2. San Andreas – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
People like to say that Red Dead Redemption is “GTA on horses,” and there’s some truth to that. However, RDR is grounded pretty firmly in reality. In the case of San Andreas, the most expansive of any Grand Theft Auto ever, all sense of reality is thrown out the window to allow for the ridiculous to reign supreme.
The most obvious reason that San Andreas is such a special place is that it’s freaking massive. As a comparison, I’ve been playing GTA III on my phone lately, and that iteration of Liberty City is tiny, with only a handful of streets making up each borough. If you look at the maps of each game, LC is as big as each of the three major cities in San Andreas. To top it all off, there are vast countrysides with small towns in between it all. It’s absolute insanity when you think how far Rockstar progressed in so little time between the two games.
The second, more important reason that San Andreas is great is that it completely flew off the handle. You can go on your typical cop-and-civilian massacre, but why not spice thing up by flying off in a jetpack to evade capture? There were plenty of sweet jumps in previous GTA games; this time you get to jump off of a mountain. And sometimes you run the risk of getting hit by a goddamn airplane.
The game is properly nuts, and that’s even before the modding community got a hold of it on PC. Want to play as Superman, or Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z? Go ahead. Want to fly inside of a plane designed to look like your gangmate Big Smoke? Kind of weird, but sure, go for it.
There are plenty of other things to do, such as taking over rival gang turf in Los Santos and buying property, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stop here. Just let it be known that San Andreas is as magical a playground that you’ll find in all of gaming. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with anything better, but nothing’s impossible, right?
1. Panau – Just Cause 2
First, let me say that if you haven’t played Just Cause 2 yet, go to your PS3 and download it from the PlayStation Store, where it’s only $24.99 ($29.99 if you want the Ultimate Edition with all of the DLC). OK, good. Now, while it downloads, let me tell you why it’s it’s the greatest sandbox you’ll ever play in.
Just Cause 2 made two very simple additions to the open world formula: the grappling hook and the parachute. Well, maybe parachutes are nothing new, but this is one that you could deploy anytime, without having to replenish it. Couple it with the grappling hook and you could climb enormous mountains in mere moments, feeling a lot like Batman before roaming around Arkham City was possible.
Oh, but that grappling hook! You could attach it to just about anything, you know. Grapple two dudes together. Grapple a dude to your car. Grapple a moving car to the ground. Grapple a car to a plane. Grapple a plane to another plane. Flying in the face of what’s physically possible has never been so much fun!
Blowing crap up fun as hell, too. Be it from recklessly flown airplanes or carefully planted C4, the explosions in Just Cause 2 are enough to make Michael Bay blush. Panau is littered with highly combustible objects, all of them just begging to be shown what’s what by the pyromaniac gamer:
And all of the above is just a small fraction of what’s possible.
To sweeten the deal, the PS3 version allows you to record and upload YouTube videos, right from in-game. Which reminds me: Your Just Cause 2 download has probably made good progress by this point. I won’t keep you from it any longer than I have to.