I've been playing the Just Cause 2 demo and I've developed a bit of a crush on it. Not because it's a particularly good or original game, but because of its environment. Okay, so only a small portion is available to explore in the demo, but videos show lush jungle, waterways, cities, snowy mountains and suburban towns. I can't wait for the full game.
I'm a sucker for open world games. I like the idea that an entire world has been created and the missions only take you in a jagged crisscross through it; there's a whole other world out there to explore. My favourites of the genre aren't necessarily the best, but those that provide the most satisfying places for exploration.
GTA: San Andreas stole hours upon hours of time. I never completed the missions. In fact I never got off the first island, I just waited for my brother to complete it. I'd spend hours driving around Mount Chiliad, or over those huge fields trying to find all the farms. I'd happily take a cycle through every alley, or fly a helicopter round and round looking for banal, boring places where I could stand and watch the sun rise, and just let the world go by.
Red Faction: Guerrilla provided some unparalleled destruction but just not enough variety. Everything was built on repetitive red rock that couldn't be damaged with the otherwise phenomenal destruction physics. The city of Eos merely provided a different set of vehicles driving by than the town of Dust. Although it had a few little gems hidden away, they were too few and far between.
Driv3r was the king of alleys. Like in Driver I'd drive for hours obeying the rules of the road. I'd stop at red lights, watch my speed and I'd look for car-parks that I could explore and parks and observatories well off the road. I'd go into back-gardens and see swimming pools and swing-sets.
Assassin's Creed, though severely flawed, was beautiful in places. Seeing a tower in the distance, running over to it, climbing it and pressing the synchronise button to get a soaring view over the city was one of those breathtaking moments in games that will stick with me forever. Again, it was tempered by a lack of variety but I could overlook that.
For my money Far Cry 2 suffered from many of the same problems as Assassin's Creed. Ignoring the missions which became a bore, there was some real jungle to look through. Problem was, I'd often wreck my car miles from civilisation meaning I'd be lumbering along on foot for miles. Quite often there'd be not a lot around for miles. Shacks in the middle of the wilderness, though awesome, were sullied by the fact that diamonds were littered around them, giving you a reason to go there. Also, there's nothing worse than going on a relaxing sunset drive only to stumble across a guard tower and get ripped to shreds my bullets.