So lately, I’ve been playing a lot of InFamous 2. Since my review, I have completed both the good and evil story lines and am on my third playthrough with a friend. One thing that a game like InFamous 2 did so well was create an open world that is just plain fun to explore and move around in. I haven’t had as much fun transgressing a city through power-line-sliding since the web-slinging in Spider-Man 2 The Movie The Game. It made me start thinking, why do they not make more of these urban sandbox games… with superpowers?
To make sure I’m not confusing anyone, here’s some quick exposition: “Sandbox” is a term used for adventure titles where the whole world, from the start of the game, has already been mapped out and available to the player. The story progresses through missions stamped on various locations of said map that you can pursue on your own time between searching for collectibles, completing side missions, and just plain exploring the world. Rockstar catapulted this genre into the last console generation with the GTA franchise. It was soon followed by Naughtydog’s Jak and Daxter sequels, who took that formula and translated it to a more sci-fi/fantasy setting. The Spider-Man movie games brought it to a whole new level by traversing the landscape not by vehicles but with superpowers. A motif that was followed by sandboxes like Incredible Hulk Ultimate Destruction, Crackdown, Prototype (which looks to be having a much better sequel coming soon), and InFamous as I’ve already mentioned.
With a few exceptions, there seems to be less and less games made in this way. Deeper stories in games require linearity and focus. While I’m not entirely against that, there are several franchises that have game potential still waiting to be untapped, and I feel the sandbox genre would be a perfect fit for them. So as a spiritual threequel to my Five SSB Spinoffs and Five Lego Spinoffs, here are my Top Five Choices for an Open Sandbox Spinoff.
5. Heroes: 5 Years Gone
Remember how new and refreshing the first season of Heroes was? It became my first coping mechanism after Avatar ended in 2008, and I was a quick fan. The story was gripping, the cast was fun and diverse, the character arcs were interwoven amongst each other excellently, and I felt there was a strong sense of progression each chapter. Yet there is one episode I keep coming back to, and that is Chapter 20: Five Years Gone, the story of a future where the Heroes failed to save Manhattan from the bomb that blew it half to hell. Hiro’s a badass, Peter’s got a scar, and Sylar, in disguise as Nathan, controls everything. I think of all the moments in the story, that is the point where I thought they could make a good video game premise. Essentially, the sandbox you have to work with is all of the half blown up Manhattan, and you play as Hiro Nakamura, now a fugitive in a desperate struggle to construct the web of events to piece together the past and find out how to fix the present. Combat would be done with the sword, and traversing through the world with teleportation and time travel would indeed be convenient. Several missions will involve teaming up with Peter Patrelli to instigate prison breaks and rescue other captives with superpowers. (I would also not be against alternating play between Hiro and Peter as well.) You will constantly have to be wary of Detective Parkman and the Haitian, and there will be a lot of dealings with Noah Benett on gathering all the information you need.
Odds: Very Low As of now, the audience for Heroes has literally dropped off the face of the earth. Season 2 Generations, started pretty good but was cut short do to the writers strike, Season 3Villains threw far too many curve balls and screwed up the characters way too much, Fugitives created plot holes you could run a truck through, and Revelations was just plain boring where nothing exciting happened till the very last episode. It’s quite sad that five years after Genesis, an atomic explosion is almost a picture perfect metaphor of what really happened to this series.
4. Sin City
I’m surprised a game based on Sin City was never actually made when the movie came out in 2005, because that was just around the era that the GTA franchise was in its prime. Though I suppose they did have the Max Payne games, which looked very similar. Anyway, while a game based on Frank Miller’s cult noir series might just come off as a GTA clone, I feel that if the visual aesthetic from the comics was translated to the game, and they took the time to flesh out the City and get all the central locations from the comics like Old Town, the different clubs, the Tar Pits next to the Dinosaur exhibit, the Rork Family Farm on the outskirts of town, that might more than make up for it. Madworld was a previous game that followed the Black and White with splashes of color motif, but a game based around this has the potential to perfect it.
Odds: Moderately Low I could see this game almost maybe slightly possibly being made if and when Robert Rodriguez stops making unnecessary Spy Kids reboots and freaking makes Sin City 2. You know, like we were promised eons ago?
