I sing along with almost every song in San Andreas, occasionally missing turns and stops because I’m thinking back to when I first heard whatever jam it was.
Unlike whichever GTA I played in high school programming class, I’m playing this one solo and am interested in more than just running from the police and over people. Despite completing several missions, decking out in green (and an eye patch!), and trying to find some real plot here (and some damn money!), though, it’s not resonating with me as much as it could.
And I know how much it could, because I just finished Saints Row. Oh, hell yes.
First of all: purple. Everywhere. Big plus.
Third, the game has the sort of comforting skill progression as, say, Borderlands. Dip a toe in, see that you aren’t going to die immediately and horribly or with much punishment (or that it will be hilarious when you do), and relax enough to start doing crazy stuff. I’ll confess that I’m something of an achievement-lover, too, which helps. (If the Steam version could affect my Windows/XBox Live gamerscore, I wouldn’t have slept.)
I haven’t played any of the previous Saints Row games nor much of the GTA ones, so terms like “GTA clone” or “OMG terrible PC port” don’t have the emotional weight to me that they do to long-time fans/haters of either franchise. The game feels very different than either San Andreas or GTA IV. GTA IV took itself quite seriously to my observing eye, and San Andreas (where I am now, at least) is mired in its own weak mission sequence. Saints Row’s initial mission sequence is far more cohesive (it is woven together with strands of purple, after all), and opens up with appropriate theatrics and a driving plot.
By which I mean “present and compelling”, not, erm, driving.
Gamery folks wrote about how absurd the game is, which led me to preconceive something like Sam and Max or Bayonetta. I can hardly say it’s less goofy than those, but what it mostly feels is relaxed. Everything from the blur effect when driving to the outfits to the autotuner fellow to the insurance fraud or tank missions feels fast and “why the hell not?” without sacrificing the core goals of the game.
I don’t know if San Andreas will get there, but Saints Row’s ability to see city ownership and take over portions? Very compelling to me. I hustled to make money to buy properties (while balancing the need for upgrades), and even the hard activities were a blast. (I’ll be 100%ing this soon.) Even before Saints Row fully opened up, it felt more usefully open than San Andreas does. I really don’t want to wander around San Andreas with a spray can and get shot up trying to tag a wall because I can’t afford bullets. And I won’t.
Also, helicopter chases trump bike chases. Hands down.
There were, though, a couple of disappointing parts in the game. One is the (luckily) brief descent into prostitution-related material. I’m not anti-sex workers, but I’m against making light of abusive pimps (or really, pimping in general as portrayed). The only saving grace is that the Saints are saving the women from abusive setups, and that the game quickly moves on to less annoying conflicts.
While the ending was one of the least unsatisfying endings in any game I’ve played, it was certainly a setup for DLC or a sequel. The game was complete enough (and fun enough) that I’m not mad at it, though.
Now I just need to make some co-op action happen.