For me, Saints Row 2 very well may sit at the top of the sandbox genre, a position that it got out of misunderstanding, targeting the wrong demographic, and laziness. Please, let me explain. Actually...there is too much. Let me sum up: Saints Row 1 and 2 are both playing the story incredibly straight. You are a gangster in charge of a mob, and you do gangster like things. If someone at a bar talks bad about your gang, you crash a bottle across their face. If someone disrespects one of your homies, you chase them through the streets. In my mind, the developers intended you to play the game as a young, urban, tatted up gansta in a wifebeater, cruising the streets in your convertible, and making that ass drop with your sweet hydraulics. Or something. In character creation, all this begins to change for the unorthodox for most players.
Where to begin? First, pick your character’s gender. Male or female, right? Actually...Saints Row 2 has a slider for gender, which affects how….lucky...your character was. If you like, you can leave that bad boy/girl right in the middle. You can choose your age, and your hairstyle. I originally enjoyed a fisheyed ginger with good intentions, but on PC I switched to a balding fat man who is basically living like Walter White (in my head). All of the options for hair and body type felt like they were there just to balance things out...they never intended people to choose the comb over, but they modeled it already, so throw it on the list. If you have super skinny, you must have super fat, so put those there. And after character creation, things get even stranger...nothing is restricted to your character. Meaning my white, obese, middle aged man can run around wearing panties with little hearts on them. He can have a butterfly tramp stamp. And he wears these flags proudly as he guns down rival gang members, sprays septic juices onto houses, and smokes a fat blunt.
And is able to completely negate the effects of recoil, apparently
I have found that the dual nature of the self created character with the unironic dialog really adds a whole new dimension to the story and its characters: where a standard character would be acting like a badass, my guy just seems tired of it all. No Pierce, you plan sucks. Jesus, Shaundi, is there anyone that you haven’t slept with? I know how to run a gang, I know your gang isn’t half the gang mine was, get off my turf or die. One of my favorite moments was when the character was sitting in a bar, watching the news anchor talk about the Saints latest crimes. A patron bad mouths the Saints and says to change the channel. Without missing a beat, my character picks up a bottle, smashes him across the face, and changes the channel with a half drunken self satisfied grin. It all just fit too perfectly. It is this Sitcom like entertainment that makes some of the things happen in the game hit harder, because this game gets hella real.
The game gets very intense. If it weren't for the comedy, it would be so much harder to root for the protagonist, and some of the actions might be too much to handle. Needless to say,
As you begin to rebuild your gang, you recruit three lieutenants, Carlos, Shaundi, and Pierce. Carlos is in charge of telling you about the Brotherhood: the red gang, full of tattoos, who love their cars. Things start out on a different note with their leader, Maero. Maero knows who you are and, in fact, respects the Saints. In their absence, he has built up quite an empire through gun smuggling, among other illicit activities. He tells you that because he respects you, he will give you a no questions asked, no favors needed 20% cut. This, of course, is an egregious insult to the leader of the Saints, and beings your campaign to take back their parts of the city.
This is Maero, the voice of reason in this situation
The first act that you perform is holding up their mechanic (a former member of your gang, who changed allegiance) at gunpoint, forcing him to rig explosives to the gang member’s cars. This, naturally, sends Maero into a rage at the insolence of the Saints not accepting his rather generous offer. After harassing the mechanic a bit, life returns to normal…
For the Brotherhood. The Saints are still planning how to get under that gang’s skin. As Carlos and you talk on a train, they discuss the two things the gang likes: cars and tattoos. Then, you get a light bulb up above your head as you spot a nuclear power plant. After picking up a Geiger counter, you break into the power plant’s island, and find what you are looking for: radioactive waste. Wasting no time, you transport this waste to the local tattoo parlor, to be mixed in with the ink. The player then gets to watch in either glee or disgust as Maero gets his new tattoo on his face, which promptly begins to burn away. All because of that 20%....Then, two things happen, almost back to back:
You receive a call from Carlos’ phone, but instead of Carlos, you hear Jessica (Maero’s girlfriend) on the other end. She informs you, after some banter, that they are going to make Carlos’ face match Maero’s. You transverse the city, and hunt down Donnie the mechanic. After roughing him up, he finally spills the beans on their plans: they have kidnapped Carlos and are taking him near the beach. Flooring it, you drive down to find out what his fate is.
As you approach, you see your objective: a red pickup truck, a chain tied to the hitch, and Carlos, tied face down, attached by his ankles to the chain. After an unsettlingly long chase, you force the car to stop, kill the drivers, and get over to Carlos. As you turn over Carlos, all you can see are ripped clothes, torn skin, and blood. You attempt to free him from the chains, and fail. You try to pick him up off the ground, but are only met by wheezing gasps of pain. He puts up his arm, now with small rivers of blood pouring down, to meet your hand. And you clasp hands, you pull up a gun in your other hand, and end his pain.
