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Saint's Row IV Made Me Feel Like a Jerk (And I Loved It)

Oh, hey, it's been nearly a month since my last blog, so I've got to write something, right? :)

†You know, sometimes I canít help thinking that Iím special. One of a kind. No, no, itís got nothing to do with megalomania (or at least I hope so) Ė itís just that too many times Iíve heard, ďNobody plays Grand Theft Auto for the storyĒ. Well, I do! My favourite games in the series being Vice City and San Andreas, Iíve played them countless times. And all of these times I followed the story, with only a few distractions for side activities. Wreaking havoc in the streets and then escaping the police, shooting half a precinct until they call the military and drop a tank on me? No, not my thing.†

One of the reasons for this is that my own personality tends to leak into the games I play, and if Iím given a choice I just canít force myself to play a bad guy. If Iím given dialogue options I usually pick the nicer ones. If Iím offered a non-lethal approach I take it. I just canít do anything about it, even if I sometimes wish I could.

The second issue is how I see the gamesí protagonists and their limits. Most GTA leads feature the ďhonorable outlawĒ archetype. While Vice Cityís Tommy Vercetti might be more of an asshole than some, selling drugs off an ice cream van or taking hit jobs for opposing gangs Ė I donít think even he would take pleasure in massacring unarmed citizens (even despite ďMayhemĒ missions existent in the game). Trevor Philips was a different story, but he felt more like a mentally sick dude unable to control his fits of rage Ė †but even he had a couple of redeeming moments.

It's not one of them

The same goes for all non-fantasy open-world shooters Iíve played: every single time I found the open world to be stitched to the story. Even main missions and side ones often show a disparity Ė like they are played by two different people who share the protagonistís name and face but not the personality. Sometimes the side missions become plain dumb.†
ďI canít let those two bandits make a shootout in a public placeĒ, says Aiden Pearce and attempts to intercept them on their wayÖ by engaging in a fucking shootout in the middle of a street.†
ďIím not a gangbanger, Iím just doiní my best to get out of the neighborhoodĒ, is what seems to be Franklin Clintonís creed. Well, he definitely does his best by murdering people to get an advantage in stock tradingÖ
And so forth.

Then I found Saints Row IV. To be honest, Iíve never been interested in the series, and it was only by chance that I decided to try it out during a free weekend on Steam. At first I found the game fairly amusing. Then I got really invested in it. And by the end I thought that I had finally found a sandbox that I could actually play as a sandbox. So, as has become usual, a point-by-point explanation why I felt that.

1. The protagonist. In Saints Row IV you play as the sociopathic gang leader-now-turned-President-of-the-US (donít ask me how he did it, Iíve yet to discover it myself). Despite the fact that you can customize the appearance, sex and even the voice of the character, his or her personality remains the same and - finally - pretty consistent throughout the game. It is a smug, shameless, murdering, inglorious bastard (though a charismatic one, I'll give them that). Even their own crew admit it. And yet I had loads of fun playing as a total douchebag just because he (in my case it was a male character) fit the story and the world perfectly. He was believable. Not the deepest or smartest type, yes, but that only made it easier to understand his way of thinking. So, when given a choice either to sacrifice myself and restore humanity or continue my hopeless, revenge-driven struggle against an alien horde from within a Matrix-like simulation, I didnít hesitate a second. ďScrew you, Zinyak, Iím going to kick your ass yetĒ, was what I said. Because thatís what my character would do and say.

2. The world. Most of the gameís missions take place in a virtual reality, in a simulated city with most of its population being either AI, or directly controlled by aliens. At first glance this design choice may seem rather trivial, but in fact, for a sandbox itís really beneficial. First of all, knowing itís all a simulation strips the player of all sense of guilt and lets them go all-out, wreaking havoc in the streets, blasting police cars with RPGs or throwing people through circus rings for points in a twisted TV show. Itís like a game within a game, a sandbox within a sandbox, and even the game's characters arenít one bit shy to remind us about the fact. And secondly, the simulation concept paves the way for what makes the game really shine: superpowers.

3. Iíve got the Power! Believe me, I canít express how sick and tired I am of all those copies of real cities where you waste literal hours on dull and messy driving from one point to another, eyes glued to mini-map/GPS, while crashing your freshly stolen sports car every five to ten seconds (depending on the traffic AI and the controls Ė and they are always dumb and clunky, respectively). And if you donít have a ride, well, shame on you: now itís slow and tedious walking or running (which practically makes no difference because, you know, stamina limit) for you.
ďHey, but what else can we do?Ē a game developer asks, ďYou can use our fast-travel system, like subway, or taxi, or a stagecoach, or a giant sea monsterÖĒ Oh, can I really? Because first Iíd have to find that fast-travel entry point by more driving and walking, and often waitingÖ Volition, however, have found a way to make oneís way around town not only fast, but fun as well. Running through the city at sonic speed, brushing off incoming traffic, then jumping up to the top of a skyscraper and gliding towards your goal in a straight line (stopping occasionally to collect a cluster or two) Ė now that makes a difference. Also, that stomp move was pretty awesome, too.

Hey, why not let Volition make the next Sonic the Hedgehog game? Uh-oh, looks like the Sonic fans are after me now...gotta scram!

4. The missions. Now, if I were to describe the gameís missions with a single word, it would be variety. While a lot of sandboxes have the same recurring shootouts, races, car chases, police evasions, tail missions (ugh) and occasional police-evading car-chase shootouts, Saintís Row IV has got activities suited to every fancy. Well, okay, most of the fancies. :) While I, for instance, was rather dissatisfied with most of combat-oriented missions, I had an absolute blast with climbing alien towers, going on stomping rampages or playing ragdoll to the traffic with a dumb smirk on my face. And no tail missions, thank goodness, no tail missions! Yeah, that alone makes it a good game.

Now, as a bottom line, I still canít say Saintís Row IV is among my favourite games. But it definitely is one of the best sandboxes for me. It was a consistent, varied, shamelessly fun experience, and it made playing a sociopathic asshole feel sooo great... Way to go, Volition and Deep Silver. Way to go.
Oh, and that sing-along ride was totally rad (I just had to mention it in the most irrelevant way possible). :)
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About Tonichone of us since 12:03 AM on 05.06.2013

Hi everyone!

Please, call me Tonich. That's what everyone calls me. I live in Nizhniy Novgorod - a pretty large and picturesque city in Central Russia (yep, that's it on the header image).

Currently at the age 30, I am a taught historian, reluctant archivist, occasional tour guide and aspiring composer/musician. I write songs, play guitar and sing (badly) for the art rock act The Heckfish. Oh, and I also play videogames. :)

My gaming habits started with the NES era, and my favourite consoles are Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and PlayStation 2. I'm more of a PC player currently, so why don't you check out my Steam Page?

You can also listen to my music here.

I have been blogging here on Destructoid since spring 2014. Here's a selection of my blogs you can read if you'd like to know me better:

My "Gamer in Provincial Russia" trilogy:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Ten Things About Me

My Top 10 Games List

My call to arms online playing

A musical gift just for you. Yes, I mean you, silly