The 7 Absolute Best Open-World Games for the PlayStation 3

The PlayStation 3 had huge shoes to fill as the successor to the iconic PlayStation 2, which remains the best-selling video game console of all time. Launching in late 2006, the PS3 pioneered new technology like Blu-ray discs and integrated online multiplayer gaming through PlayStation Network.

While the PS3 trailed behind the Xbox 360 in total sales, with 87.4 million units sold it was still a major success. The PS3 relied heavily on its strong catalog of game titles across various genres to help differentiate itself in the marketplace. This included having some of the very best open-world games of that console generation.

What Defines an Open-World Game?

Before diving into the top open-world PlayStation 3 game titles, let‘s clearly define this genre. Open-world games give players freedom to explore an expansive virtual world and approach objectives in a non-linear way. Rather than moving level by level, players can tackle missions in varying orders. These games also tend to have extensive side quests and activities beyond critical path tasks.

Key elements that characterize open-world games are:

  • Large, free-roaming environments
  • Non-linear progression through main and side missions
  • Player freedom to explore the world and interact with NPCs
  • Availability of various weapons, vehicles andupgrade options
  • An immersive setting bringing the virtual world to life

Some of the most iconic video game franchises ever like Grand Theft Auto popularized this genre and showed how engaging open-world freedom can be.

Was the PlayStation 3 Specifically Known for Open-World Games?

Examining the top 30 best-selling PlayStation 3 games, only 3 of them really qualify as open-world:

  1. Grand Theft Auto V
  2. Red Dead Redemption
  3. Grand Theft Auto IV

So while open-world wasn‘t the main genre attributed to the PS3, these massively successful titles clearly left their mark. Grand Theft Auto V ending up being the best-selling PS3 game ever with an astonish 29.52 million units sold.

Let‘s explore the absolute best open-world gaming experiences the PlayStation 3 had to offer.

#7: Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row: The Third Ps3

Release Year: 2011

Metascore: 82

The Saints Row franchise has often unfairly lived in the shadow of Grand Theft Auto, but Saints Row: The Third stands on its own as a zany, chaotic and hugely entertaining open-world game. It continues the story of the Third Street Saints gang as they do battle with rival gangs to take control of the fictional city of Steelport.

Whereas GTA leans more into gritty realism, Saints Row fully embraces absurdity and humor. This means having access to strange weapons like the Fart in a Jar to use against enemies. You can also customize your character with insane outfits – for example wearing nothing but a toilet to battle rival gangs.

Reviewers praised Saints Row: The Third for delivering a fun sandbox environment, colorful cast of characters and totally over-the-top action. It provides a refreshing alternative to more serious criminal fantasy titles. Those looking for pure entertainment value from their open-world escapades need to give Saints Row: The Third a shot.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

#6 Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs (PS3)

Release Year: 2012

Metascore: 83

Sleeping Dogs is a hidden gem among open-world games, offering up Hong Kong as a vibrant and dense urban playground. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee Triad organization. Gameplay seamlessly blends hand-to-hand combat, gunplay and parkour movement throughout the city.

While the game starts with a linear story-based tutorial section, it quickly opens up into a sprawling open-world. The world feels very dynamic and lived-in, with Hong Kong locals going about their daily business as gang drama unfolds across neighborhoods.

One standout feature of Sleeping Dogs is the meaty combat system. Wei Shen has an extensive repertoire of hard-hitting martial arts moves to unleash, along with environmental takedowns using objects in the world. Coupled with dramatic Reaction sequences after special attacks, combat is simply a visceral joy.

Reviewers praised just about every aspect of Sleeping Dogs, from the living, breathing representation of Hong Kong to the brutal, finely-tuned combat. It rightfully deserves more mainstream recognition among the best open-world games out there.

Available on: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC

#5: Assassin‘s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag – Playstation 3

Release Year: 2013

Metascore: 88

Assassin‘s Creed IV: Black Flag propelled the franchise in exciting new directions, notably with open-world naval exploration set in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. You play as Edward Kenway, grandfather of Assassin‘s Creed III protagonist Connor.

The open-world environment spans over 50 unique locations players can freely travel between, including villages, plantations, forts and Mayan ruins dotted across the West Indies. The game world feels vibrant, exotic and full of opportunity for profit and plunder.

What really sets Black Flag apart is giving players their own pirate ship, the Jackdaw. Naval battles against Spanish and British fleets feel fresher than the series‘ typical ground-based combat. Exploring the open waters, hunting wild game, searching for treasure and more activities make sailing a real highlight.

This swashbuckling adventure resonated strongly with reviewers. They praised the gorgeous Caribbean setting, naval battles and hours upon hours of compelling content. Black Flag stands tall as one of the PS3‘s best open-world offerings.

