So last night I bought the Saints Row double pack (and no, there is no apostrophe in Saints Row). I bought it specifically because I heard that the mechanics were far better than Grand Theft Auto X’s. I resisted the urge to start with the (by all accounts superior) second game and popped in the first. I then played it until my eyes basically wouldn’t focus any more.
The good: Holy Toledo, this game fixes just about every problem GTA has. Let’s go down the list.
Driving controls are tight; it’s possible to actually make a turn without a) having to brake down to 1/4 speed or b) hitting anybody or anything. This is aided by the fact that the streets are wide and both cars and pedestrians are less common than in GTA cities. Following another car is actually possible in this game. Plus, this game had a GPS system that would lead you to your target years before GTA IV.
You have a lot of health, and it regenerates when you’re not actually taking fire. Not only that, but you can carry around with you four health-restoring items at all times. This mechanic by itself means that I’ll almost certainly be able to beat this game.
Shooting is good (but not great). There is no lock on (though once you get the cursor over an enemy, the game will help you keep it there). There is no cover system (though you’ll rarely get into a situation where there’s nothing to hide behind). But like I mentioned above, you’ve got tons of health and multiple opportunities to break contact and recover. I’ve already played missions where I’ve fought through 35-50 enemies, and while I got smoked a couple times, perseverance and taking things slow and cautiously has always paid off.
The game uses a territory system like San Andreas; the more territories you take, the more money you find in your stash every morning. And yes, rival gangs can try to take back territories, which means you have to run over there and shoot their lieutenants so that the takeback fails.
Plus HOLY TOLEDO IS THERE LOTS TO DO IN THIS GAME. But I’ll get to the downside of that in a minute.
This is one of the most puerile, juvenile games I’ve ever played. Penny Arcade was right. This is a game for 12-year-old gangsta wannabees.
The storytelling in this game is weak, even by GTA standards. Of course, if your story is weak, it helps to get someone like Keith muthafuckin’ David to narrate it for you. Don’t know who he is? Here, have a taste.
In order to progress in the story-based missions, you must perform activities that raise your respect bar. Once it fills up, you have one “charge” of respect and can then play one story-based mission. Of course, this is a good/bad, because most of the activities are actually pretty fun, although most of them are absolutely amoral (no “gangstas with hearts of gold” here). My favorites are drug trafficking, taking hostages, insurance fraud and mayhem missions. This was a dealbreaker for Sol_HSA, who just wanted to do the story missions, but I think of it kind of like the leveling system in Oblivion, which, while deeply flawed, forced me to try some skills I never would have before, which is where I discovered that I loved alchemy.
The story-based missions are also varied and fun. In one, you street race with three members of another gang…who are unaware that their cars have been fitted with bombs. Your goal isn’t to beat them, but to get your passenger close enough to them so that he can taunt them into using their nitro…which blows them up. In another, you attack a garage owned by a rival gang so that one of your fellow gang members (who has gone undercover with the rival gang) can “save” the garage owner and thus get in good with the gang’s leadership. And in a third, you help a singer who is locked in a terrible record contract (with a label that just happens to be owned by another rival gang) fake her own death.
Okay, I’m going to take it back. The storytelling isn’t that bad; it’s just that this game is a summer popcorn movie while GTA IV is trying to be Heat.
Which leads me to something I almost didn’t want to mention about Grand Theft Auto IV…but now I think I will.
WARNING: PSRD BREACH!
While playing GTA IV I got the feeling that the developers…well, they just don’t like America very much. Niko Bellic arrives in New York only to get stuck in Little Vladivostok, doing the same things he did back in Serbia for money – killing, mostly. No other alternative is presented. And of course, Roman’s fascination with America is only skin-deep, with most of that skin being on BIG FAKE AMERICAN TITTIES!
Instead of telling a story about an immigrant who uses the opportunities America provides to better himself, Rockstar chose to tell a story about a man who allows his past mistakes to rule him, to his eventual downfall, while blaming America for everything (and yes, this is in the dialog).
And let’s not get into Weasel News, the Rush Limbaugh satire and the Republican Space Rangers…gone is the political even-handedness of San Andreas (which featured a hilarious talk show where a couple, one liberal and one conservative, literally got off on ridiculing each other).
Here’s hoping for a Grand Theft Auto V that’s lighter in tone, has less political bullshit and, at the very least, has difficulty settings.
Oh, and by the way…I’m going to swear in this post.