Would you rather play in a sandbox, or watch a good movie? It may seem like a silly question but It's a question that must be asked. Unless anyone reading this is in the single digit age range I would imagine everyone would rather see a movie.
It may seem like a painfully easy question to answer. But some developers and publishers in the video game industry seem to think you want to play in a sandbox instead of giving you a quality experience that engrosses you and stays with you long after you beat the game.
Far too many developers have taken to the idea of creating a sprawling city/countryside/space station/ect and filling it with arbitrary time trials, fetch quests, and hundreds of flags, orbs, or briefcases to collect. Often times they have little to no context attached to them, and in no way make you feel more immersed or connected to the game world, characters, or story.
More and more I end up asking myself "Did this game really need the typical sandbox model?" I feel a lot of games do themselves a disservice by adhering to this generic build. A prime example is an all too often overlooked games called Brutal Legend. The game is a fairly basic third person action adventure game with real time strategy elements sprinkled in. It has a uniquely quirky story and interesting visuals.
Yet for some reason beyond my understanding, the game uses a sand box model. The game world is certainly nice to look at. But It's for the most part barren of any game content worth the effort it must have taken to create the world. Why go through the trouble of crafting such a detailed environment if all you are going to do is fill it with the same five mini-games a few dozen times over the course of the games length?
Even massively multi-player online games have similar elements. Too many of them have quests that serve no real purpose other than to guide you along the development path the games creators designed. It's merely an illusion of freedom within the game. As many of them require you to do specific quests or perform specific actions before you are able to access certain content.
Having played the game Alan Wake several times, and knowing that it was originally intended to use the sand box model, I am eternally thankful the people at Remedy realized this would of ruined the game. Thus I can't help but wonder what other sub-par sand box games would have been much improved if they had been more linear. Or how much worse games like Bioshock or Mass Effect would have been if they weren't.
Even the sand box games that do it right such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, and Assassins Creed are guilty of at least one sand box cliche.
This isn't to say I'm against these types of games. As stated I very much enjoy the Assassins Creed games, I played Borderlands to death and back, and am an huge Fallout and Elder Scrolls fan. But even when I find a sand box game I enjoy, I find that enjoyment rarely lasts long enough for me to even finish the game. To this day I have never beaten Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, San Andreas, IV, or a single Elder Scrolls game. I played Red Dead Redemption for about an hour and watched my roommate play well over half the game, I have had no desire to play it further. I bought Fallout: New Vegas the week it came out and have only logged ten hours of game play on it.
What I'm ultimately asking is this: Is it worth it? Is it worth sacrificing atmosphere, comprehensive storytelling, and real narrative for the sake of being able to wander off into some random corner of a virtual city for no reason other than being able to do so?
Maybe It's just me, but the moments that I remember from video games, the ones that stayed with me over the years, none of them came from sand box games. They came from the games that made me feel something, or told a comprehensive story worth remembering.