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Feature Video

You Shall Not Pass! Finding The End in Open World Games

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The invisible wall has long served as a disappointing reminder to curious and adventurous gamers that the worlds they enjoy exploring have a limit. For developers, they serve as barriers created to prevent players from moving outside of the intended play space and discovering the malformed, untextured geometry beyond. But whether you're a player or developer, invisible walls are necessary, for no game is capable of rendering an infinite world that's also full of infinitely interesting things to see and do. Even the randomly-generated terrain in Minecraft comes to an end after 32,000,000 metres.

Not every developer is ready to settle for such arbitrary restrictions as invisible walls, however. Some go out of their way to bring this barrier back into the context of the game world and make it part of the experience. Here, then, are the top 10 invisible walls, creatively reimagined for sandbox levels or open world games.

10. The Elder Scrolls Online

Zenimax Online Studios, 2014

Swarm of Piranhas

Travelling to far off places and exploring the unexplored has been one thing The Elder Scrolls series consistently encourages its players to do. There is something sublime about seeing a mountain in the distance and knowing that you can actually climb to its peak.

But Tamriel does have its limits. Whilst Oblivion and Skyrim took to simply displaying an on-screen message telling you that you could travel no further, The Elder Scrolls Online takes a slightly snappier approach--in that you'll be devoured by a swarm of snapping, ravenous piranhas if you swim too far off the map. It's a nasty end, but at least you can easily ressurect back on land with naught but a few hundred bite marks in your undergarments.

9. Gothic

Piranha Bytes, 2001

Electric Dome

Going from biting piranhas to Piranha Bytes--the German developer of the Gothic series--we find ourselves in Europe's unforgiving alternative to The Elder Scrolls series. The Gothic games have typically offered fewer gorgeous vistas to gaze upon than Bethesda's open worlds, but more metaphorical boots to be crushed under.

This is most true of the first Gothic. Set entirely within an island prison colony, in which the prisoners themselves have taken over the land and formed competing factions, Gothic kept players contained in its world by surrounding it with a giant, dome-shaped electric force field. If players ventured beyond it, they'd find themselves crackling with blue lightning and then immediately zapped to death. The force field was a part of the story itself, which explains its use as a magical barrier erected to keep the prisoners contained. We tried to go all Katniss Everdeen on the barrier, but our pathetic wooden arrows didn't make for great eletric conductors.

8. Far Cry 2

Ubisoft Montreal, 2008

Sudden Malaria Attack

Far Cry 2 is one of the few first-person shooters that beats you down at every opportunity, and Ubisoft Montreal's approach to keeping players contained within 30 mile square (50km2) slice of the savannah follows suit. The same malaria infection that blurs your screen and causes you to find somewhere to hide and scoff a pill also keeps you from wandering too far off the beaten track. You'll collapse, black out, and reappear a few seconds later back within Africa's boundaries. If you were driving a car, that'll be gone forever--because Far Cry 2 giveth, and Far Cry 2 taketh away.

7. World of Warcraft

Blizzard, 2004

Guardian of Blizzard Encounter

World of Warcraft entices players to explore with promises of colourful new environments and strange creatures to farm for experience points. The most curious players can sometimes explore too far, and catch a peek behind the curtain to see content Blizzard isn't yet ready to reveal. To ward off intrepid explorers, the developer created the Guardian of Blizzard, a powerful enemy that one-hit-kills players when they venture into unfinished environments.

The Guardian was retired when a new, less-exciting mechanic that teleported players back into the world was adopted, but they can still be spawned and controlled by Game Masters who wish to instill a little fear into Azeroth's heroes.

6. Grand Theft Auto IV

Rockstar, 2008

Instant Six Star Wanted Level

Grand Theft Auto V offered incredible freedom to explore by opening its entire world to players from the game's outset. That wasn't the case in Grand Theft Auto IV. Liberty City was divided into islands, separated by bridges that could not be crossed until specific points in the story. But there's always usually another way around in an open world, and in the case of GTA 4, the ability to swim without drowning made its return from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. However, if you tried to swim under the bridge and across to the other island, you'd be slapped with an instant six star wanted level. Cunning drivers could also find ways to flip their cars over the barricade, leading to a good old fashioned police chase--but there's something delightfully absurd about making the entire island shut down because you went for a dip, and had to be brought to justice.

5. Unreal Tournament 2004

Epic, 2004

Vaporised by Ion Cannon

With Unreal Tournament 2004 introducing bigger maps, along with land and air vehicles to traverse them, Epic needed a new way to keep players inside its futuristic arenas. For the locales not enclosed by walls or sheer cliffs, the developer opted to repurpose Unreal Tournament 2003's superweapon, the Ion Painter, into an omnipresent Ion Cannon.