By a stroke of luck, Shaundi is standing near a bank as a red car almost runs her over. A woman steps out, and talks about how her depositing the contents of a briefcase is going to deal a blow to the Saints. The name on the car? Jessica.
Yet again, you put the pedal to the metal as you begin your pursuit. As you arrive, Jessica is still at the bank. You begin by using her as a human shield to protect you against all of the police officers in the bank, naturally stealing the money that was in the case in the process. All while keeping her between you and the SWAT team that is pouring into the bank, you slowly make your way over to her car. You pop the trunk and stuff her inside. As you drive your way across the city (and into several cars and SWAT trucks), you can hear her muffled screams and the sounds of her slamming into the metal in the trunk. Finally, you arrive at your destination: University Arena. And today’s spectacle? A monster truck rally.
You place her car as the last in the long line of cars to be run over. As Maero, in his monster truck, comes barreling across the other destroyed cars, all you see is him laughing, the audience cheering him on, and Jessica’s terrified screams inside of the trunk. After going onto its back wheels, Maero’s car catches some air, crashing into the last car with a gut wrenching smash. He get’s out, triumphant after beating his rival in the race. Then everything goes quiet as you walk forward, clapping slowly. After a brief exchange of the usual threats, you throw the keys over to Maero, and make your peace for the night, stating: “Do me a favor. When you check the trunk, just remember you should have offered me something better than twenty percent.”
As you slowly walk away, we see Maero open the trunk, then immediately fall to his knees.
You can watch the mission here:
Just...wow….That is some straight up Scott Tenorman style revenge that you just got on this guy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you made him run over his girlfriend with his own truck, then bore witness as he stares at what are now her remains. All because a gang leader, who built an empire in your absence, had the balls to offer you 20% of everything he was making in return for nothing. Nothing at all. Your character is insane. Literally insane. Demented, and twisted. Looking at GTA4, you had good intentions for what you were doing. You had to find the man who sold out your family, or help your cousin, or whatever...but this? There was no doubt at that point in my mind, and likely anyone else’s, that you are not playing a villain at this point.
I think what shocked me most about this mission is that at no point does it tell the player exactly what you are doing. You start by finding Jessica, then you steal from her, then you take her hostage. From there, the game is just telling you to drive. Do not question where. Do not question why. This theme is also in Carlos’ fate, where they only tell you enough to get your curiosity piqued. You know something big is happening, but you aren’t quite sure what. Then, moments before the events are taking place in ‘game time’, the player is able to figure out exactly what is going down, but usually at that point it is too late for any kind of deep consideration - events are in motion, the trap has been set. Maybe this is all some intricate metaphor for what it is like to be insane - on one hand you have the player who has created the character, created the clothing, and makes the actual decision. On the other hand you have this ruthless gang leader’s spirit inside of your vessel, enacting plans as he sees fit.
The whole scene brings up an incredibly wide range of emotions when I watch it play out. There is the revenge for what happened to Carlos - a character who is constantly sucking up to you, trying to help out, but most importantly came off as young and somewhat innocent. Paying back the gang that killed him feels incredibly good. On the other side is Jessica. I’m all good with getting revenge, but she was in no way involved in the gang activities...she was just dating the head guy. Her entire being to the Saints is just a means to an end, an object to be used to send a message, and she is essentially tortured in her last moments alive...battered and bound in a trunk, only to hear an ever increasing engine, wondering if it will ever hit her compartment. Maybe he will drive over? But on the other hand, its a big truck, and it is growling louder and louder with each passing moment...That kind of mental agony makes my stomach completely churn over. You do some twisted things to some other gang leaders later on, but none of it is as harsh as what happened to the girl who dared to date a leader. It would have been kinder had you just shot her and dropper her body on Maero’s porch. Then there is the guilt from Maero, and watching him change from triumphant to annoyed then ultimately, devastated. The ending of his story is like some kind of greek tragedy. As an observer to this situation, it is hard to know who to root for. Should we feel justified in our actions, or repelled by just how far the Saints are willing to go? Can you still root for the protagonist when their methods to get a better cut of something that have no right to demand includes the killing of innocents and torture? Does this answer change if you are wearing nothing but panties and a bowler while you do it?
About SaveState One of us since 9:05 PM on 04.27.2013
Welcome to the Save State Cblogs! In honor of Chad Concelmo's awesome Memory Card series, we decided to continue his legacy.
Remember that one moment from your favorite video game? You know, that one you made a special save file for just so you could easily experience it again? Well, that's us!
Every so often, we write up about moments in games that had an impact on us, either by making us feel super happy, super sad, or a moment that showcases how awesome videogames are! These are the special moments we saved and want to share with the world.