Available on: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC

#4 Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption Game of the Year

Release Year: 2010

Metascore: 95

Red Dead Redemption transports players back to the American West of 1911, putting them in cowboy boots during the sunset years of the Wild West. You play as former outlaw John Marston who is forced to hunt down members of his former gang.

The open-world environment spans three unique regions of the US packed with frontier towns, outposts, forests, prairies and deserts. Players can explore on horseback or stagecoach while soaking up the gorgeous vistas and rugged, rural atmosphere.

Gameplay offers a mix of third-person shooting, hunting and classic Western activities like dueling, bounty hunting and taming wild horses. An Honor system also tracks moral choices Marston makes, which affect how NPCs respond to him.

Upon release, Red Dead Redemption wowed reviewers with its alive open world, emotionally resonant story and varied gameplay. It achieved widespread critical acclaim as well as strong sales of over 15 million copies. Red Dead Redemption stands tall as one of the PS3‘s most beloved open-world experiences.

Available on: PS3, Xbox One (via backward compatibility)

#3 Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City (Playstation 3)

Release Year: 2011

Metascore: 94

Batman: Arkham City brings the dark, enthralling world of Gotham to life in extraordinary fashion. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Grant Morrison, the game sees Batman confined to Arkham City – a dangerous superprison enclosing a decaying section of the city. Iconic villains like The Joker, Penguin and more are imprisoned there, along with their gangs who control different territories.

This setup makes for an incredibly rich, dense open-world environment to explore. Gliding between rooftops and stalking henchmen from the shadows makes players feel like The Dark Knight himself. The wide range of gadgets to utilize adds plenty of options when approaching missions. Arkham City also allows players to take control of Catwoman, who brings her own weapons and athletic traversal style.

Reviewers applauded Arkham City as an interactive work of comic art come to life. Roaming the streets of Gotham while encountering classic members of Batman‘s rogues gallery makes this a fantasy fulfilled for any fan. Add in exciting combat and rewarding progression systems, and Arkham City is one of the PS3‘s most unforgettable open-world offerings.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U

#2 Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V – PlayStation 3

Release Year: 2013

Metascore: 97

Any list of top PlayStation 3 games is inevitably going to feature Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar‘s blockbuster open-world title took things to new heights of size, scope and polish – both in terms of the sprawling, diverse map of San Andreas and advanced game systems that add life to its world.

GTA V tells an ambitious tale of heists and hustles through three criminal protagonists: Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Players can freely switch between each anti-hero, taking advantage of their special abilities on jobs. Outside missions, the temptations of GTA‘s lawless playground are endless.

Few virtual worlds feel more alive, reactive and full of opportunity than Los Santos and Blaine County. Players can go hunting, play golf, invest in the stock market or just watch TV if they want a low key gaming experience on top of the action-packed missions. An online multiplayer mode also supports heists and other mayhem with friends.

Becoming the PS3‘s best selling game ever with 29.5 million copies sold, GTA V set the benchmark for open-world gaming in terms of depth and freedom. Over a decade later, it still holds up with superb writing, stunning visuals for the time and addictive minute-to-minute gameplay.

Available on: PS3, PS4, PS5, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC

#1 Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV – PlayStation 3

Release Year: 2008

Metascore: 98

Earning near universal critical acclaim, Grand Theft Auto IV stands at the peak of PlayStation 3 open-world experiences. It raised the genre to new heights thanks to phenomenal writing, an incredibly realized version of New York City and refined mechanics that made every street confrontation an intense affair.

GTA IV chronicles European immigrant Niko Bellic chasing the elusive American Dream on the streets of Liberty City. The expertly told story dives deep into topics like the illusion of prosperity, bonds of family and nature of revenge. Players explore this existential crisis through hours of darkly humorous missions and electrifying gunplay.

Liberty City feels vibrant and alive like no in-game city before it. Pedestrians live out their day on crowded streets lined with storefronts and landmarks based on NYC. Dynamic weather like fog or thunderstorms makes the environment unpredictable and moody.

Upon release, GTA IV blew reviewers away and stands as the second best reviewed PlayStation 3 game ever behind Metal Gear Solid 4. It set new benchmarks for open-world freedom and interactive storytelling. Over 15 years later, GTA IV remains an exceptional gaming experience leading the pack of PS3 open-world titles.

Available on: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Expansive Open-World Freedom on PS3

The PlayStation 3 library offers no shortage of top-tier open-world games guaranteed to suck players into their inviting sandboxes for hours on end. Franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin‘s Creed and Batman: Arkham reached new heights during this console cycle. And the emergence of new IPs like Red Dead Redemption brought welcome innovation to the genre.

Those wanting the pinnacle of freedom in their games need look no further than these PlayStation 3 classics. Each delivers a meticulously crafted world brimming with characters, lore and gameplay possibilities just waiting to captivate fans and completionists alike. Which open-world PS3 title stands out most for you? Sound off in the comments!

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