Virtual Vacation Worlds
December 15, 2009 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Are there any games which let you just explore and enjoy the scenery, like a walk-in painting or virtual vacation? (single-player preferred)

I really enjoy games which give you the possibility to explore beautifully created surroundings, without a specific goal, except occasional mini-games. For example, the thing I loved most about GTA:San Andreas was not the missions, but driving around the country side. In the late 90s, multimedia producers created early versions of this (including an explorable version of The Simpson's Springfield), but I haven't seen anything like that since.

I'm looking for single-player games, if there are any, or maybe multiuser environments, if they are really well done (I know Second Life already, but the graphics are not very good).

By the way, does this genre have a name?
posted by lord_yo to Computers & Internet (43 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You need to check out the games by Tale of Tales studio, particularly, The Graveyard and The Endless Forest.

I'll also seriously recommend The Path as one of the most frightening games I have EVER played, and not in a BOO! sort of way, but an "OMFG did I really just see that?" way.
posted by strixus at 10:55 AM on December 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

You could put just about all of the sandbox-ey, GTA-like games on there, like Crackdown, Saint's Row, and obviously the other GTA games. Vice City is particularly stylish.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:57 AM on December 15, 2009

Sounds like you'd enjoy Afrika, the "virtual safari" game for PS3
posted by Oktober at 10:58 AM on December 15, 2009

Small Worlds is fun, in a low-res, Flash-game package.

If you're looking for something more on the scale of GTA, I can't recommend anything specifically for peaceful exploration. But if you've got a PS3, you have to check out Uncharted 2. It's packed full of frantic gameplay so it might not be your cup of tea, but the environments are some of the most detailed and beautiful virtual worlds ever created. Once you're done with each gunfight and have cleared out all the baddies in a stage, you can wander around and ogle the scenery to your heart's content. There are also 100 hidden treasures hidden throughout the game for you to collect if you enjoy that sort of thing.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:59 AM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: The terms you're looking for to describe this are "sandbox," "non-linear" or "open-world" gameplay. I had a lot of fun playing Spider-man 2 on X-box, because it let me swing around New York and only complete challenges if I wanted.

List of Open World Video Games
posted by moviehawk at 11:00 AM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Endless Ocean and Endless Ocean 2 for the Wii
posted by gnutron at 11:01 AM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Flower would seem to be exactly the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:01 AM on December 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you like Afrika, you'll also probably like the Wii game Endless Ocean.

Sandbox-ish games that haven't been mentioned: Burnout Paradise, the Skate games, SSX3.
posted by box at 11:01 AM on December 15, 2009

Aquanaut's Holiday for the Playstation 1.

It's old and a little hard to come by, but it's pretty much exactly what you're looking for. You explore the ocean in a miniature sub. Aside from finding secret special locations and building a coral reef to attract fish, the game is pretty much just exploring. Very relaxing and has great atmosphere.

Endless Ocean
for the Wii has a similar premise of ocean exploration, but was too goal-orientated and had too many interruptions to the flow for my taste. It's worth checking out though.

Seconding The Path. It's very unsettling at times. (Unfortunately I wasn't able to play it much as it had a nasty crash habit on my computer. I wasn't able to get the issue resolved from the game's support either).
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:04 AM on December 15, 2009

They're generally referred to as sandbox, open world, open-ended, or free-roaming games. I'm assuming good graphics is a big criteria. The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind/Oblivion and Fallout are pretty good. One of the originals was Freelancer for the PC, which was set in space. Most all rpg's have semi-freeroaming sections.
posted by aesacus at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2009

Haven't played it myself, but I think the Fable series might meet your criteria.

I would have to say it doesn't. The Fable games suffer from the curse of other of Peter Molyneux games- there's the potential for a great sandbox experience, but the story won't shut up for long enough to let you toy around with the game (see also: Black & White).
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:07 AM on December 15, 2009

Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2 has a lot of horse riding through interesting terrain and architecture. Unfortunately I don't think you can completely avoid the colossus battles in order to see all of the game areas.
posted by de void at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Far Cry 1, 2 and Crysis, while not free roaming games, are very nice indeed to walk around and experience.
posted by fire&wings at 11:21 AM on December 15, 2009

Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion would be perfect, if it weren't for all the wildlife attacking you. However, they are both very, very moddable on the PC and so it's entirely possible there's a mod out there that removes all the enemies, or makes them ignore you or something. Morrowind is a few years old now so should be really cheap and after character creation it dumps you straight into the world (whereas Oblivion makes you do a couple of minutes of fighting before you're in the outside world).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:21 AM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I came in to recommend Oblivion and the Gothic series.
posted by bleucube at 11:26 AM on December 15, 2009

Open-ended RPGs that let you pick up or ignore plots/quests as you so desire: Seconding Oblivion, Fallout 3, Morrowind, Fable 2, the GTA series...

If MMORPGs are your cup of tea, Lord of the Rings Online was the most open world, explorer-friendly goregous games I ever ran across.
posted by ninjakins at 11:34 AM on December 15, 2009

Older, but Pilotwings 64 fits most of your criteria. It's single-player, missions can be ignored in favor of exploring the virtual world, and there are some easter eggs to be found. The game even provides a "vehicle" (in the form of bird wings) that the player can use to fly around and explore, without having any particular goal.

