A Gamer’s Retrospective on Saints Row

Whether you’ve read the articles on it or not, once you’ve played Saints Row IV you’ll likely come to the conclusion that this is the last game in the franchise.  The whole premise of the franchise has been to be bigger & crazier than the last.  But just look at what you’re doing in the game.  How can you top becoming President, fighting off aliens with super powers & saving the world?  Anything that follows directly from this would be a step down.  Volition has sort of painted themselves in a corner.  They’re in the same position Nintendo finds themselves in with the Mario franchise, at least when it comes to making brand new games & not rehashes.  How can you top Super Mario Galaxy?  Making Super Mario Galaxy 2 just delayed the inevitable.  Maybe Super Mario Universe?  Super Mario Multiverse?

Volition hasn’t actually said there won’t be any more Saints Row games.  However, it’s clear they realize they’ve gone as far as they can story-wise with the current arc.  In an interview with Gamereactor, design director Scott Phillips stated:

We’re definitely considering Saints Row IV sort of the end of that saga of this character and the Saints as they are.  So if there’s any more future Saints Rows – which you know we always hope there will be, we hope there’s fans for future games like that – they will probably continue in a different direction.

So clearly while Volition hasn’t ruled out a Saints Row 5, but it’ll have to go in a different direction.  Which I’m okay with.  Look at their competition, the Grand Theft Auto series.  While there have been sequels that continued from the main game, most of the had their own self-contained stories that just follow the GTA formula.

But whether or not Volition makes a fifth game, I wanted to take a look back at my own experiences with the Saints Row franchise.

I admitted this in the review, but I never played the first Saints Row game.  To me, it looked like a GTA clone, & I’ve never played any of the GTA games.  I just don’t have an interest in the whole gangster lifestyle.  I have a general knowledge of what happens in the first game, & quite frankly I don’t care enough to go back & play it.  Playing games in reverse order can be a bit iffy, since mechanics you like in later games may not be present in older games.

1324325587_005So my first experience with the franchise was with Saints Row 2.  And I’ll be honest, the whole reason I even paid attention was because they announced you could play as a female.  Obviously I don’t mind playing as a male character (otherwise my pool of games would be very limited) but when given the choice I always play as a woman.  After this announcement, I started looking into the game & figured it might be worth checking out.  And I’m very glad I did.  SR2 is a fantastic game.  The story is well written & compelling, with interesting characters.  At least to my knowledge, it’s a realistic portrayal of gangster life, although I’m sure it’s more over the top than real life.  It’s not always pretty, & the boss spends as much time doing horrible things as having horrible things done to them.  But they’re still presented in a relatable manner, showing that they do have loyalty & care about the people in their crew.  The game also has a great sense of humor, with the surreal aspects being just crazy enough to be hilarious without seeming implausible.  It’s also a really good open-world game, with lots of activities & diversions.  Tired of killing people?  Why not drive an ambulance around & save people’s lives?  Not only do you get respect & money, but completing them may also give you special items.  The customization options are also very extensive.

My only real problem with the game is that, while you can play as a woman, the game rarely acknowledges that you are one.  It takes me out of the experience when my lady Boss (who I imagine as heterosexual because I am) makes comments about strippers when there are only female strippers in the game or is making eyes back at a female bartender who’s hitting on her.  It’s only a small thing & doesn’t affect the overall game, but it’s annoying when the game comes across as being made for guys  & it’s letting you play as a female to cater to guys who want to get off by running around as a nude woman or playing as a lesbian.  But to the game’s credit, at least in the Ho-ing diversion it automatically makes your customer the opposite gender.

0Saints Row: The Third was a step in the direction of totally mental for the series.  While SR2 was quirky fun based in reality, SR3 seemed to do everything it could to be over the top.  But it wasn’t always to the game’s benefit.  My overall impression of the game was that, while it’s still a good game, it’s not as good as its predecessor.  I love the humor & the variety of missions (the final mission against the Deckers was my favorite), but a lot of it seemed crazy just for craziness’ sake.  Reality is gone completely out the window.  I also found the story wasn’t as good as before.  I think the main problem is with the pacing.  It doesn’t really feel like you’re taking on three gangs.  Hell, you kill the main leader by the end of the first act.  I also didn’t like how, if you played the activities before the story mission that introduces them, you lose all context for the reason the activity exists in the first place.  The personalities of the characters are really strong & the dialogue between them is good, & I like that the game gives you some choices in how the story plays out.  But overall it just felt less polished & trying to too hard to be funny.  The fun is over too quickly, & once you’ve played the missions there’s not much reason to play around in the world.

Also, why did Volition take out the ability to replay missions you’ve already completed within the same save file?

7With Saints Row IV, we get a return to the excellent writing with the added craziness that somehow feels more grounded this time around.  Although the story is by far the most over the top of the three I’ve played, all of the craziness that happens feels like it’s for a purpose rather than just to be there.  The banter between party members is always amusing, & the missions where you save your crew or earn their loyalty have a great variety.  The world is once again fun to play around in thanks to the new weapons & super powers you gain, but they do make some aspects of the game seem unbalanced.  The humor is… well, I don’t want to say sophisticated, but much less crude than in SR3.  And I love the homages both the series’ past & sci-fi in general.

SR2 & SR4 are both great games but for different reasons.  SR2 has a great storyline & while taking itself more seriously than the other games, isn’t afraid to have some fun.  SR4 is very different from its origins & is less a crime simulator than a super hero one.  But it’s still a heck of a lot of fun to play.

I don’t know if there will be a Saints Row 5, or if there even should be one.  While I always enjoy seeing more of my favorite franchises, I also think it’s okay to know when to end them.  There’s nothing worse than seeing your favorite games get run into the ground by publishers hoping to milk every last penny from you.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy replaying SR4 & keeping an eye out for any DLC content to extend the experience.

– GamerDame


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