I am more excited about the next Saint’s than I am about the upcoming fifth installment of Grand Theft Auto.
Hear me out for a second.
I love Grand Theft Auto. I played the first one (and London 1969) a whole hell of a lot and, although I had no idea at the time how great they would eventually grow to be, I enjoyed them. Quite a bit, actually. When Grand Theft Auto 3 dropped in 2001 I, like everybody else, spent approximately half that year trying to rack up a six-star wanted level. I literally knew the streets of that town as well as I did my own, and have repeatedly said that GTA III has had more of an impact on the gaming industry than any other title ever. Suffice to say, I’m a fan.
And don’t get me wrong. GTA V is going to be nothing short of amazing, and I’m probably going to be at least eighth in line to pick it up. Nobody lampoons pop culture with as much humor and intelligence as Rockstar, and I’m sure the gameplay will be as polished and brilliant as ever. But that doesn’t necessarily make it more fun.
I was as excited about Grand Theft Auto IV as anybody. I didn’t get it on day 1, but not too long after its release I picked it up and got ready to embark on my epic reclamation of Liberty City. After meeting Niko (a truly remarkable character), and jacking my first car, I started roaming the city. My usual GTA strategy is too bust the early-game missions out as fast possible before the lure of the city becomes too great. GTA IV was no different, but, as I played, a horrible truth dawned on me. These missions I was playing were terribly boring.
I felt like I was playing Crazy Taxi without the crazy. I was just ferrying people around, and being forced to hang out with people I didn’t like. If I didn’t indeed hang out with them, or god forbid take over three minutes to cross a f***ing metropolis, I was slammed with gameplay punishments. No thanks, man. I’m sure I missed all sorts of great jokes and missions and everything, but I capped out around fifteen hours. GTA can easily suck hundreds, but that is still a significant investment in a game I wasn’t really enjoying.
On the other hand, I was sucked into Saint’s Row: The Third almost instantly. I always thought of the Saint’s Row franchise as the ginger lispy step-brother of GTA, but, despite being less than impressed with the first two entries, I found I couldn’t stop playing it. The absurdity of it hit my funny bone in just the right way, but it is also a heck of a game in its own right. The gunplay is fantastic, the varied activities (especially Professor Genki’s game show and Insurance Fraud) are incredible and the upgrade system deserves its own academy award. It is seriously that good, especially some of the late-game upgrades.
Really everything about it is awesome, and that includes the story. It may be a little off the…ok, a lot of the rails, but it is well-written and does a great job endearing you to the cast. Listening to my character and her friend sing along to my favorite band Sublime’s “What I Got” was so awesome I can’t even describe it. That game is pure fun from beginning to end, and that counts for a lot in a game.
As much as I believe video games are art, I also believe they should be fun, and that that is its number one job. Designing a social commentary on the American Dream is great and all, but, sometimes, I just want to beat people with a giant purple phallus. And Saint’s Row let’s me do that.
That’s gotta count for something.