6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Aren’t Grand Theft Auto

Far Cry 3 hangglider 640x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

Do you remember the way you felt when you first started playing Grand Theft Auto 3? It was as if, suddenly, any insane fantasy you ever had about how a game could play out was suddenly coming true. Suddenly, I didn’t HAVE to go in any direction I didn’t want to. Suddenly, I wasn’t forced, as a gamer, to make the game play out the way the programmers MADE ME with other games. For the first time, I was free to play a game ANY WAY I wanted to.

If I liked the linearity of some games, I could very well play through any Grand Theft Auto by doing all the missions, one after the other. If I HATED missions like that, I could spend countless hours just running over pedestrians and trying to get hookers into my car. That was what was so beautiful about how the GTA series opened up gaming. Gone were the stagnant, still worlds where you could only go in one or two given directions, and had to follow a strict set of rules. And in its place? A blank canvas of a virtual sandbox, that you could play any way you wanted to.

And with GTA3 came the revelation, among other developers, that the sandbox vibe of an open world game is something they could create, too. And while the first batch of GTA clones was pretty weak, the further we have gotten into the genre, as well as this gaming generation, the more proof we have that there are other developers who can ALMOST do it just as well as Rockstar. And some do it SO differently that you almost lose sight that GTA‘s gameplay and world influenced it in every way at one time.

The reality is, we now have a handful of open world games that play out very differently than the Grand Theft Auto series, but still owe a great deal of debt to Rockstar and GTA for having the balls to bust open the doors and do it first.

So, with that in mind, here are six games that do the open world sandbox thing just as good (and sometimes, better) than the GTA series does.

Oh, and commenters who want to come on the thread and tell me that RPGs did open worlds first, comparing an RPG to a GTA is apples and oranges. But yes, I know many RPGs did open worlds first. That being said, there are no RPG games on this list, so feel free to scuttle off back to your dungeons now. Good news, though, our interaction just now granted you a +1 to your mercantile and persuasion skills.


Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 cover 2413312b 558x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

I recently wrote about this game in my “games as Wonderland metaphors” piece, and I bring it up as much as possible because I really believe it is the most fun I ever had with an open world game. And I also think that Far Cry 3 is one of the most misunderstood games of all time. Hey, when I said that about a movie recently, the director wrote me a personal letter thanking me and saying I was spot on, so maybe that will be revealed here, too.

People take it at face value, about a white man who comes in and saves an island of natives and frees up their people by becoming a murdering madman, but this is all a “frat guy” version of Alice in Wonderland, and this is his Wonderland. They allude to Alice in Wonderland often enough in the game (and even have a mushroom tripping sequence) that it is quite clear, this is a satire of itself, and of gaming, as well as action movies. But, much like Shoot ‘Em Up, it remains awesome in the process.

Far Cry 3 is an open world FPS about a man named Jason Brody who sky dives onto an island while on vacation with his friends, and ends up being held captive by an insane pirate named Vaas (best bad guy in gaming in a long time). Brody has to become a sort of super-soldier so he can save his friends and return to civilization. And yes, over the course of this game, you pretty much become an unstoppable machine, but that is half the fun. And regarding the open world, not only is it huge, but there is SO much you can do that the game does become a virtual sandbox.

Do you want to hunt animals and sell their skins or craft them into better wallets to carry more money? You can do that.

Do you want to treat it like an Uncharted game, and just go around killing pirates and taking cool stuff? You can do that.

Do you want to get the biggest, loudest guns, and just run and gun, killing everyone you want? Yup, that too.

There are skill trees, various things to learn, and hundreds of things to discover. And on top of it, the controls are perfect, and the gameplay is incredibly fun. By the time Far Cry 3 ended, I was atleast 30 hours in, and was actually UPSET the game was over.

They fixed this by releasing the best DLC ever for it called Blood Dragon, which takes that WHOLE OPEN WORLD and then makes it look like a shitty, 1908′s Sci-Fi film. And by the end, you ride a dinosaur. No, really, you do.