Travelling too far from the action caused a message to pop up on your screen, warning you that were being locked on to by one such cannon. After a countdown timer, a bright pink blast of energy falls from the heavens and incinerates your body, leaving only a charred skeleton to ragdoll its way back into the arena. If you're skilled enough in a Manta hovercraft, however, the Ion Cannon blast can be dodged.

4. Serious Sam 3: BFE

Croteam, 2011

Devoured by Giant Sand Worm

Serious Sam's explosive debut took the first-person shooter outdoors to some of the most expansive arenas ever seen, and with the ridiculous on-screen enemy counts to fill them. The third entry in the series, a prequel, shifts those open firefights to an apocalyptic Earth ravaged by alien forces.

Where the previous entries in the series boxed Sam into those arenas with high cliffs or walls, Serious Sam 3: BFE took a more interesting approach. Venturing out of bounds would cause a giant, Dune-like sandworm to burst upward from the dirt and devour Sam whole. Unlike every other enemy in BFE, these sandworms could not be killed, even when pummelled with a Serious Cannon.

3. Just Cause 2

Avalanche Studios, 2010

Road to Nowhere

As we head into the final three contenders on this list, we must take a slight deviation by means of Just Cause 2. Heading to a certain boundary in the islands of Panau reveals just why developers need to create ways to box players in, because here you can find the complete lack of a boundary. The world simply ends, with land geometry being perfectly sliced off at a certain point, and nothing but water stretches beyond. Hilariously, the game's pedestrian AI doesn't realise this, and cars travelling along this road that leads to nowhere will drive off the edge of the world, without a care in the world.

2. Motocross Madness

Rainbow Studios, 1998

Invisible Bike Cannon

The original Motocross Madness was something of an open-world dirt bike stunt game. It offered huge, open levels rippling with undulating hills and valleys pull off a sweet can can. Surrounding these stunt quarries were huge cliffs which, thanks to the funky physics of the time, could be scaled by riding up them completely vertically. But the developer knew players would find a way up here, and so, after riding a further couple of meters, the game would suddenly launch the bike and rider high into the sky and back in the direction of the level. Talk about getting some sick air.

1. Crysis

Crytek, 2007

Shark, Battleship and Killswitch Triple Threat

Crysis takes the top spot on this list for implementing what is probably the only three-stage system designed to keep players within a game world. Let's break it down. First up, if you decide to swim off the white sands and out into the pristine tropical waters, you'll eventually encounter a lone shark. This guy menacingly circles you a couple of times, then chomps down for an instant kill. However, these sharks can be killed, or bypassed in a boat.

Getting further past them will cause the North Korean battleships dotting the horizon to fire an instant-kill torpedo directly at you. But, with some skilled driving, these can be dodged. Make it past those torpedoes, and your commanding officer will freak out and hit your Nanosuit's killswitch. That's right - your suit has a killswitch. Super strength and super speed don't feel so powerful anymore.

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Discussion

112 comments
Algearond
Algearond

Those Piranhas in TESO are a major PITA

neonakaa
neonakaa

Ah, this breathes life into GS'es dead corpse, Nice work Daniel

Ultramarinus
Ultramarinus

Made me remember Gamespot feature articles of old, hopefully this is a good sign for the future.

indiexanna
indiexanna

Didn't know those sharks and battleships existed in Crysis 1

*BRB reinstall*

X-RS
X-RS

Nice, I liek number 3.

Mainly cus it reminds me of Thirteenth Floor :)

JakMar12
JakMar12

My favorite has always been Splashdown when you ride your jet ski out far enough and then a kraken grabs you with it's tentacle and throws you back onto the course, inevitably causing you to crash.

bbq_R0ADK1LL
bbq_R0ADK1LL

I feel like Borderlands 2 should have been in there somewhere

SoulScribe
SoulScribe

I call it now: this will no longer be a problem for xbox one exclusive open worlds because "power of the cloud." 

crognalsen
crognalsen

I believe that Ultima Online (MMORPG) orignally had a 2D map in which you could go full circle around the entire world and end up back at the same point.

GOGOHeadray
GOGOHeadray

Hopefully now with next gen consoles these worlds will be even bigger and provide more room until we hit the wall.

Gordon_Shock
Gordon_Shock

Just goes to show how Just Cause 2 is such a huge game. After 75 hours of play I actually never saw the end of that road, and here I thought that I visited the place :)

DiverseGamer
DiverseGamer

This article was...actually pretty good. Hats off to the writer!