3. Scott Pilgrim: Trouble in Toronto
Sorry for the cheesy subtitle, I just couldn’t help it. You’d think for a comic series that was knee deep in gaming culture, that game developers would be pining to take their own spin on this Epic tale of Epicness, but so far this series only has one game to call it’s own; the 4 Player Beat-em-up that released along side the movie last year. Both Chris and I played it, and while it does have a nostalgic charm, it’s unnecessary steep difficulty and slippery controls kept it from holding a candle to the games it was trying to recreate; like Castle Crashers, or The Simpsons, or Golden Ax, or Turtles In Time, or Battletoads and Double Dragon, just to name a few. No if I were going to create a new Scott Pilgrim game, I would follow the art style of the book again, but it would be a 3D open world of all Toronto. Several people have compared Scott Pilgrim to the game No More Heroes, which was also a sandbox game, but far too linear. Scott could sort of follow the same formula, yet there are so many locals like The Rocket, Totally Awesome Castle, Pizza Pizza, Honest Ed, No-Account Video, The Happy Avacado, not to mention all the side characters you can run into, there is a ton of opportunity to create side missions, find Subspace Portals that can act as a foil to the Substations from the first InFamous, and place hidden collectables in the form of Bios, that grow into the massive character web from Book 3.
Odds: Moderately Low It’s a tough situation. Since the movie adaptation all but died at the box office, the buzz for the series has kind of faded into obscurity. Maybe in several years when a new group of fans has time to revel in it at their own pace, but we’ll just have to see.
Remember when you were a kid, and you would pass buy those chapter books in the library that showed the pictures of kids transforming into different animals on the front covers. Yeah those always looked pretty cool didn’t they? Well turns out there was a pretty epic sci-fi behind those covers. The tale of five human adolescents and an alien that are the only thing that stand between a race of mind controlling alien parasites and the end of humanity. Trust me when I say, for children’s books, these were not for the faint of heart. Its undertones left me some of the most frightening images of my childhood. Anyway this would make an awesome video game because all six of the main characters are wonderfully well developed, and it would be easy to switch perspectives between them. The world the Animorphs encompassed, despite not having a name as they have to keep their identity and location secret, has huge variety and opportunity to explore. In fact there is a board game I have that maps out all the various locations exactly like a sandbox game, so it’s perfect. I would have this game borrow Assassin’s Creed’s awareness meter as a way to cue players when they are out of sight and free to change into animal forms. The eagle eye view from AC can also be used in this game to trigger the special visions and other senses of the different animals you change into.
Odds: Very Low Animorphs was one of those niche 90’s stories that started strong, but was quickly overshadowed when Harry Potter came into the scene. Nickelodeon once tried to make a TV series, but it wasn’t up to snuff and didn’t last long. I’ll always pray to the Elemist for a revival in some format or another, but, much like Scott Pilgrim, it may take some time.
1. The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra
Yep, that’s right. This isn’t going to be out for another year, and I’m already calling it. The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra would make an excellent sandbox game. With just the few glimpses we got of the steam punk 1920’s jazz influenced Chinatown that is Republic City, I cannot wait to explore this world further in detail. There just seems to be so much going on. Playing as Korra would be awesome too, because the combat could take some notes from God of War 3. Whereas Kratos was able to toggle through four separate weapons, Korra could toggle through the four separate styles of bending, and with your experience points, you decide which element you want to level up and gain new abilities for.
Odds: Moderate Oh we’ll get a Legend of Korra game all right, you can bet your arrow on that, and you know what, maybe it will be a sandbox game. Yet good luck if the game is any better than mediocre. I mean this is THQ after all, who hasn’t made a genuinely awesome adventure game since Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, and even that was glitchy.
So there are some of my choices for sandbox game potential. Great story premises, unique visual styles, wicked powers, these titles have a little of everything, and have yet to be given the game treatment they disserve. Good luck to all of them in the future, and as they say in the Fire Nation, [170 years ago] “Stay flamen!”
And excellent job to Alamedyang for such amazing Animorphs fan art.