I was talking about this on the way home from work with my partner yesterday, about how open and interesting the world of Ubisoft’s The Division is yet at the same time it makes me long for something bolder and bigger. Not in terms of story or gameplay, but in terms of the world itself.
Say you’re walking through a city street, whether it’s a damaged and forlorn environment like The Division or a bustling city street in Grand Theft Auto V, and you see all these stores and buildings either side of you. Typically in video games most of these stores are either closed off, fake or partially option but not completely. In the Division specifically, there’s a few abandoned stores and apartments you can find yourself in full of little details and items of worth. But what if you could do more?
That’s the question I asked my partner and it got me thinking. How long will it be before there’s a video game where every single building, every house or store or apartment, can be entered, browsed and (better yet) destroyed or ransacked? Imagine a GTA where the shoot out on the streets suddenly finds itself inside a multi-story shopping centre with every store freely open to explore, bullets flying into glass shelving or TV displays. Suddenly a truck comes flying through a far wall, soldiers climbing out and joining the fray. You escape through the second and third stories before reaching the top and, just as you reach the escape point where a helicopter awaits, the building starts crumbling underneath you.
You kinda get the feeling we’re on the verge of it. See the building detail in Rainbow Six: Siege, where bits of wood and metal go flying every which way. Pity about the rest of that game, but anyway…
My point with all this? Surely there’s someone out there who’s thought about it, looked at the technology we have at our disposal and said ‘maybe next generation’. If we can create truly realistic worlds where every door leads somewhere, instead of beautiful vistas that are glorified matte paintings, that to me would be the sign of a true next generation in video games. Not VR or 3D, none of those gimmicks but a fully explorable space. Yeah, it seems like a little while away yet.
Rockstar, however, are no doubt going to push the boundaries if and when the next GTA begins development. GTA V had the workings of a bigger place to explore than any previous game I can think of. It’s remarkable to think they got so much power out of the Xbox 360 and PS3 to make that happen, especially considering GTA IV came out only a few years before hand on the same system.
But the Division feels like the closest to something believable and lived in to me. In fact, if there’s one thing Ubisoft have been consistently good at in the last few years, it’s city building. Whether it’s London in the late 1800’s (Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate) or a possible future for Chicago (Watch Dogs), you can’t fault them for doing their best to stick to real life as much as possible … barring a few name changes here and there. Plus bugs, although it has to be said, I’ve seen barely a single problem in The Division so far. Maybe they’ve finally learnt their lesson?
The Division is a living, breathing world that you could easily walk around for hours on end just to take it all in, ignoring the combat and the story entirely. The weather, sound and lighting effects combine to create a remarkable scene for the senses, yet over the few hours I’ve put into it so far I kept thinking to myself ‘damn, I wish I could get to the top of that building’ or ‘why can’t I walk through there, I want to see where it goes!’. Not everyone will feel the same way, but I’m a sucker for high attention to detail and, as much as The Division has plenty of it, I long for a game that takes it to the next level.
Mark Isaacson is a freelance writer who’s enjoying his time in New York, but dreams of the day he can recreate the greatest chase scene of all from The Blues Brothers.