JDFS
JDFS

Great gaming article, it's been a while since i've seen it on Gamespot.

Had a laugh and discovered things I didn't know about, keep writing!

DeadrisingX1
DeadrisingX1

That road to nowhere made me burst out laughing the first time I encountered it.

quickshooterMk2
quickshooterMk2

the road to nowhere is actually smart 

because it's an island and it kinda makes sense 

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

I've always preferred the "I need to get to point A" inner monologue with an invisible barrier over silly things like not being able to walk past police tape or hop over parked cars.  Nothing like being made to obey the law even when faced with deadly enemies.

Hakkology
Hakkology

Truly an entertaining read :).

Thanks for this.

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

Hey Daniel Hindes, I really enjoy your articles. They aren't pretentious and are very well written. Which unfortunately can't be said for a lot of Gamespot articles these days.


Keep up the good work.

AtheistPreacher
AtheistPreacher

I'm surprised Assassin's Creed didn't show up on this list.  I always thought they had a really great conceit in those games for having the invisible wall -- it was simply territory your ancestor never explored.  Not as fun and over-the-top as most of these, I guess...

Mega_Skrull
Mega_Skrull

What's that crap about Just Cause 2? It's a bunch of islands, there's no such thing as a sudden map cut. You can just fly or sail forever, why leave a weird bug/mod as a fact?

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

The Langoleers had visited Just Cause 2, apparently. ;P

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

I love the original Crysis. Ive played it at least 3 times over and now i have to play it again just to be bitten by a shark, shot by a nth korean battleship and terminated by a killswitch from my boss.


Gothic is amazing. It was an awesome environment for a game world an island prison. What a shame they didnt continue down this path in future Gothics. The faction segregation in Gothic is some of the best well thought out segregated factions in any game ive ever played.

Sekhemket
Sekhemket

Gothic 1, was such an incredible game for it's time. I remember picking up randomly in a store around 2002-2003. Just being blown away by what a masterpiece it was. Completely random find that I just grabbed because I was bored.

GhostofWar75
GhostofWar75

I thought the airstrike from mercenaries was cool

Samparksh
Samparksh

Keep these articles coming Gamespot.This is one of those things that I always wondered but was too lazy to Google.

Jah_Glow
Jah_Glow

Just Cause 2 bwahaha I love it. And Crysis, yeah that was pretty hilarious. "WTF IS WRONG WIT U COMMANDO *killswitch*"

Jrounder82
Jrounder82

one day there will be games with no end and no walls they will just go on forever 

BuBsay
BuBsay

@indiexanna I remember the first time I stumbled across a shark, I was trying to sneak around some part of a level underwater and must've gone too far. I was so terrified just turning around and seeing that thing swimming towards me.

It's one thing to expect a jump scare out of a horror game, and another to just have one appear out of nowhere in an FPS.

mad0260
mad0260

@crognalsen  I remember some off road racing game doing this. Either 1nsane or 4x4 evo. I forget.

dr_jashugan
dr_jashugan

@crognalsen  

I think the other Ultima games work the same. I tried in V and VI, the same thing happened.

duddooboy
duddooboy

@youre_a_sheep  Every time I encounter one of those, I'm instantly reminded of The Stanley Parable.... That game has spoiled me :P

Pelezinho777
Pelezinho777

@gajbutler  True, but the way going from point A to point B in original Crysis gave you a hand of freedom which was completely destroyed in sequels.

antony209494
antony209494

@nyran125tk   If you manage to get the last one done please tell me how. You can easily get the ships to shoot you just by going off bounds in a boat. Same for the sharks just swim off bounds for a while. But I can't make the last one happen. I managed to escape a shark once and got behind one of the battleships but nothing else happens if you try to go further you see the usual "you have left the combat zone" message

Azghouls
Azghouls

@Sekhemket  Totally - the controls were quirky however once you get used to it, it felt good like you actually performing a fight instead of left clicking the mouse. And the orcs / skelekons are friggin tough as.

lostn
lostn

@Jrounder82 I can only see the scenery repeating itself or being randomly generated without much to do.

crognalsen
crognalsen

@dr_jashugan @crognalsen 


I haven't played those particular Ultima games, but it probably was because Ultima Online came after them and used a similar game engine.

notorious98
notorious98

@lostn @notorious98@Jrounder82I'm guessing you've never played the original Legend of Zelda for Nintendo, but yes.  There was only one correct way out, but every other path you took out led you to another screen that looked exactly the same as the previous screen.

lostn
lostn

@notorious98 @lostn@Jrounder82 I'm guessing this forest looked more or less the same, every screen of the way. Every tree, rock, or patch of grass being recycled and looking identical?