This morning Eurogamer reported that the title and concept art for the third game in the Saints Row series had leaked. Following a week where I was left vaguely underwhelmed by the Dead Island teaser trailer I really didn’t expect to get too worked up about a simple confirmation of creation. But having something tangible about the follow up to one of my favourite games this generation has left me giddy in a way that even the reveal trailers for my most anticipated games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 didn’t.
The thing about Saints Row 3 is that for some reason I never expected a follow up, the 2nd game took a surprisingly large amount of risks and was released in the wake of GTA IV. It kind of disappeared from the public conciousness, a few publications like Zero Punctuation and Eurogamer hailing its greatness, and I always assumed that we wouldn’t get a sequel. In a lot of ways Saints Row 2 was kind of a flash in the pan game it was both utterly anarchic and kind of corporate. Like half the game was just the collective Id of the developers unleashed, whilst the other half was focused grouped to death. The result was a game that was completely, rampantly, juvenile and also quite hilarious. Where pop culture memes merged with genuinely madcap gameplay to create something that felt completely off the rails and completed produced at the same time. It was like someone building a game for 4Chan and underneath it all the game, somehow, worked.
The difference between Saints Row 1 and 2 is that the first game was the latest in a long like of GTA clones. Taking the basic mechanics, and style of the game, and urbanising it for the Xbox 360. It was a fun diversion, but it was a placeholder until Rockstar unleashed the real Grand Theft Auto. Saints Row was so desperate to emulate GTA that its lack of finesse, its blatant, juvenile, humour was something held against it. When compared to San Andreas which was broad in scope, but deftly scripted, Saints Row just seemed retrograde and myopic. Saints Row came out a year after GTA IV was released and seemed to feed on the complaints of gamers.
Where GTA IV was too serious, Saints Row 2 was wacky, where GTA IV was brown and gloomy, Saints Row 2 was almost Technicolor, where GTA IV focused on its story missions and sidelined side missions, Saints Row 2 feathered its nest with divergent and varied side quests, where GTA IV was a story about redemption, Saints Row 2 was a story about a sociopathic rise to the top.
The main difference between the two games was probably the main character. Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti probably represented the most amoral Rockstar would allow their main character to get, the subsequent heroes of San Andreas, GTA IV, The Lost and Damned, Gay Tony and Red Dead Redemption walking a fine line between being generally decent people in cut scenes and being psychotic mass murderers during the missions. This idiosyncrasy was especially apparent in GTA IV where its main characters journey was all about his path to forgiveness. The path to forgiveness and being a better person was however strewn with the bodies of the numerous gangsters, police officers and innocent bystanders who happened to get in the way during missions. As such whilst the game intoned solemnly about Niko’s choices and morality it never shied away from the ultra violence expected of videogames once the cut scenes ended.
Saints Row 2 had almost the opposite problem, where it was almost impossible to compete with the sheer malevolence of the main character as portrayed in the story. With a body built by the player and a voice selected from one of three options (but I don’t know anyone who didn’t play with the cockney voice) the main character of Saints Row 2 could have been presented with moral choices and quandaries, the developers instead chose to make him (or her) a complete and utter psychopath. Using innocent bystanders as human shields, burying people alive, burning people alive, crippling the friends of his enemies, switching tattoo ink with toxic waste, murdering old friends, assaulting members of the public, throwing tramps into bonfires, and enjoying every second of it. Saints Row 2 presents its character as an almost comically over the top super villain, who is willing to do literally anything to gain a little respect and power.
Whilst it’s a little concerning that a game so intent on hitting certain demographics so reveals in the sociopathy it’s also refreshingly honest to be seeing a character who matches your in game exploits. There isn’t a paragon option in Saints Row 2, you’re a gangster and you’ve got to get your due. Why this works is because the game is so broadly humorous that it often feels like a part of the joke itself. When we’re watching a Warner Bros. cartoon we don’t question the morality of Bugs Bunny (who is frequently a dick) or Tweety Pie (who could be indicted for entrapment) because the world is broad and silly. The same thing applies to Saints Row 2. It’s hard to feel moral outrage when your psychopathic avatar inhabits a world full of motorcycle riding samurai gangsters, voodoo drug lords, pirates, ninjas, anti-violence protestors armed with Uzis, bodyguard work that involves you throwing admiring fans into wood chippers, and a shady corporation with its own secret military base in the bottom of a mountain.
In short, played Saints Row 2 to death, the co-op giving it literally hundreds of hours of replayability. I loved GTA IV, but Saints Row 2 was a breath of fresh air in just how gloriously wacky it . It revelled in excess and absurdity and I can’t wait to revel with it again. But what do you think? Want to make a case for GTA IV, want to impugn my taste in games? Have at it below.