July 9, 2013
How Saints Row: The Third Should Have Gone
My honesty permits me only to say that I lightly enjoyed Saints Row: The Third. It’s not an overwhelming sense of fanboyism, and it sure as hell isn’t a blind defense of a company that a lot of gamers happen to hate. Rather, I prefer to look at Volition’s change of direction to crude sex and slapstick humor as an opportunity to paint the game with a new coat of free roam. Instead, I’m seeing an unfashionable sham of a game hinging on its last conscious tendencies to stay desperately alive in the wake of a market overflowing with free roams.
There, I’ve said it.
But, before I begin, know that this is simply a thesis coming from the creative mind of a guy who really appreciates great story structure. That’s seriously not me bragging; I have a legitimate issue with terrible context. Be that as it may, I have a high tolerance for games that like to take a walk on the wild side. Leading up to buying the game, I’d believed that Volition was doing just that.
What I found instead wasn’t simply an experimentation. Volition had opted to bury their origins underneath the towering success of their Saints Row franchise in an effort to differentiate themselves from the competition and still be fun to gamers. Strangely this meant that the game’s creators felt the need to reduce every bit of possible seriousness to a whacky sex-filled riot.
But I actually appreciated the game enough to finish three and a half play-throughs of the main campaign with at least five hours of moding. You can call it a passive addiction to a game that I love, but I call it the subtle observation of the problems that I have with the game. Sure, I can play Saints Row: The Third for hours on end. This doesn’t make it a great game. Remember that great games today set a higher bar of depth and immersion than they’ve ever shown before.
Be that as it may, I can’t help but think that Volition is going the wrong way with the franchise. Saints Row: The Third would have been fine to me had it been a separate release, but it would hardly have carried the same sales benchmarks as its previous releases of the Saints Row franchise. So, we’re relying on distant nostalgia from a series that used to be about gang activity. Now, we’re running up the sides of walls and holding people and objects at bay with telekinesis powers.
Where the hell did Saints Row go?
“It’s a change in direction…If you don’t like the changes, than that’s too bad for you” echoes in the back of my mind as I retain what bit of self-control I have. Most loyal fans would have still given Volition their due if they’d created a Bad Fur Day parody out of Saints Row IV. In fact, they might get much better metacritic scores if they’d bothered to truly bring something original to the story. For some reason, the idea of a parody has seeped enough into popular culture that they’ve been glorified.
The glory has been lost from Saints Row for years now; but, what’s worse is that no one at Volition seems to remember where the roots came from. It’s not as simple as “simply playing another game” or “getting over it.” This is a franchise, not a one-time IP from a developer. With that being said, Saints Row: The Third made a serious mistake in killing Johnny Gat.
That’s all that I can say for now, but there’s plenty more to be had in the future! Let me know what you think in the comments below.
I’ve heard the pretentious argument about Gat’s tendency to make the atmosphere of a game serious, but what else can you expect from a guy that lost the love of his life to ninja assassins? Rather than write Johnny’s story arc so that he’d find some solitude and closure in a world that welcomes his insanity (which they did), Johnny was killed off without so much as a proper death sequence to do his character justice. Sadly, this was only the first fifteen minutes of the game.
What I saw next wasn’t a matter of content; it was a matter of context. I saw weapons and vehicles all designed and preserved for their aesthetic in a very natural way. This meant nothing next to the fact that the strongest of them were already made available in the first mission. “Huh…feels good to get great stuff so early” is all I could think at first; but I soon realized that the rewards didn’t supply the incentive to continuously play a game surviving on anal sex jokes and auto tune.
But Professor Genki and Genkibowl changed that for me entirely. I considered it to be the most extravagant and well-done DLC that fit perfectly within the context of the series. In fact, it surprised me that Genki actually posed an even crazier person that the Boss. “Oh well”, I thought. Leaving behind the mascots and giant balls of yarn, I found zombies and futuristic glide bikes. Where I used to have a blunt after a car wash, I now have to settle for stunt challenges and boring maneuvers in a VTOL. Again, the content is great, but the context isn’t satisfying enough to make me actually care.
So, if none of the content makes sense, what could have the game done instead? Well, that’s simple!
Saints Row is a city free roaming game about a fictional gang of men and women called the Third Street Saints, a crime group straight out of the fictional city of Stilwater. The Saints make a habit of getting into trouble and that habit usually leads to a cop getting killed or somebody’s BMW getting pissed on. Their focus is heavily based on being gangsters (low riders, pimp suits, guns and, of course, prostitutes), yet previous games highlight them as media pop stars. This isn’t so sad when we consider how predictable that must seem for the guys that locked a woman in the back of a truck and had it run over by a monster truck.
Instead of killing Johnny Gat and plunging the Saints into Steelport with Morningstar and the Luchadores, Gat should only have been captured/injured and imprisoned by Felipe at the Morningstar building. This would have allowed for Volition to utilize Morningstar’s cloning program with the likes of Johnny, and might have just given an upper hand to highlight the relationship between the Boss and Gat. Finally, the twist would give the goal of planning, executing and, finally, achieving their goal of saving Johnny from Felipe.
While doing this, the story arcs of Matt and Violet could fit comfortably inside the time frame that it would have taken for Stag to arrive and attempt capture of the Saints. Stag could still come full force with the same intention of ending the Saints reign over crime in Steelport.
Not only this, but the decision to stay in Steelport would still have been available and Volition wouldn’t have had to walk away from Genkibowl. Faced with gang opposition and a new city bent on the popularizing of violence and reality TV, The Saints could use Genkibowl as their go-to activity for carnage and mayhem. Their popularity from Genkibowl would have made them superstars, not their reputation as gangbangers from Stilwater.
Meanwhile, the entire populace of Steelport’s Genkibowl crowd would rebel against Felipe and his trio for their mistreatment of the people and pedestrians of Steelport (Hippocritical in the eyes of us, but likely seeing that Felipe and his gang are most wanted). This section of the story would have allowed for a large number of experimental missions and true character development for new people.
Image Credit: Deep Silver Volition