Highlights Open-world games struggle to create a complete and surreal world, but indie designers like Journey and Paradise Killer succeed in their artistic vision. Yume Nikki and Psychonauts 2 offer unique and surreal exploration experiences with their bizarre environments. Deadly Premonition and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice provide highly unusual and polarizing survival horror experiences that deconstruct the concept of an open world.
Open-world games often struggle to put a complete stamp across the entire world of their game. This is because it can be difficult to allow players the full range of exploring every inch inside the map while making all of it feel like a completely different, dream-like place. The difficulties involved in this make surreal open-world games fairly rare.
However, some developers are bold enough to try, even if it is in a fairly limited or somewhat shortened fashion. Usually, these are indie designers who won’t be attacked for making a fairly cheapened version, or who have a very specific artistic vision for such a world, and sometimes they create something incredibly beautiful.6 Journey
Released in 2012, Journey is one of the very best examples of a surreal game where players can walk in any direction they wish. Encouraged to go on a journey across a great desert, players can walk, run, float, and slide across the sands and experience every inch of this bizarre, beautiful place at their own speed.
Journey won many awards and was immediately thought of by many to be one of the best games players could finish in one sitting. Journey is now, a decade later, thought of as a piece of gaming history by many critics and fans, enabling players to adventure alongside each other as they simply go on a journey while questioning the idea of what a journey actually is.5 Paradise Killer
A very different kind of surreal is explored in Paradise Killer. Set on an island called Paradise Island, players take the role of a detective attempting to solve the mystery of who murdered the Syndicate Council, who is in charge of the island. The entire island, as it turns out, is an experiment constantly being reinvented to create a perfect society, and players will have to learn quickly, so they can solve the mystery.
While this entire idea is completely surreal, the game is surprisingly witty and amusing. Players will have a great time exploring the open world of Paradise Island while solving the mysteries involved and attempting to find a killer somewhere in it all. Anything that takes this much bizarre inspiration from H.P. Lovecraft is sure to be fascinating, and very weird.4 Yume Nikki
A bizarre game indeed, which was released in 2004, Yume Nikki is a fascinating experiment made in RPG Maker that actually deconstructs the RPG genre. It focused on a little girl who could enter her dreams to collect 24 different effects. Players were able to explore the landscape of her dreams at will to find all of these, and the environments which were situated inside her dreams definitely qualify as surreal.
The game is completely based on the idea of exploration. There isn’t any combat. There also isn’t any dialogue or noticeable plot. Players control Madotsuki in both the real and dream worlds, controlling when she sleeps and then where she goes when she does. However, there is a complete lack of anything else, making the game feel like a surreal experience.3 Psychonauts 2
Psychonauts 2 is a very unusual platform game, also taking place mostly inside people’s heads, which makes for some surreal environments. There are sections of the game outside in the real world, where players can control Raz and have him go wherever they want. In the Psychonauts series, Raz is always attempting to use his psychic abilities to help his team by shrinking down to go inside people’s heads.
In Psychonauts 2, a mystery unravels around who really kidnapped the leader of the Psychonauts, revealing secrets about Raz’s past. The surreal environments, which are each unique inside each individual character’s mind, make for beautiful landscapes to platform across, and the outer hub allows players exploration at their own pace in an open world.2 Deadly Premonition
It is no surprise to find a survival horror game on a list of surreal ones. The genre is definitely known, because of games like the Silent Hill franchise, for entering into the nonsensical worlds in which surreal fans will be completely absorbed. Deadly Premonition is an open-world game set in fictional Greenvale, where an FBI agent is investigating the death of a young woman.
Deadly Premonition holds the Guinness World Record for the most polarizing survival horror game after a wild sequence of critical reviews were given for it. Deadly Premonition is also noted as a great example of games as artistic pieces, with the surreal nature of the horror landscapes throughout providing an incredible and unusual experience for gamers that deconstructs the idea of an open world.1 Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Set in pre-Viking Britain, the player takes control of Senua, a warrior who must face a laundry list of dangerous, surreal enemies and forces as she attempts to regain her lost lover. All the while, Senua experiences voices in her head and darkness that speaks to her. All of this and more help make Hellblade one of the most successful, completely surreal games ever made.
The gameplay involves fantastical cutscenes, puzzle-solving, and psychological horror aspects, all inspired by incredible folklore, making for a highly unusual experience that has been praised by critics. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is another title that is regarded as a great example of artistic pieces as games, providing one of the more violently surreal ideas in gaming yet.