooting in particular were much improved), gorgeous graphics that were a superb final showcase for the PS3, and an involving, varied plot split across multiple playable characters. What’s more, the whole thing was shot through with the satirical bite that has always been the series’ calling card.
Incredibly, just over a year later, Rockstar repeated the trick, GTA V’s inevitable PS4 release was the antithesis of the straightforward port that most gamers expected. Instead, Rockstar raised the bar for remasters, it took what previously looked beautiful and made it simply stunning, new lighting, detail and textures bringing Los Santos to life in a way that we’d never seen before and making GTA V still, over two years on, one of the best-looking games on the PS4.
For most studios, that would have been enough. Rockstar aren’t most studios though, and instead they added what was quite possibly the most ambitious thing they could think of, a first-person mode, perhaps reasoning that having put all that effort into the graphics, they might as well let players see them up close. All of sudden GTA was immersive on a whole new level, simply walking around the streets of Los Santos became a pleasure, a sublime form of virtual tourism that was about as close as you could get to being in LA without a bank-busting airfare and 12 hours on a transatlantic flight.
What’s more, first-person wasn’t a tiny diversion that gave a glimpse of what could be, it was always just a button press away and you could even play through the whole story looking through the eyes of whichever one of GTA V’s central trio you were currently playing as. Doing so lent the game an occasionally terrifying intensity, every crazy jump, desperate shootout and fistfight resounding with visceral authenticity. Personally, one sequence stood out amidst the general craziness, the moment where Michael, the game’s retired stick-up man and the personification of that old phrase about money not buying you happiness, leaps off the pier hellbent on stopping his wayward teenage daughter from hanging out with porno producers on a luxury yacht. Now, it always felt cool to run and leap into the sea, but in first person, it became a two-second thrill ride, a compressed rollercoaster of speed, elevation and landing; the sun glinting in your periphery for a second before your entire world becomes an expanse of blue which disappears just as quickly as you break through the water and begin powering toward your destination. It’s a small example of the way a shift in perspective often transforms GTA V and also has a narrative purpose, Michael’s primal reaction bringing home the affection for his daughter.
There were other additions too, the already impressive soundtrack was expanded further and taking peyote could transform you into various animals and birds, but whichever way you played it and no matter what you did, GTA V on PS4 quite simply offered an unparalleled experience, a description that also applied to the game’s online mode, a frenzied mix of death matches, races, events and heists that is still being constantly updated and has millions of loyal players.
Overall, GTA V on PS4 is the ultimate edition of a definitive classic, not only the best open-world game on the PS4, not even just one of the best games on the console full stop, but quite simply one of the best games ever made and one that demands a place in your collection.