So that wins. Everything. Ever.

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Batman: Arkham City

ark 640x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

What do you say about a perfect game? Really, like, what can I say that has not already been said, ten times over, about this amazing game? To not only let the player don the cowl, but to them give them pretty much the entirety of Gotham City to patrol and protect was one of the most amazing gaming experiences ever for a comic nerd like me. And quick question, also, because I know all of you are heated about this topic right now, how come the movies never get it THIS right? How come the movies never let it get THIS dark? We are all adults, we could handle it, right?

Well, judging from how you all reacted to that list of my Batman recommendations, I don’t think “handling it” is an option for some of you.

Anyway, Arkham City is the kind of game that has the ability to not only put you into the shoes of the person you are playing as, but makes you truly feel like them. But it doesn’t do it in a conventional way. Instead, the game drops you into the city as Batman, and pretty much lets you dictate how to story goes, all in the simple choices of the directions you go. And by the end of that game, as you stand on one of the building edges, watching the snow falling like ash over a sleeping, dirty city, it hits you. This game takes us about as close to what it would be like to be Batman as we will ever know.

I wonder if Ben Affleck played this game?

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4124 crackdown1 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

The first Crackdown was a fluke. I swear it was. All of us Xbox 360 owners did not have any kind of open world game yet, and the only reason anyone got this game was for the Halo 3 beta, but still, tons of people bought the game thinking they wouldn’t like it, and the game ended up being something the GTA‘s have’t been since San Andreas, which is to say, fun.

Crackdown also has the GREATEST achievements of any 360 game, period. At one point, you can get a giant globe in the middle of town, break it off, roll it into the bad part of town, and if you roll over 75 gang members in two minutes you get an achievement. THAT, my friends, is EXACTLY what an achievement should be. If it can lengthen a game AND make you laugh, all while remaining fun, they are doing something right

Crackdown takes the open world ideas of GTA and asks: What if you could be a superhero in this world? A question also asked by the far inferior (unofficial remake) Saints Row IV. And all you had to do was play this game for about five minutes to know, this was unique and awesome. There were cars you had, but early on in the game, you would power up, and eventually run faster than any car in the game and leap higher than any helicopter, so really, by the end of this game you are leaping from rooftop to rooftop, hurling cars through the air as if they were light as rocks, and beating down 50+ groups of guys without batting an eye. In the sense of a game that could make you feel like you really WERE a superhero, Arkham City and Crackdown cannot be beat.

Just don’t play the sequel.

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Burnout: Paradise

burnout 640x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

Okay, before you tear me limb from limb in the comments, hear me out. I am not a fan of racing games either, which is what makes Burnout: Paradise even MORE remarkable. It is an open world racing game that is SO GOOD, and so unlike any other open world game ever made, that I truly believe every gamer right now needs to pick this game up (or download it) to see just how spectacular and fun it is.

Burnout: Paradise is simple in premise, and unique in execution. You are a “racer” who lives in Paradise City, which is a living, breathing city full of racers. Instead of starting events randomly like in all racing games, this game simply drops you on the map and says: go find something to do. What is amazing is, you can drive around, cause HUGE car accidents (two of mine are so epicthat I have streets named after my gamertag in that game, which is their version of a leaderboard), but as soon as you get bored of driving around and starting shit on your own, you drive up to any light in the giant, sprawling city, wait for it to turn green, and BAM, event starts, right there.

And the real kicker here is that this is not a racing game. Yes, there are MANY races to be had and won, but there are a great many events you can get yourself in, such as Takedown, or Made Man. In Takedown, for example, the whole city has become like a sick game of bumper cars, and you are given a certain number of cars you need to “take down” to advance. Awesome, huh? And Made Men is the same thing, except five black, unmarked cars follow you to your destination intent on getting you into a wreck. It adds depth to an already huge game, and everything about it, from the soundtrack, to the badass (generic) vehicle selection, makes Burnout Paradise not only one of the most original uses for an open world ever, but also quite easily the best racing game I have ever played.