These days old N-64 consoles get used door stops, so it's possible to find one for cheap. There's also an emulator.
posted by Maximian at 11:36 AM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: JayisGames just had a casual game design contest with the theme of "exploration." They are all fairly small, quick, and casual games, but many are quite enjoyable and exhibit some interesting ideas.
posted by cubby at 11:37 AM on December 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you have a Wii, Endless Ocean would fit the bill as previously mentioned. For PS3, you'd want to consider Afrika.

Assassin's Creed 2 is like GTA, but in Renaissance Italy. Very fun to just walk around town and climb on buildings. I enjoy tossing money and watching the peons scuffle. Heck, if you dont care about the missions, Assassin's Creed 1 is decent and can be bought for very cheap used or new.

For PC, I've heard fabulous things said about The Hunter - pretty much 30-40 minutes walking in the woods tracking and maybe you'll get a clean shot before a possible kill. The official site isn't as pretty as the actual game, although it's so realistic I don't think I'd ever be able to perform a kill.
posted by yeti at 11:48 AM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and for a mini-exploration game, Small Worlds is very neat. Previously on Mefi.
posted by yeti at 11:52 AM on December 15, 2009

'Shadow of the Colossus' has some of the flat-out most beautiful landscape I've seen in a game. You can explore most of the world on horseback without even engaging with the colossi (if you choose).
posted by Paragon at 11:58 AM on December 15, 2009

nthing Shadow of the Colossus. Paragon is right that you can see almost everything without fighting at all, and the sights are very worth seeing. This is my all time favorite console game.

Their previous game, Ico, also has amazing environments, but there are certain areas you can't stop in without fighting. The fighting is generally pretty easy though, and the views are lovely.
posted by ecurtz at 12:05 PM on December 15, 2009

Shadow of the Colossus
The Last Guardian (upcoming)
Fallout 3
Afrika (to a lesser degree)
posted by azarbayejani at 12:07 PM on December 15, 2009

Amazing that, with its 25-years (and counting) history, being the top-selling "game" of all time, no-one has Microsoft Flight Simulator.
posted by randomstriker at 12:14 PM on December 15, 2009

Thirding Fallout 3. I'm local to where the game is set and I loved just walking around and exploring everything on foot to see what was like what. It's a bit of a depressing gray walk a lot of times though.

I liked running around in the last Spider-man game just web-slinging all over the place. Prototype offered a similar experience.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:15 PM on December 15, 2009

Also, check out Crackdown for the Xbox 360 if you can stomach the necessary fighting to open up new areas. The majority of the challenge in that game is figuring out how to climb up skyscrapers. The views from the tops of buildings are amazing.
posted by de void at 12:15 PM on December 15, 2009

...and Assasin's Creed (1 or 2). You do have to complete missions to open up new areas, but once those areas are open you can explore them pretty freely.
posted by de void at 12:18 PM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: I loved Myst and particularly Riven for this exact reason- I'm surprised no one's mentioned them yet. You get dropped into a world with no real instructions on where to go or what to do- it's up to you to figure out the clues that are in there to progress the story along. Nothing ever jumps out at you, there's no other people, and there's no irreversible mistakes possible (with a few minor exceptions).

I still feel like I have actual memories from actually going to Riven, it was that good.
posted by zap rowsdower at 12:24 PM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The following are 2D, but they immediately came to mind:

Knytt Stories - many but not all of the worlds available for this one are exploration-based

Also, Saira (also from Nifflas) looks good, though I haven't played it yet.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fallout 3 is awesome, and the console commands (to make yourself invulnerable and stuff) are easy to google and use. (I actually found the hotkey to open the console prompt purely by accident.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:04 PM on December 15, 2009

Came in to suggest Shadow of the Colossus, just like everyone else it seems.
It's worth buying a PS2 just to play it.
Beautiful, haunting, solitary landscapes.
posted by Iteki at 1:38 PM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: This is going to sound kind of lame, but when the original Battlefield 1942 came out, occasionally I would just start a private game on the Coral Sea map and "lay out" on the beach or take a walk around an island. I'm sure you could have a similar experience in newer ones with better graphics.

Also, consider Second Life. I know the graphics aren't the best, but there are many many many areas that are designed purely for exploration.
posted by Elminster24 at 1:46 PM on December 15, 2009

I'm going to make an outside the box suggestion here:


In particular, I'm thinking of EverQuest (probably still has the most actual populated landmass in any game out there short of stuff like Second Life?), and World of Warcraft (Blizzard puts a TON of detail into the environments, but people are in such a rush to plow on through to max level that they don't see it).

