With Grand Theft Auto & GTA Online dominating the gaming scene and entertainment scene, it’s been hard for many similar open-world crime-based games to find any sort of breathing room alongside it. I mean, for context at how successful GTA Online is, it is the single-most successful piece of media entertainment ever made. It’s already made over $6billion dollars and they just released a new update with even more content designed to bring in even more players. Adding to that, Rockstar finally added private and friend-only sessions so players could enjoy GTA Online without the single-largest problem that has kept anyone who wanted to try the service from doing so with any regularity; griefers have finally been dealt with. But there is one game that has managed to set itself apart from the juggernaut that is GTA with some acclaim and that’s the Saints Row franchise.
Saints Row initially began life as one of many GTA clones at the time of the original’s release. It quickly became apparent to many publishers that the reason so many people loved GTA wasn’t solely because of its setup structure, though that was a huge draw at the time, it was because Rockstar always stays true to themselves and provides a unique experience that you can only get from them. After a couple of ho-hum releases, Saints Row decided to try something different with the third game, taking the series away from reality and towards the weird. Such a drastic shift mid-stream could have doomed most franchises, but Saints Row was probably not for long if they didn’t shake things up anyhow so developer Deep Silver Volition decided going out with a bang was better than going out with a whimper.
But something pretty predictable to most gamers happened. When Deep Silver Volition began focusing on what they do well and created their own story instead of trying to use someone else’s formula, gamers absolutely bought in and developed a love for the franchise’s weird weapons, incredibly memorable side missions, and super interesting settings which have included, well, Hell. Let’s see GTA pull off a story in Hell (let’s be real; they could do this in their sleep).
The series had its fun and eventually took things so far over the top that Deep Silver Volition decided a reset was in order. Not because things had gotten too out of control, per se, but because it was time to restart this franchise with a fresh story instead of trying to finish out the narratives of a game that began life as nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the success of GTA and Rockstar. With the latest generation hardware releasing, now was the time for Saints Row to reboot their entire story and create the Saints as an upstart gang in the world of Santa Ileso, something of a Vegas-inspired setting with plenty of other unique areas to explore.
The story does its best to grab you out of the gate with an interesting cliffhanger before rewinding time to allow you to play the story as it unfolds. It might be an old trope, but it’s done well enough here and it certainly has me wondering. The options you have to customize your character include everything from their color to their hair to prosthetics and even the size of your bulge, should you prefer your video game characters with the appearance of a massive penis. The options are meant to be ludicrous in the outset and the available to purchase uniforms range in variety. You can buy honest-to-Galactus decent clothes or you can walk out of the store looking like you’re about to serve an evening as a BDSM Master in a Submission Dungeon.
While other outlets have given Saints Row fairly average scores, I wonder how many of these reviewers had never played the series before. I am not saying this to discount their opinions, in fact I agree with a lot of them. I only mention this because while this game was billed as being for longtime fans and new fans alike, I truly feel like I was the intended audience with how much I am enjoying it and that the people who have played a Saints game before might not be their intended audience with how much they seem to have not enjoyed it. This game has flaws and we’ll get to them in a second, but I seem much more anxious to pick up this story and dive back into this world than they did and I can’t help but wonder if that has anything to do with it.
As for the flaws, there are definitely some bugs and glitches in the game. While I agree that every game should be released as a complete product that doesn’t require Day One patches to make it playable, I also understand that our current reality doesn’t currently engage in this practice with great regularity. In that vein, I think most of the problems I’ve encountered are things that can be patched out and resolved. Where it matters, the core gameplay, the shooting, the driving, and the fun… that’s all there for me. In fact, I was genuinely surprised at how easily I was able to pick up the pace of action and engage in firefights with high success. I promise that doesn’t happen very often.
I fully intend to spend much more time in Santa Ileso and I really think that people who enjoy these styles of games or just enjoy really weird and bizarre games based around an open world will find this game gets the job done. I’m not going to pretend we have a Game of the Year or some such here, it’s just an entertainingly fun story with plenty of action and mini-games to keep you going and entertained for hours. There’s a nice lull in gaming until next month when Modern Warfare 2 and Gotham Knights are released, so spend that time committing insurance fraud and murder in Santa Ileso with Saints Row.
Pros: The game offers a robust mission structure with plenty of styles of play, all of which are customizable with their difficulty level. Most games only offer settings, but Saints Row offers the ability to tone up or down certain aspects of your game, even after you select your own preferred difficulty. Each of these difficulties come with pre-set stats on the various aspects of gameplay, but you can alter these very similar to how Halo has a skull system. In general, the customization offered in this game will please a lot of gamers and pleasantly surprise many.
Cons: Deep Silver Volition has plenty of bugs to work out. My game has hard crashed on me twice, including once while I was trying to create my character at the start. It wasn’t a great start, if we’re being honest. There also seems to be some issues with the aim-lock, as I initially find my character doesn’t seem to follow the target when they move, even if I was previously locked on and engaged. The bugs seem to be varied, but nothing that can’t be improved with a patch to stabilize the game for the long term.
Final Rating: 8/10 Gauntlets
Kane Webb covers video games, comics, and film/tv for BSO and The Marvel Report. His favorite games are the Ace Attorney Trilogy, GTA: San Andreas, Mega Man 3, and Super Mario Odyssey. He also covers the USC Trojans for Athlon Sports. He is an entertainment journalist and you can follow him for more on Twitter: @FightOnTwist.