The lights are on
Today we’re taking a look at games that offer a sense of freedom. The first open-world game I played was Grand Theft Auto III. As impressed as I was by my ability to go anywhere, it had the same restrictions to exploration as a non-virtual human would have in a real city. I could go anywhere, but I was still restricted to the ground. I could move faster horizontally by getting in a car, but vertical traversal was still out of my reach. Spider-Man 2’s city may have felt less alive and had fewer avenues of entertainment than Grand Theft Auto III, but it was the first game I felt like I was playing in a true virtual playground with a whole new set of rules for traversal.
I’m not even a particularly big Spider-Man fan. I enjoyed the films, but was probably one of the few in the audience who was more interested in seeing the new movie from the director of The Evil Dead than I was about seeing a Spider-Man movie. I didn’t fall in love with the game because I finally got to be Spider-Man; I fell in love because I could climb to the top of a building, dive from the top, and fire off a web at the last second to miss the ground and fling myself off into the distance.
I could go anywhere. I could sprint on the ground. I could climb up the walls of buildings. I could sprint up the walls of buildings. I could leap from absurd heights. The only reason I even paid attention to the campaign was because it offered leveling experience to make me move faster, jump higher, and swing further.
When the game released, my friends and I would swap the controller and spend time swinging around the city. We weren’t exploring, trying to find hidden secrets, or saving that elusive balloon. We were just reveling in the fact that getting from point A to point B was a blast and we could use an impressive variety of techniques to get there. My favorite thing to do was to climb to the highest tower in virtual Manhattan and just fall to the ground. I knew exactly where that tower was located, and it was the first thing I would show to anyone who exhibited even a passing interest in the game.
Follow-up Spider-Man games have failed to capture my attention the way Spider-Man 2 did. Partially, because the follow-up games seem to focus more on combat as opposed to traversal, but it might also be because I simply got my fill while playing Spider-Man 2. I played the game for many hours beyond the main campaign, embracing the freedom it offered. I have fallen in love with many other games that give you freedom of traversal and the ability to fall from high heights, but none have grabbed me quite the same way as Spider-Man 2.
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