I can’t be the only one who has played an open world game, walked past a random NPC citizen, and wondered where he or she was headed. Sure, it was a thought often had right before running them over with a tank, but it’s the sentiment that counts. I dream of a game where I can follow a character around and really see a purpose to their existence within the game world in an indirect manner. I have high hopes regarding the upcoming game Watch Dogs, which seems to be all about that living world interaction.
Hopefully this marks the start of a new level of NPC engagement in games. On that train of thought, I decided to talk about my favorite (and least favorite) open world NPCs of all time. (Note: I might have put Sleeping Dogs in here, but I actually haven’t gotten around to playing it!)
Favorite: Red Dead Redemption
One of my favorite games of all time, Red Dead captures the Hollywood style old west vibe outstandingly well. This is largely thanks to the unnamed cast that serves as the backdrop every time you clip clop into town looking for a drink and a gambling table. Walking through the swinging doors of a saloon really feels like you’re passing through an in-progress scenario that happens to be in your sight. I know this is all carefully set up and whatnot, but the thing is that it fits the genre of the game- any superficial wandering or surprising lack of personage, or the inevitable repeating stock character models can be written off as the Wild West norm. The random events like bandit raids also add to the effect in a great way, as NPCs are often packing heat and join in the fray.
Least Favorite: Spider Man 2
Am I being too harsh by judging a movie game? No. Spider Man 2 is awesome. I played the crap out of this game. It’s also a relatively old game, so I won’t judge the AI as much. The one thing I never understood, however, was how the creative team behind Spider Man couldn’t come up with more variations of character models/actions. I would beat up a bunch of bad guys while being cheered on by civilians, then moments later walk up to one of them and have them spaz out and angrily tell me to “get a job.” As apt of an observation of New York living this is, I can’t help but wish there was a little more thought put into Spidey’s complex relationship with the people he protects. Also, at some point you kind of have to wonder why the same lady in a slightly different shirt keeps on witnessing horrible crimes. This can’t be a coincidence…
Favorite: Saint’s Row the Third
Saint’s Row… what more can I say? There is so much character to every aspect of this game that sometimes I forget there is a linear (“linear”) story tying it all together somewhere in the mess of ninja gimps and roller blading alien gang members with laser guns. There are so many characters and weird lines that show up everywhere, and even upon repetition most of them feel interesting and exciting in their absurdity. My favorite part of SR3 is that it manages to be a cohesive world despite its crazy concepts. Everything (or, more importantly, everyONE) that exists in that disjointed world seems like they belong there.
Least Favorite: Crackdown 2
Daytime has masses of scared/stoic civilians. Nighttime has masses of repetitive zombies. Being a super powered cop is incredibly fun, the narrative is tolerable and goofy, and the cars/weapons tie the rest of the gameplay together, but where is the character of the city?! It’s so bland! Sure, civilians go flying or explode comically into red mist as the slightest tap, but I want them to be busy doing something other than wandering aimlessly before that!
This game doesn’t even have the Spiderman excuse of age- it came out in 2010 (compared to Spidey’s 2004). It’s barely more advanced than that, which is extremely disappointing. I mean come on- at least let me have some random scenarios where I save a dude and he’s all like “Oh hey thanks for saving my life, best hero cop ever!”
Yes, that wording exactly.
I’ll be doing an in depth look at how far into NPC-ery (that’s a word now) Watchdogs goes when it is released on November 19th of this year. Hopefully my dreams will come true, but until then I’ll be getting into bar brawls over miscellaneous 3D showgirls.