Saints Row 3 first impressions

I’m more than a little late to the party on Saints Row 3, but Giant Bomb’s enthusiasm for it moved it near the top of my Gamefly queue. I received it in the mail the yesterday, and I’ve dumped more hours in than usual for a game I’ve only had 24 hours with.

It’s really impossible not to talk about GTA when referring to Saints Row. I liked Grand Theft Auto 4, but I felt the tone was a bit jarring. I didn’t mind that they were trying to take the series in a more serious direction, but it bothered me that they didn’t commit to it. I’m not sure what critic coined the term, but I remember reading someone who said it suffered from “tonal schizophrenia.” You would hear about and take part in some truly horrific things, while occasionally passing billboards and hearing radio ads that sounded like they were from Mad Magazine.

My point is, Grand Theft Auto wanted to grow up, but didn’t take it all the way — to its detriment. Saints Row, on the other hand, has no aspirations of growing up. It’s perfectly self-aware of its own goals, which means no tonal schizophrenia. It’s all of the bombast, all of the time. This is what Vice City and San Andreas would be if they made the trek into this generation.

That’s to its credit. When you aren’t even attempting to create a serious narrative, you can just have fun with the gameplay. You could slog through 20 hours of Grand Theft Auto’s drug deals and pool matches before you get access to a tank or a rocket launcher. In SR3, that all happens within the first two hours, and those aren’t even the most ludicrous parts.

I have a lot of respect for Rockstar, and I think they can do a smart narrative really well. I have high hopes for GTA5, though I fear it will suffer the same tonal problems as GTA4. At the same time, I’m glad Saints Row exists, to give us a little taste of that style of game that places the emphasis on fun open-world shenanigans, instead of shoehorning in a defeatist narrative about the American dream.

I’m liking it quite a bit.

  • It’s really too bad that the announcement doesn’t mention Minerva’s Den for Mac. That’s some of the best DLC of the last few years, hands down.
  • I haven’t really missed Restore points in my Ambassador games, but the added convenience might just make it easier for me to get through games like Zelda 2.
  • I’ll have to try the demo for All Zombies Must Die, but the trailer looks pretty good. Sort of like Dead Nation, but more colorful and light-hearted.

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