Saints Row IV vs. Grand Theft Auto

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I cannot stand the Grand Theft Auto games, or pretty much anything Rockstar makes. I want to like them. Every time I read the previews of the next GTA/Red Dead Redemption/L.A. Noire, I think oh, that story looks so wonderful.
Then the gameplay sucks: endless tutorials of games with poor control and punishing outcomes, little snippets of frustration in between endless cut scenes and even more endless driving all the way across fucking town to pick up a package.  I haven’t enjoyed a Rockstar Game since GTA III, and that was mostly for the then-new thrill of hijacking an ambulance and plowing through crowds of people, shouting “MISSION OF MERCY!  STEP ASIDE!”
So why did I love Saints Row so goddamned hard?
Part of it is, of course, there’s no driving.  Since IV is a Prototype-inspired fiesta where your gang member gets superpowers, I don’t have to spend ten minutes driving across town; I can leap across the rooftops and get there in two, picking up power-ups along the way.  Which is a considerable shortcut, but…
…it’s also that Saints Row wants you to have fun, while GTA wants you to be impressed.
Which is to say that Saints Row is inherently ludicrous: you start out on a terrorist-hunting mission where you wind up climbing up the side of a launched nuclear missile to defuse it, and when you let go and fall back to Earth you crash through the roof of the White House to land in the Oval Office, with a message that says “ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: ADULATION OF AMERICA.”  Then you’re elected President of the United States.
Then the aliens attack.
The missions in Saints Row are all bite-sized, about five to twenty minutes, and they’re all easily dispatched.  There’s a couple of the usual frustrating “Defend the useless thing/escort the useless person” missions, but the game seems to understand that we hate these fucking tasks and makes them comparatively easy.  The rest are just goofy, like when you wind up fighting a Godzilla-sized can of Red Bull.  (It makes sense in context.)  There’s a challenge inherent, but there’s also a feeling that the game exists to serve you.
Whereas with Rockstar games, I always get this sense that I’m crawling to them.  I must master their mushy controls, and if the mission is too hard, well, the attitude is that of a maitre’d in a bad fancy restaurant: you should have done better.  Their missions inevitably degrade into long slogs of not-particularly-fun orders from a taskmaster (remember the dating missions in GTA IV? Oh, the joy!) while I’m mandated to endure the dialogue.  And there’s a lot of failure, much of which I attribute to the inevitable terrible targeting and boat-like car control.
GTA seems to want me to admire what it’s doing: Look!  We’re like a movie!  See everything we have to do!  Except they’re not like a movie, they’re a bunch of cutscenes (and good cutscenes, it must be admitted) wrapped up in a lot of meandering awfulness.  And in their efforts to emulate the humorless world of Scarface and De Niro’s Greatest Mob Hits, they make a lot of it a chore for me.
Whereas Saints Row is like a vacation: fuck around, low consequences, do a lot of silly things.  There’s an underlying story there, and it’s surprisingly solid given the goofy structure, but when one of the tasks you must accomplish is “Be a Badass,” it weirdly enough makes you feel like more of a badass than any of GTA’s channel-marking.
I’m glad I finished it.  I may continue to play it.  That’s high marks for something where I’ve maxed out every power. But hey, when a game hands you a dubstep gun – a fucking dubstep gun – you wanna drop the bass on a couple of alien invaders.

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