For EverQuest, exploration would be pretty simple to setup, if all you ever wanted to do was walk around and look at things in unlocked areas. There's a server ruleset that's called 51/50 - You start at level 51, with 50 Alternate Advancement (AA) points. If you create a Rogue, and work to level 63 you can purchase an ability called Shroud of Stealth, which makes you invisible to almost everything short of bosses and the occasional NPC placed in locations to break this. Dodging NPCs that see through SoS is itself a pretty fun metagame. Monks (and to a lesser extent Shadowknights and Necromancers) have an ability called Feign Death that lets them perform some pretty insane exploration and solo feats as well if you really get into it. It all depends on just how much you want to invest in it.

For World of Warcraft, exploration by creative measures has also become a huge metagame in it's own right. There are all sorts of interesting things to go out and try to see and do, outside the more obvious "Kill. Repeat." monotony that encompasses most people's time. Additionally, the Achievement system in WoW gives a lot of particular goals and accomplishments to pursue outside the experience and gearing grind - Hunting down rare monsters, acquiring rare pets or mounts and so on.

Other MMOs surely have similar potential, I'm just most familiar with it in these games. It does take more setup than it sounds like you're looking for - You can't just pop in a disk and do everything, but you probably have a friend somewhere that has a WOW account they might let you tool around on to see if you're interested in it.
posted by Rendus at 1:55 PM on December 15, 2009

"Unity is a multiplatform game development tool, designed from the start to ease creation. A fully integrated professional application, Unity just happens to contain the most powerful engine this side of a million dollars."

I recently downloaded the Unity tools (they are 100% free, as in beer) and was pleased to discover a fully-functional large-scale sample included that is set in a tropical/island environment. The sample level can be compiled and launched in a matter of minutes and then you are free to wander with absolutely zero restrictions. There are no objectives, no items, no enemies... just you and the environment.

It's worth noting that the Unity platform scales nicely with hardware and will run on just about anything out there.

posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 2:11 PM on December 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like firing up True Crime: New York City (on xbox/pc) and just walk/drive around Manhattan.

Test Drive Unlimited (360/pc/ps2) lets you drive around a virtual Oahu. You can't leave your car, but there are dozens to choose from. Finding the hidden scenic spots like waterfalls is fun.
posted by sciatica at 2:14 PM on December 15, 2009

Shadow of the Colossus, I'm pretty sure you can wander (hah) around a fair amount of the landscape without having to fight specific colossi. So nth'd.

Also the Shenmue and Yakuza series offer Chinese and Japanese takes on the GTA city-roaming experience. The Kowloon section of Shemue II is particularly evocative.

Shenmue is Dreamcast only, but I think the Xbox port of II runs on the 360. Yakuza is PS2/PS3 and not quite as good, due to heavy reliance on OTT fighting scenes every five minutes.
posted by permafrost at 3:52 PM on December 15, 2009

Best answer: Just to be contrary, I'm going to suggest some of the old school text adventures like Zork!
posted by ErikaB at 5:43 PM on December 15, 2009

The game Okami, which I played on PlayStation but which is also available for Wii, was a great example of this. It's set in ancient Japan, and you get to run around exploring a dreamy, stylized environment, in the form of a wolf-shaped goddess. The best part was that many of the wolf's actions are done by a magic (on-screen) paintbrush, which was a really neat interractive element that I hadn't seen before.

There are goals in the game, and a start and finish, but I was more interested in exploring and trying out the magic paintbrush.
posted by Pomo at 6:35 PM on December 15, 2009

I haven't played this (actually just heard of it), but it's a mod for Half-Life 2 called Post Script. The world has ended, there's nobody else around. All you do is explore an abandoned village and solve puzzles.
posted by azarbayejani at 12:33 AM on December 16, 2009

Best answer: I haven't played this (actually just heard of it), but it's a mod for Half-Life 2 called Post Script.

Ohmygod, post script is out! I've been waiting for this one!

In the same vain there are the Chinese Room games, which are great Half Life 2 mods. Try Dear Esther specifically, which you can download here.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 9:45 AM on December 16, 2009

+1 for Fable. I just ignored the game's suggestions about how I should go fight whatever and wandered around, picked up things, fished, killed the occasional monster, flirted with ladies (and the occasional gent), played pub games, decorated my house... Mr. Informed thought I was missing the point of the game, but as far as I was concerned, the exploring and wandering was the best part.

If you have a Wii, you might also be interested in Animal Crossing (originally for GameCube, but there's a new Wii-specific version as well). It's not exactly beautiful scenery--it's very Nintendo-y--but the entire purpose of the game is to wander around, explore, find things, and interact with the other characters. That's it. Almost my perfect game.

I'm so happy I found this thread. Sandbox-type games are my favorites.
posted by Ms. Informed at 10:19 AM on December 17, 2009

These are my favorite kind of games, I never knew what they were called. Thanks.

One of my favorites is Machinarium by Amanita Designs (I love their other small games too). And they're having a huge sale right now.
posted by saffronwoman at 7:23 AM on December 22, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, I'm blown away by the many answers this question got. Thanks to all of you! I will go through the whole list (at least watch Youtube videos of them) and mark the games I especially like with Best Answer.

Bonus points for the people who suggested Zork and (!) going outside to take a walk. ^^
posted by lord_yo at 4:25 PM on December 22, 2009

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