I didn't wanna overhype myself at the site of an update from Saints Row's Facebook page showcasing the Saints Row IV logo. I came this close to losing my proverbial shit. However, I continued to scroll down and would happily ponder the possibilities at a later time. Afterall, I'm just waking up and I can see that I've also missed some other recent gaming updates.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is coming May 24th? Cool!
Then I came across the trailer not too long after and I couldn't hold it in. While THQ had been, personally, pretty deceptive in it's marketing for The Third, I still believed that it was one awesome trailer and one, thankfully, full of delicious gameplay rather than full of naughty CG vaguely resembling what the game was actually going to be like.
Like any other open world game, the potential here is nearly unfathomable. Especially with a franchise as care-free as Saints Row. At least nowadays, something being considered "offensive" or "off-limits" are the kinds of things that Volition just plain doesn't understand. A quick gander at their handiwork and that should be as clear as day.
Many fans want more of Saints Row: The Third. Yet, on the other hand, there is a very vocal and dedicated conglomerate of fans who want more of the OG Saints Row (which is who I fall more in line with). Can both be pleased? Yes. Completely satisfied? I'd wager a hardy "No.", sadly. At this point, the drastic change from Saints Row 2 to Saints Row: The Third is etched into the franchise's immediate and foreseeable future and those wanting a total revert to the gangster-wacky stylings of the older iterations are gonna have to officially deal with this new direction of tone and content or go home limp.
But that doesn't mean we can't bring back some much-loved features, structures and morals of the original two. In fact, the way I see it, a Saints Row game with the overly-eccentric nature of Saints Row: The Third and the replayability of Saints Row 1/2 would be my perfect videogame!
Thankfully, I've got just the right amount of insanity to take on such a task, as to explain how such an amalgamation could work. Let's push through the bleh and get to the BWAH. How Saints Row IV can be superpowerfully amazing.
Of the new activities introduced into Saints Row: The Third, only Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax left a lasting impression on me. And, even then, it just felt like a poor answer to the canning of the very best side attraction of any open world videogame: FUZZ.
No, I'm not just excited, those caps are actually there.
As the one true American hero so aptly put long ago, knowing is only half the battle. Once you've actually played the thing, then you'll see what I mean. You just took down a steroid ring by cautiously shooting/exploding/flamethrowering a bunch of muscle men literally able to launch you half a mile high with a mere tap from their wrists, you just settled a score between pirates and ninjas, you pummeled a group of rowdy skate punks, you've really done just about everything.
And it was all for the sake of great TV. COPS-parody FUZZ has you doing what you see above (and much more) with you in the role of the cop, followed closely by other cops (should you choose to recruit them during gameplay) and a cameraman capturing your every moment.
What made this activity so gosh-darned excellent was it's crazy sense of variety. It was an activity you could literally play dozens of times over in one sitting and never get bored of for a second. At any point, you could be asked to accomplish your next randomly-generated goal using satchel charges or maybe a chainsaw for better footage. Not to mention, of course, the goals themselves were really fun.
Why was this taken out? For the sake time/budget? Blasphemy. Something this special needs to be championed and built upon for all time.
And what of Crowd Control? The other best activity from Saints Row 2? Where you kept celebrities safe from crazed fans and paparazzi by tossing them into a shredder, an oncoming train, or even off atop the largest building in town. What happened to that? Were you not satisfied with THAT?!
With the addition of superpowers into the core mix of gameplay and the idea of crazy, randomized events, I can't help but be reminded of the excellent Spider-Man 2 videogame adaption. FUZZ in Saints Row IV (SUPA?) could be very much akin to that, only with even more bizarre goals. Perhaps a bunch of Red Hulk wannabes are causing all kinds of destruction/mayhem or a giant robot shark is chomping off the tops of the city skyline. Holy shit! That's some potential right there.
Unless Volition has nothing but pure gold awaiting us as far as new activities, I want them to flesh out some of the older ones by putting a fresh, crazy, Saints Row IV spin on them. Maybe the new Crowd Control could be you as your presidential self doing said crowd control on your own? Juggling between posing for pictures and bruising up the ones meddling all up in your face.
