So you’ve put all your spare time into beating GTA V, but still have that open world itch? Good news, we’ve assembled 8 of our favorite GTA-alikes to play through next.
The first round of DLC probably won’t land for a few months yet, so why not dip into a few older open world classics? They might not quite compare to Rockstar’s modern marvel in terms of visuals, depth and story, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be enjoyed.
Grand Theft Auto IV (Plus DLC)
If there’s one thing I caught myself thinking while ferrying passengers to Los Santos International in my taxi, it was how much I missed Liberty City. Sure, Los Santos and Blaine County are beautifully rendered worlds full of things to do, but Liberty City is where it all started and GTA IV’s rendition never ceases to amaze me.
Once you’ve taken Franklin, Michael and Trevor for a spin it might be the perfect time to jump back into the shoes of Niko, earn your stripes as Lost member Johnny or rediscover the fabulous life of a bodyguard as Luis from The Ballad of Gay Tony. The engine might not be as polished, the multiplayer feels like a bolt-on and the world is at times desperately empty, but GTA IV is still a stellar episode in the series.
Red Dead Redemption
Just because it’s a Rockstar game doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to love it, but then again Rockstar’s open world titles do have a tendency to drop jaws and devour lives. Red Dead Redemption forgoes cars for horses, adds a dead-eye meter for slow motion gunplay and takes place in a lush landscape full of furry critters. Buck-tooth bandits and tobacco-chewing lawmen roam the US-Mexico border, and the world just feels more alive than that of GTA IV. Best of all the wild west plot will have you longing for the prairie you’ve never actually been to.
Red Dead Redemption’s influences in GTA V are clear as day. The game debuted a host of random encounters not dissimilar to GTA V’s “Strangers & Freaks” missions, placed a strong emphasis on hunting and included vast swathes of stunning countryside. Just like Rockstar’s past open world efforts, the story is deeply involving, sucking you into the world of John Marsden, and the characters he meets along the way.
The GTA universe has always been immersive, blending open world freedom and incredible depth to tell an epic story and thrill the player along the way. Shenmue was one Dreamcast-era title that embraced freedom and depth on a similar scale, affording the player the ability to tackle the world and its story at their own pace while providing plenty of distractions along the way.
Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece saw two releases on the Dreamcast, with the latter release Shenmue II also seeing a release on Microsoft’s original Xbox. Slated for a Xbox Game Store release for more than 12 months with no word from Sega, AM2 or Microsoft, the only way you can enjoy Shenmue and its sequel is on older hardware at present (though an emulator like NullDC might work).
The game isn’t “true” open world – your days have structure and you can’t steal cars or pick fights with pedestrians. You can however spend all your money in the arcades, use the beat ‘em up fighting system against hordes of gangsters and get completely sucked into the universe. I did.
Saints Row IV
If Grand Theft Auto is fine dining, Saints Row IV is fast food – both fill you up, but you’ve got to adjust your expectations before tucking in. I’ve personally always enjoyed the Saints Row series of games, for all the bugs and cheesy over-the-top dialogue the games always stayed true to their light hearted roots, and Saints Row IV is no exception.
Much of the game takes place in a simulation of the city of Steelport, eternally shrouded in darkness. Such a virtual setting affords you super powers, which you can use to complete the game’s main story and many activities. Don’t expect a deep, realistic plot or refined driving physics, this is the “arcade” to GTA’s “simulation” and it’s an awful lot of a fun when treated as such.
Also worth checking out are the past games in the series (particularly Saints Row: The Third), except perhaps the first which was an early Xbox 360 title (and it showed).
Just Cause 2
In many ways Just Cause 2 suffers from many of the issues that GTA: San Andreas had – it’s a massive open world that feels a bit dead inside. The main aim of the game is to create havoc for the government by destroying property – from propaganda vans to petrol stations and even oil rigs, there are a lot of explosions in Just Cause 2.
The missions mostly revolve around this principle too, which means the game lacks much variety. You get a grappling hook, parachute and some serious upper body strength when you start the game, and you’ll be stunt jumping from cars into helicopters in no time. The game is huge, but frustrating in its mission structure, which means that I personally never finished it. That said, I do occasionally stick it on for a few hours till I’m bored of flying planes into oil rigs before turning it off again.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Rather than recommend the rather flawed but nice in theory Assassin’s Creed 3 (now there’s a big dead sandbox if ever I saw one) I’d rather recommend my favourite Assassin’s Creed game, Brotherhood. While the story is patchy in areas, the game provides plenty of variety by blending stealth, action and surprisingly fun platforming into one package.
A truly open world game, AC: Brotherhood also embraces the purchasing of businesses in order to earn money and gain access to weapons, health and other customisations. You’re given a surprising amount of freedom in your ability to decide how to approach many situations, and 16th century Rome looks pretty damn good to boot.
I think Sleeping Dogs does an exceptional job of capturing the essence of a crime-driven open world adventure game, I just wish there was more of it (and no, I don’t want tired old zombie DLC thanks). The game tells the story of Wei Shen, a police officer working undercover in Hong Kong who finds himself torn between right and wrong. The experience feels far more “arcade” than GTA IV or V, with tighter, forgiving driving mechanics, a slightly drab world and plenty of “nope, you can’t do that!” immersion-breaking moments.
That said, the story is surprisingly strong and I found myself glued to my console, actually caring about Wei’s choices and the repercussions, all the while soaking up the hubbub of a wonderfully modelled Hong Kong. If you passed it up as a poor man’s GTA then you missed an absolute treat.
Missed A Favorite?
Did we miss your favourite open world action game? Set the record straight and tell us what you’ll be playing once you’ve finished GTA V (aside from GTA Online, of course).