Gran Turismo fans, be gentle.

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Fallout 3

fallout3 dog 640x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

The reason this game is on the list and not Skyrim is because Skyrim was just way too glitchy. As fun as it was when it worked, I encountered too many bugs in that game (literally and metaphorically) that I can’t recommend it.

Trust me, lose a character you have worked on for fifty hours to a f**king glitch, and that will make sense to you. And though Fallout 3 had its fair share of glitches (though none I encountered as game breaking as Skyrim‘s), Fallout 3 was just a massive world, a massive amount of gore, a massive amount of humor, and a massive amount of fun. And I mentioned it was massive, right?

What worked so well in Fallout’s favor was just how wonderfully fleshed out every idea was. From literally being born, to being someone who has the power to end the world or save it, you really do evolve as a character in this game, with your morals and wits being tested as much as your trigger finger is. Plus, anytime I can play (or watch) a post apocalyptic world, I will. I love that genre, for some reason.

For many, when we heard about “Oblivion with guns”, we weren’t very excited, but once we saw that intro and started walking around the vault, the game sunk its claws into us. And for me, Fallout 3 was the most time I ever put into a game. 150 hours. Almost an entire year of gaming, spent on one game.

And though New Vegas was great, it just lost some of the appeal of Fallout 3. Plus, it was glitchy. Cannot wait to see if during the next generation, Bethesda will finally release games that aren’t broken.

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Just Cause 2

justcause2 640x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

I realize that Just Cause 2 and Far Cry 3 are very similar, so you might be surprised to see this here, but the grappling weapon in Just Cause to is a f**king marvel. There is just an INSANE amount of stuff to do in this game, using your grappling hook and parachute combo. I mean, right now, in YouTube, all you need to do is type in “Just Cause 2 stunts” just to simply get an idea of what you can do in that game. Here, like this for example:

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Did you take all that in? And the most insane part is, that is just a bunch of gamers, making up stupid shit on their own. Just Cause 2 is about blah blah island blah liberate yadda yadda and so on. The catch here is the aforementioned grapple/parachute combo, which opens this game up in ways only engineers and adrenaline junkies could truly love. Plus, the game has an absolutely amazing scope and size, with every kind of topography perfectly represented. And as if I needed anything else to end this with, search the game long enough, and you can find the island from Lost, hatch and all.

That alone earns its spot here.

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Honorable Mentions:

Borderlands 2 Krieg skill tree 609x360 6 Amazing, Open World Sandbox Games That Arent Grand Theft Auto

Saints Row 2: Easily the best in the series, and a game that is more fun and enjoyable than GTA IV in my opinion. Not as well-written or executed, by twice as fun. Series dropped off after this entry.

Borderlands 2: Way too similar to Fallout for me to put it on list, but way too colorful, wacky, and fun to leave off.

Red Dead Redemption: It was a Rockstar game, which is why I didn’t put it on the main list, but make no mistakes about it, Red Dead is not only one of the best open world games ever, but it is easily one of the best games EVER made.

Watch Dogs: Okay, so I haven’t actually played it yet because it isn’t out, but do you need me to tell you that this is one of the best open world games ever made? That pretty much speaks for itself for anyone who watches any of the trailers or knows anything about it. Hell, this game could redefine open world games as we know it.

So this is the part where you take to the comments and tell me what an awful list it is and how you could have written one SO MUCH BETTER, and then I offer you an opportunity to link said “better piece” in the comments, but you quickly reject the idea as stupid, even though, in reality, you actually shoot it down because you need to get to your shift at Burger King on time because if you are late ONE MORE TIME, they are putting you on bathroom duty.

And to the rest of you, what is YOUR favorite open world game? Take to the comments and let me know.

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  • Joel Powe

    i like your list… some of these games i haven’t played but if you included Arkham City, ur good in my book

  • Graham Ian Mann Gogs

    Your Skyrim glitching thing has never happened to me and ive racked up over 400 hours. Poorly set up list if you were playing versions that were not the true vision.