Yep. I'm once again setting myself up for total disappointment, aren't I?
If we're going to have superpowers in Saints Row IV, we're going to need some fucking awesome superpowers. We're going to need heat vision.
Super strength, super speed and the ability to fly are all great, though a bit overdone, don't ya think? I didn't see a single ounce of heat vision in that teaser trailer. I saw strength, speed and flight, but no heat?! What is this?! Or what about the ability to spontaneously combust ala the Human Torch? Or the ability to spontaneously combust others? A taunt that does exactly that is what this iteration needs.
I.. I just want something pyro-related. Gimme gimme.
One of the, admittedly, few things that set Saints Row 1/2 apart from Grand Theft Auto was your second in command Johnny Gat. He was a one of a kind in that he was not only an all-around boss dude, but one that was played believably and wasn't just there for the sake of having that guy that delivers those super awesome one-liners and does all the cool stunts.
He was your homeboy, occasionally down-to-Earth, and even got pretty serious at one or two points in the series. He had clear morals and weaknesses. Even though he was a complete psychopath, I'd chug a 40 with him anyday. He's what you would call a three-dimensional character.
Yet, in Saints Row: The Third, he was treated as if he was no more important than Gangbanger #2.
Personally, I think it's worth knowing beforehand that Johnny Gat dies near the beginning of Saints Row: The Third. Spoiler territory, yes, but if you didn't already know... it's for the best. Trust me. Please don't whack me! But, still, the same man that brushed off a shotgun blast to the leg and a sword to the chest like it was just another day is gunned down by a few rifle shots, off-screen? The level of pure bullshit there is quite astonishing.
The undeniable best character of the entire franchise (hell, one of the best characters out there in general) is killed off as if the game's story was handled by a company completely unaware of Saints Row 1/2. Only to be brought back as a mindless zombie much later on in the vanilla game and as a hulking beast in some stupid DLC.
I am legitimately pissed at how they've handled Gat's death. It's one of the many reasons why I may consider Saints Row: The Third a good game on it's own, although a downright awful Saints Row title.
I can take the new, outlandishly crazy direction of the series (really, I honestly like it), I can take the lack of worthwhile side content, but don't you shallowly exploit Gat as a way to get the player anxious to take down Loren.
How they handled Carlos (text size decreased for any potential, accidental spoilers!) in Saints Row 2 was perfect. He was the new guy and he was weak. You eventually grow to have a bit of sympathy for him and then he's taken away from you in a gruesome fashion. There was some tense build up, my hopes were crushed and I was properly angry at the person who did this. Even if it had been a single gunshot that did him in, it would've been fitting for his character.
*END SR2 SPOILER*
A few bullet wounds off-screen is not the way they should've handled Gat's demise.
As Saints Row: The Third's campaign progressed, the less and less contextual weight it held. STAG taking over Steelport wasn't my idea of a great story. A great story would've been spending the entire game leading up to finally getting rid of the man that had put your best friend to death and had inconvenienced you throughout.
Indeed. Phillip Loren was a missed opportunity.
Basically, what I want is for Gat to return for real. For the entire game. We gotta make up for lost time, afterall. Whether he's in the form of a talking vehicle ala Night Rider or it turns out he just simply wasn't dead, I don't care. I want his personality intact.
I know it might be too much to ask of this franchise, these days, to have a respectful set of plot points, but please don't further piss on what good story you have built up to this point. Because that story is good. I liked that story because it was good, ya know? Go crazy all you want, just don't make me hate you for it.
Pausing the Saints Row IV teaser trailer at a constant rate, I tried to pick out potential features and environmental kinks. I asked myself "Was this still Steelport? Seems like it... only with a couple more eye-catching structures.". Those eye-catching structures were a step in the right direction. Though they were only baby steps, I'm happy for the time being. Like Stilwater from Saints Row 1 to Saints Row 2, perhaps they can make Steelport somewhat interesting this time around.
For obvious reasons, the open world is arguably the most important aspect of an open world game and while Saints Row 2's rather generic art style may've not complimented Stilwater too well, boy was it still far more exciting and colorful in it's design.
