Saints Row: The Third is the epitome of a guilty pleasure game for me. It is crass, over the top, crude, and narratively hollow. Yet, despite all of that, I had a blast playing through it. There is something to be said for flying a jet through a city, or a random zombie outbreak in the middle of a gang war, or even an immature joke about pony-play. Now, the game isn’t for everybody. There is definitely an argument to be made about whether you let a kid play a game that lets you kill hookers with a giant purple dildo bat; but that is neither here, nor there. The point is; Saints Row is fun, and probably one of the better games to come out that year.
The interesting part about Saint’s Row is that it didn’t begin in the niche that it finds itself in now. The easiest way to describe it all is to look at the Evil Dead movies. Evil Dead was a horror movie that happened to be unintentionally funny at points. Evil Dead II was a also a horror movie, but they purposely embraced some of the humorous aspects this go around. By the time you hit Army of Darkness, the movie is full on comedy and completely nuts. That, to me, is Saints Row. The first game was a well made GTA clone, that came out at the right time to garner some popularity. The second was a refinement, but ran with the humor a bit; and the third was spectacularly crazy. Saints Row: The Third gave players a world to play with, one that was at their fingertips, to do whatever they wanted in. They also gave you a story, one that was so ridiculous, you would believe every cliche they threw at you was genius. Clones? Check. Zombies? Check. Racial Stereotypes? Check? Tron References? Check. It was all in there, and though you could easily poke holes through it all; but why would you?
This fall, Saints Row IV is coming out and it seems like Volition is trying to recapture that magic again. Now, they have put you in control of the country, as the President, and you must fight off the alien invasion…with your superpowers. Yeah, that sounds like the logical extension of all of this. It looks to be more of the same over the top humor we have come to expect from the series; but unlike last time, there are more obstacles in front of it. The biggest is the fact that Grand Theft Auto V comes out a month later. Though they are both thematically quite different, it is hard to argue that people won’t be comparing the two. It is also coming out in the shadow of new consoles and people might just be saving their cash for a big launch day purchase. Fact is, the fourth in this series seems to have its work cut out for it.
My bigger worry is whether or not this type of game has much of a future left in it. The gameplay and the freedom that these games have always given has been extraordinary. The depth of the customization, the size of the world, and how completely you can screw it all up have been amazing, but its hard to say if it will be enough this time. The industry is leaning more and more towards a cinematic style and tone, and this type of goofy excursion doesn’t seem to fit the bill. Look at the other games that are coming out this fall:
-Beyond: Two Souls – Ellen Paige stars and it’s a David Cage game – no further explanation required
-SplinterCell: Blacklist – The equivalent of the summer blockbuster – your espionage thriller
-Infamous: Second Son – Completely mo-capped and is about standing up to the system
-Watch Dogs – another espionage/spy tech thriller
and oh yeah
-Grand Theft Auto V – The video game equivalent of a Guy Richie film
Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that Saints Row has its place in the industry, I just think that specific space may be shrinking. The medium is maturing and growing, and with it comes growing pains. I’ll be curious to see what the sales numbers are as they come out when it releases later this fall; because I fear that the expectations may be a bit too high. Time will tell, as it always does. “Stupid-fun” will never go away; it will always be a part of games in one way or another. The question is, is there enough of a base to support a AAA development team’s vision of large scale “stupid fun.” Now, that’s a “smart” question…Nonetheless, if you’ll all excuse me, I need to go back to playing The Last of Us.