The concept of exploring expansive landscapes teeming with nature, adversaries to conquer, and non-playable characters to interact with can be traced back to the early days of the NES, notably with titles like The Legend of Zelda. However, fully-fledged semi-realistic open worlds didn’t make a significant debut until the era of the PS2.
In the present day, AAA open-world games have pushed the boundaries even further, making it effortless for many players to lean towards realism over revisiting the simpler times of the genre, particularly during the PS1 era.
For those who relish delving into the annals of gaming genres, this list is bound to present a multitude of fascinating insights regarding open-world games on the PlayStation. The primary emphasis will be on exploring titles that grant players the freedom to traverse expansive landscapes, interact with their surroundings, and even revisit specific locations.
The original Grand Theft Auto titles require no introductions They’re the cornerstone upon which an even better, bigger, and markedly ambitious instalment in the series was eventually erected: Grand Theft Auto III.
In these top-down open-world games, you once again assume the role of a criminal. You roam the streets, hijacking vehicles, completing missions, and constantly evading the police. But you already know that. What’s less commonly known is that these two games pioneered several crucial features that have since become staples in the series.
Moreover, the straightforward and arcade-style gameplay of these titles makes them a worthwhile revisit for retro gaming enthusiasts. And let’s not overlook the fact that the live-action openings still hold up remarkably well even today.
One of the few games that played a role in shaping the development of Grand Theft Auto III was the original Driver on the PS1. While its visuals may not hold up well by today’s standards, this game was considered a technical marvel on the PS1 during its time.
If you’re on the hunt for a classic game that offers the liberty to freely roam through cities without being constrained by driving regulations, then Driver is the perfect choice. For a 1999 game, Driver was ahead of its time offering players the unprecedented freedom to navigate four contemporary cities—New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—with complete unrestricted driving freedom.
Driver 2, while predominantly retaining the same elements as its predecessors, introduced the novel ability to exit your vehicle and freely roam at your leisure. Both of these games offer missions to accomplish, and fortunately, they remain enjoyable to play through even today.
Mizzurna Falls has been stuck in obscurity for an eternity, longer than it took Solid Snake to ascend that infamous ladder in Metal Gear Solid 3. But thanks to the dedication of fans, an English patch release was conjured up, finally allowing everyone to play this Japan-exclusive game from start to finish.
Developed and published by Human Entertainment, the very same company responsible for the iconic Clock Tower franchise, Mizzurna Falls boldly stepped ahead of its time. It’s arguably one of the first true open-world games to grace the gaming industry, which only a few know about.
Even as a game from 1998, Mizzurna Falls continues to leave a lasting impression today. Beyond the captivating feature of exploring a fictitious Colorado town, Mizzurna Falls takes it a step further by incorporating a complete weather cycle, with town residents adhering to their own daily routines—a truly groundbreaking mechanic for its time. What’s more, the game’s storyline, inspired by Twin Peaks, will ensnare your attention throughout its entirety. You’re given seven days to explore the city and locate your missing classmate, along with your decisions intricately shaping the game’s ending.
While Urban Chaos may not be categorized as a traditional open-world game, it does offer expansive free-roaming maps for players to explore before advancing to the next level.
As one of the best hidden gems on the PS1, Urban Chaos represents Mucky Foot Productions’ foray into the gaming world before sadly closing its doors for good in 2003. For the company’s debut, Urban Chaos was an ambitious title for its time.
In Urban Chaos, you assume the role of a cop tasked with patrolling the streets to quell the rampant crime in every corner of the city. Make your daddy Judge Dredd proud and ensure these criminals end up where they belong: behind bars. One of the game’s highlights is its combat mechanics, which remarkably stand the test of time. With a plethora of combos to master, and vast maps to explore, it’s easy to see why this game deserves a spot on the list of the best PS1 open-world titles.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver may not have been marketed as a traditional open-world game, as it primarily falls under the category of a free-roam action-adventure title. However, due to its open-ended design, the ability to backtrack to previous locations, and the Metroidvania-style progression where new abilities unlock access to previously unreachable areas, this game warrants consideration for inclusion on a list of titles with open-world elements.
Including Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver in this list of the best open-world PS1 games due to its non-linear exploration elements is a reasonable choice, as it offers a rich and immersive experience with a world that encourages exploration and discovery.
It’s an important title in the action-adventure genre, known for its unique storytelling, dialogue, immersive atmosphere and unique gameplay mechanics.
LSD Dream Emulator is a game that truly feels like a dream in itself. Its sheer weirdness is hard to adequately describe, and its uniqueness stands out as a Japan-exclusive title. Often recognized as one of the pioneering walking simulators in the gaming industry, it took a few years for LSD to gain widespread recognition beyond Japan. Today, it enjoys cult classic status among PS1 enthusiasts and gamers who relish exploring unconventional titles.
Among its standout features, LSD Dream Emulator, with its bizarre aesthetics, thrusts players into an uncanny walking simulator exploration experience. As you traverse this peculiar world, you’ll encounter a variety of strange phenomena and oddities, and that my friend, will change your life forever.
It’s rather unfortunate that LSD Dream Emulator has become one of the rarest games to possess. This game can fetch prices of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars on eBay. However, if you’re not keen on adding it to your collection, there’s always the option to experience it through a PS1 emulator.
Germs is another unusual game on the PS1, although it doesn’t quite reach the same level of strangeness as LSD. This game is often hailed as one of the most obscure gems in the gaming world. It offers a unique blend of first-person open-world gameplay, combining elements of survival horror and adventure.
Developed and published by Kaj in 1999, Germs is a unique and uncommon gem in the PS1 library. While its visuals may appear dated by today’s standards, this game leveraged the full extent of the PS1’s 3D capabilities during its time to create a survival horror experience that seamlessly integrated elements from various genres. The outcome? Commendable. It’s quite unfortunate that there’s no English fan patch available for this game, but if you happen to speak Spanish, there is a fan-made Spanish patch translation that allows you to enjoy the game.
Terracon takes you on a journey reminiscent of Destroy All Humans but with a unique twist. Instead of invading Earth, you find yourself in the shoes of the Plutonians and the Xed, a civilization grappling with a dire threat: overpopulation. Their desperate solution involves colonizing other planets within the solar system and transforming once-uninhabitable worlds into flourishing and prosperous havens for their species to settle on.
Terracon may not have been peddled as a fully-fledged open-world game on the PS1, but it does offer a decent free-roaming experience. Within its expansive landscapes, you engage in battles against battleships, collect items, puzzle solving, create weapons and more. The entire game lets players go through levels that encompass vast, fully explorable environments. Surprisingly, Terracon is a blast from start to finish. And while it does have its flaws, including visuals that haven’t aged well and somewhat clunky vehicle controls, the shooting mechanics remain a blast.
Tail of the Sun is another hidden gem on the PS1 that many may not be aware of. Similar to Terracon, this game offers vast levels for players to explore and interact with. With little to no guidance, players are given the freedom to explore and shape their destiny in Tail of the Sun.
Assuming the role of a caveman awakening in a world ripe for exploration, you’ll find sustenance in the form of food, wield rocks as tools or weapons, and engage in various activities. Notably, this game stands out as one of the early pioneers in the survival game genre. Beyond simply surviving, you must contend with day and night cycles, periodically needing to rest to regain your strength. That’s pretty impressive for a PS1 game if I say so myself.
Thank you for reading!
I'm just your average gamer who enjoys hunting hidden gems and underrated games. My love for Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams is like a truck and I recommend that you play it.