It had a fully explorable mall, airport, college campus and underground, a cool shopping strip downtown, a Rome-inspired area with huge columns and wide open space and so so much more.
In comparison... what did Steelport have?
A zombie island annnnd..... I'm sort of at a loss here already. I do thoroughly appreciate a good zombie island, but once that novel experience's charm had worn off, I looked for other places to spend my time. Since there wasn't much else, rather than take in the sights, I found myself just mindlessly mowing over pedestrians... sort of bored out of my mind. The activities were too easy and the cool toys lost their appeal pretty early on as well (I'll get to all that in the section below) so what I was left with was a bare as hell open world experience when, ironically, Saints Row: The Third was seemingly trying to be anything but.
So yes. You might be surprised to know that I found Saints Row: The Third pretty unexciting for the most part, and this could've been easily avoided if they had actually put some effort into developing a fun open world. I'm going to be spending most of my time leisurely exploring, snatching up small change and making my character act like a total doucher and if my surroundings don't compliment that then nuts to it.
Steelport isn't anywhere near as awesome as any of the above early concepts. What the city boiled down to was a bunch of brown, purple, yellow and flat design. Outside an enjoyable back alley or two, it sorely lacked detail or really anything interesting to look at. Seriously, there was so much freaking brown! Entire sections of the city were nothing but hot brown!
I would pop in the much-appalled GTAIV over Saints Row: The Third anyday. Why? Because while it may not be the beginning to end thrill ride that was GTA: Vice City or San Andreas, the city was brilliantly designed.
Every inch of GTAIV's take on Liberty City OOZED detail and artistic passion. Even the most mundane of structures I would gawk at and attempt to further explore. There are still so many nooks and crannies I've yet to come across. I discover new ones almost each time I boot the game up! Every street, every car, every alley, every section a total joy to wonder about through.
I can't possibly imagine all that awaits me in the upcoming GTAV. I'm so giddy!
I want this new Steelport to take some lessons from it's predecessors and competition. I'm not necessarily asking for a Saints Row game with the level of detail as GTAIV, I'm merely asking for a much less copy/paste, dull vibe. I don't want sections of the city blending into eachother and I don't want it's lone place of interest being a radiating alien crash site.
Finally, what was probably my biggest gripe with Saints Row: The Third was that, in the end, it simply felt like it relied far too heavily on stuff like the dildo bat or the VTOL to keep players interested.
The best activities were taken out and what was there was hardly a challenge, the city was now a total snore, the campaign, while boasting some memorable moments, was too short, my favorite character had been disrespectfully killed off for fucking nothing, and the DLC was underwhelming despite how much of it there was. Not to mention the complete lack of pad interior customization, the dumbing down of clothing customization and so on and so on.
In spite of all that, Saints Row: The Third is, by no means, a bad game. It's actually really fun in short doses. But that's all it is. Outside the campaign, there is just nothing that interests me for the long haul. The reason why I played hours upon hours of both Saints Row 1 and 2 was that they offered not only fun toys like the scoped pistols, the chainsaw or the screen-altering drugs, but also plenty of splendid side activities and a fun city to explore.
The activities were not just there, they had a great sense of pacing in their difficulty. Eventually they were sometimes so relentlessly challenging that I'll probably never be able to finish them all. But, that's ok! I'll just kill some time by causing a riot from atop the downtown bridge entrance. Or mosey on down to the mall and see how everyone feels about a speeding ATV ruining their cheerful consumerism. Or deck my character out with some new layers.
I don't want what was, at some point, my favorite franchise of this generation to be, once and for all, morphed into a shallow being of it's former, glorious self.
The franchise can go far with it's new direction as no game embraces it's crazy quite like Saints Row: The Third. There was a lot of potential. What this industry can never have enough of is unique IP's. However, what I'm tired of seeing is developers just not trying hard enough, only out to please the lowest common denominator.
Saints Row deserves more than that. If they don't get it right with Saints Row IV, then at least Rockstar still knows what I want. Sorry that I put so much faith in you, Volition. At least you will have made some money, something about as simple these days, in this industry, as buttering toast.