    • Mohammad Imtianul Haque Dimik

      me 2

  • Dave W

    You mentioned a game that hasn’t even been released yet but no Sleeping Dog?

  • Smith1234

    No room for either Prototype game?

    • Chad

      I can see why people like the first Prototype a lot, because it allows for a lot of over-the-top action. However, I found that its missions were very repetitive, and somewhat basic, to the point of being boring at times. It was OK.

      (I’ve yet to play #2)

  • MutinyofSense

    It’s a good list, the only title I would have added is Kingdoms of Amalur. But it never seems to make any list I think it should be on

    • Chad

      Great pick. If I made my own list, it’d be on there.

      It’s not a perfect game, and gets repetitive as I noted in my review, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing through it twice.

      Also, Go Leafs Go!

  • Eric

    borderlands only an honorable mention? fallout has a better story, but borderlands is way more fun, not to mention still putting out new content more then a year after it drops

    • Chad

      Borderlands is a fantastic game, but so is Fallout 3. Both are personal favourites above almost every other game out there. However, I’d probably take Fallout 3 over Borderlands – just by a bit, though.

  • hesoyamdonMonster

    where is
    Red Dead Redemption

  • linkoblivion

    no mention of inFamous??

  • Christian Gibbons

    Think I might be the only one here who dislikes GTA… Can’t speak for the story or anything since I haven’t played it, but I’ve played some and seen a lot more gameplay, and it just isn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps I’m being too much of a moralist, but the sandbox-style gameplay in that context just wasn’t appealing.
    My personal favorites are The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Borderlands’ story sucked and however fun the gameplay was at first, it got repetitive sooner rather than later.

  • grenadeh

    Burnout P shouldn’t be included because you literally can’t do anything in the game except drive, crash, and race. Not very sandbox.

  • Jay Foster

    I would put Fallout 3 at the top of this list, though I admit that I haven’t played many of them, including Far Cry or Batman, and I probably never will.

    The only GTA that I cared for was San Andreas. They put out too much unplayable stupid shit between San Andreas and V that I’m not even going to LOOK at V. Saints Row, any Saints Row, is better than anything GTA has ever put out, and that’s saying lot, considering the story in III and the gameplay in IV.

    What’s up with saying that 150 hours is a full year of gaming? What do you do, a half-hour a night? How DARE you write a gaming column with such a lack of involvement!

  • Brad Torville

    Watch_Dogs? Really? Never, ever put a game on a “Best Anything” list until it’s ACTUALLY released. Haven’t we been burned by overhype enough in the past with other games?

  • Chase Weber

    Bethesda actually didn’t do Fallout: New Vegas, 2K Games did. Which is why it wasn’t as good. Why do you write about video games when you didn’t even know something as simple as that.

    • BazerkaBazerka

      Obsidian made FNV,Bethesda published it. How can you not know something as simple as that?

  • Tsuika

    Seriously, these are either open world rpgs, fps, or 3ps. These are not sandbox games. Stop calling them that. You do not create structures, you do not warp the land or do anything that would be considered a sandbox in any of these. They are great titles, but are NOT, i repeat, NOT SANDBOX games.

    Quick Edit, It is a little sad that everyone thinks these are sandbox games. I do not understand. Open world and freedom of choice does not make a sandbox game. It makes a open world game.

  • DillC66

    I agree that skyrim is very glitchy, but it is still better than alot of games I’ve played simply because of the story and the ability to go your own way in the game. And yes I would say yes that Burnout: Paradise is an (amazing) open world game. Open world means you have free roam to a map.

  • DillC66

    The open world games I liked were : infamous series, TES, GTA, The Warriors (ps2), and the Assasins creed series (cant believe that wasnt mentioned). I didnt care for prototype or borderlands.

  • The_Silent_Shadow

    Heheh. Only 150 hours? The most hours I’ve put into a game was in Oblivion, my favourite game of all time, which I’ve put at least ten times as much time into. Though I am an Elder Scrolls obsess.