We already knew that GTA 6 was coming, but recent leaks have given us our first (very early build look, I should add) glimpse of what it might be. Unfortunately, the game could still be years from release, which begs the question of what open-world games I can play until then! Luckily, there have been loads of Open World games released that can scratch that itch over the last 15 years. Some of the games mentioned below might even have slipped off your radar and could be a great experience for first-time players.
Depending on your current console or PC hardware, even returning players might have a vastly better experience than their first-time play-through. Of course, you could go back to games like Zelda Breath of the Wild or GTA 5 but look a little further afield, and you might get something more interesting.
Here are 6 of the best open-world experiences from the last 15 years.
For several reasons, Mad Max was a strange release; it came simultaneously with a Mad Max movie, yet it wasn’t a tie-in. It was released on the same day as Metal Gear Solid 5, which felt like Developers Avalanche sent the game out to die. Not many games would be able to compete with a title with so much history, and finally, no one was very excited about the game coming out.
In the end, we got a vast open world to explore, fantastic combat in the style of the Batman Arkham games, and a car handling system that still stands out from any other competitor today.
The story wasn’t the best, but Mad Max is still a good few levels above most open-world games in terms of overall enjoyment. I recently had a play-thru on PC, and with the game set to Ultra and with a high frame rate, it’s joyous to look at and play. It’s also had an upgrade on the Xbox Series Consoles, with both FPS boost and Auto HDR enabled to help the fact it’s now over seven years old.
Not everyone knows that Sleeping Dogs was born from another open-world series called True Crime. Although the two earlier games in the series were cult hits, the games were full of bugs and issues. Enjoyable enough in short blasts but nothing more than a solid 5 or 6 out of 10 games.
Developed by United Front Games and published by Square Enix’s European subsidiary, Sleeping Dogs might be one of the best alternatives to a GTA-style game. Although it has a heavier focus on combat rather than gunplay, this helped the game stand out more from the crowd.
The story of undercover cop Wei Shen and his journey up the ladder of the triads is a delight, and the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong were quite different from other open worlds featured till then. Street races and fight clubs feature as side missions and separate police missions while the story focuses on your undercover work.
Sleeping Dogs is a captivating game and can be picked up cheap on more storefronts. Due to a remastered version, subtitled Definitive Edition, it’s also playable on the newest console generations, thanks to backwards compatibility.
The Saboteur holds its own in terms of visuals thanks to its effective use of colour to show off a German-occupied France during World War II. Most of the game displays in black and white, with only glimpses of colour in light and blood, until the player creates enough inspiration by taking down enemy forces. As the player does so, colour returns to the world.
It’s a great idea and backed up with solid open-world gameplay and plenty of content. It can get repetitive, but as long as you set your expectations to match, it will tide you over for long enough.
It even has light parkour skills to scale buildings and gain vantage points to take down your foes. This game feels like a pick and mix of great features from other games at the time, which helps it be entertaining. It’s a shame it was never fully able to create its own gameplay identity.
The Saboteur also featured a rather naughty DLC in “The Midnight Show” add-on. The content was free for anyone who bought a new copy of the game and featured new brothels to visit and minigames to complete. It was naughty, however, as it rendered any girls in the brothels topless (it could still be toggled on or off in the game settings, btw).
GTA 4 (DLC)
If you desperately want GTA 6, why not revisit the best GTA experience on modern consoles? No, I don’t mean GTA 5…
The GTA 4 add-on stories, The Lost and the Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony are the best GTA games since San Andreas…I’ve said it, and I will die on this hill. While being set in the already amazing world of GTA 4, they added much more fun to a game with quite a dark setting.
I loved both additional characters, Johnny Klebitz and Luis Fernando Lopez, and how well Rockstar interwound three stories with one underlying narrative. The side missions and online multiplayer modes featured in both add-ons gave us a look at what would later be expanded with GTA 5.
With many players having spent years on GTA Online, now is an excellent time to revisit where it all started, and once again, Xbox Backwards compatibility on Series consoles makes it easy to do so. Thanks to the original game having an unlocked frame limit, it also runs at 60 fps due to the additional horsepower of the newer consoles.
Just Cause 3
Just Cause thrives on the madness that players like to cause in open-world games. It takes explosions and action and turns the dials all the way to 11.
In Just Cause 3, the main character, mercenary Rico Rodriguez, returns to his homeland of Medici and tries to take down a military dictatorship led by General Sebastiano Di Ravello. It’s a base idea for a story we’ve seen a lot before, and overall the story isn’t why you would play the game.
If you’ve loaded up a Just Cause game, it’s all about the crazy destruction and the creativity you have with the available tools. The tools are substantial with a grappling hook and parachute, wingsuit, tether system and unlimited GE-64 (sticky explosives). You can attach cars to planes, enemies to fuel bottles and loads of other combinations and then have fantastic chain reactions of explosions follow on.
The game also features a vast range of traditional weapons, and when it’s all put together, you can take down massive structures like bridges and small buildings.
Just Cause is pure dumb fun, and I can’t recommend it enough!
Writers note; if you want to experience Prototype (or its sequel) on modern PC hardware, prepare for pain. Although you can easily buy the game, getting them to run is another matter. Thanks to system changes since their release, the games won’t run (I’ve spent countless hours using fixes listed online and still no joy). It is possible, but not without great effort. However, they can still be bought on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, meaning they will also play on Xbox Series and PlayStation 5. That is good, although they are starting to get a little dated.
Imagine taking all the superhero powers of Venom, Wolverine and The Hulk (with a hint of shapeshifting like Mystique) and rolling them all into one anti-hero package. That’s what you get in Prototype and the main character Alex Mercer.
As you explore a torn-up Manhattan devastated by a bioweapon, you’ll destroy hundreds of military targets and maybe a few mutated civilians along the way. This is while Alex searches for the truth and finds out how he gained his now superhuman powers. It was a great idea at the time, and I’d love to see the story and idea revisited on modern hardware.
Abilities in the game, like the blade arm or hammer fists, need to be used depending on the enemy faced. As you progress through the story and access better special moves like the Groundspike Graveyard, you’ll be able to take down vast numbers of bad guys in one go.
Although the consoles are locked to 30fps, it feels as good as I’ve experienced in a long time.