Why are there so many huge open-world games with tons of map markers to tick off like a checklist? We all know the answer: to create value for money. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially as big-budget games keep impacting our small budget reality. $70 is a lot to invest for a predominantly single-player experience, but when you know that a sprawling open-world title such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will easily last you upwards of 50 hours, it’s a bitter pill that’s easier to swallow.
However, Resident Evil Village – whose core story mode can be completed within 10 to 12 hours – makes the case against the 'more is more' theory of value using deeper gameplay systems and reward items to transform the experience. Smashed that first play-through? Now try speed-running the game in under three hours for the elusive Dashing Dad silver trophy. It's a completely different challenge, requiring a fresh approach to your map navigation and weapon usage. Thought the last boss was a breeze? Try completing the entire game using only melee weapons. We know that Resident Evil Village DLC is coming… but the New Game Plus mode makes a compelling argument that value-for-money rests in multiple replays.
Adrift on a sea of content
As great a time as we have with open-world epics like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Just Cause or Spider-Man, something can grate about the way they’re stuffed with content. A huge, beautiful world can turn to white noise as we traipse across it for the thousandth time to reach a new objective, almost like it’s become a glorified loading screen. We begin to realise that many outposts repeat similar content; and we enter a zen-like state of opening chests without caring what’s inside, just delighting in the serotonin buzz that comes from another task done.
Repetition is at the core of almost all video-games, of course. Tetris Effect is one of the most repetitive games on the planet, but the core of the series is so strong that we could play it forever. We'd like to see more games that test - and deepen - your understanding of a game's core mechanics, rather than your ability to listen to podcasts / stare out of the window / tape your controller in a fixed position, while you traipse across a broadly tedious archipelago of content.
Village gets closer to home
Resident Evil Village is a fantastic game. Its RRP is a slightly more reasonable $59.99, but it also takes a darn sight less time to hit the credits in it than in a huge open-world game. But you can put just as many joyous hours into Capcom's latest action-focused survival horror as you can an Assassin’s Creed game. Once finished, you can play Resident Evil Village through again and keep things like weapon upgrades, as well as unlock new special items (like infinite ammo) that make subsequent playthroughs more interesting, or even significantly harder.
In earlier eras of gaming, when many of us were dependent on pocket money, we had to make do with a smaller selection of games, and we didn’t have sprawling open worlds to occupy our time. Metal Gear Solid on PS1 had a similar system of unlocks and replays, and the original Resident Evil was great to revisit to see if you could get a faster time. You don’t always need fresh material to enjoy returning to a game either. You don’t want to know how many times I’ve collected all the dragon eggs in Spyro: Year Of The Dragon.
In fact, for as long as it might take you to complete them to the last mission and collectible, huge open-world games can actually feel less encouraging to revisit. Every time I think about going back to Egypt to enjoy Bayek’s story in Assassin’s Creed Origins once again, I remember just how spread-apart the interesting bits are, and wish I had a mission select to get straight to the good bits. In fact, you could make the case for earlier open-world titles – like the smaller, more compact Assassin’s Creed 2 – feeling more welcoming to returning players.
Hopefully the likes of Resident Evil Village prove that games can offer better value for money – and provide a better investment for our time – using a lick of jam, not a tub of butter. A truly great game will always entice us back for another taste, no matter how long the first play-through.
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