Saints Row: The Third and GTA IV – Absurdity vs. Realism

Remember when we used to say, "Hey, Saints Row is pretty cool. It's pretty much like Grand Theft Auto, but Grand Theft Auto is still better"? Yeah, I certainly remember that. There's no denying that when it first launched, Saints Row was an open world crime game attempting to take a piece of the delicious pie that was the Grand Theft Auto fan base. However, things slowly began to change as Grand Theft Auto IV took the series in a much more serious direction, while Saints Row 2 dared to get a little crazy. But it wouldn't be until the recent release of Saints Row: The Third that we would see that series really stand out as a big player in the open world genre.

As far as open world crime games go, there's really nothing quite like Saints Row: The Third. The game throws any and all realism out the window and provides an experience that's insane, absurd, and amazing. Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto IV changed the tone of that series by delivering a crime game that really looked deeply at the underbelly of society, touching on more serious topics throughout its shooting and driving amalgamation across the vast Liberty City. So the question I have to ask is: Does the unrealistic premise of Saints Row: The Third make for an experience that's more fun?

Grand Theft Auto III was pretty funny, as was Vice City, but San Andreas really went all out with its government infiltration missions, nighttime burglary side quests, and that awesome jetpack. The series went from silly to crazy, but when Grand Theft Auto IV dropped, it took a surprisingly grim tone. For someone like me who likes absurdity galore in his games–because they're freaking video games and I don't believe they're supposed to be realistic–the shift in the last Grand Theft Auto game was a bit of a letdown.

I'll be completely honest here, I never really cared for Saints Row until I got a peak at Saints Row: The Third. The colorful, humorous nature of that game really stood out to me, and it seemed to take the formula of the open world action game and pour tons of craziness and charm onto it. It was something I thought was really cool, but I had no idea to what lengths THQ and developer Volition would go with it. I can't tell you how happy I am to see that they ran with it all the way.

One thing I'll always appreciate about Grand Theft Auto are its multi-part missions, which really took off with San Andreas. Saints Row: The Third isn't littered with massive missions, but that's still not a problem. Rather than having you fulfill multiple objectives in a single mission, Saints Row: The Third constantly attempts to one-up the absurdity with every new mission. And you know what? It succeeds. I really thought the sky-diving gun fight at the start of the game was as crazy as it was going to get. Well, I was wrong, as I discovered when I met a pimp who speaks in pure auto-tune, when I first participated in a bloody Japanese game show, and when I was forced to drive a tiger around the city of Steelport.

That's what I love about Saints Row: The Third. It constantly challenges itself and pushes the boundary of what the definition of "insane" should be. Is it fun raising hell in an open city? Yes. Is it satisfying taking on waves of rival gang members? Of course it is. And how is it watching the story of Saints Row: The Third unfold as the game throws mascots, tigers, and giant mutant men at me? Freaking fantastic.

The argument can certainly be made that the missions in Saints Row: The Third aren't as deep as those in Grand Theft Auto IV. After all, with its serious nature, the latter definitely seemed to lend itself to putting a lot of emphasis on lengthy objectives. But is it really a bad thing that the mission structure of Saints Row: The Third is a lot simpler than that of Grand Theft Auto IV? Absolutely not. In fact, the game is all the better for it. By trimming away a bit of the length and focusing on fun gameplay, Saints Row: The Third provides not an alternative to Grand Theft Auto IV, but a competely different type of game–a better game.

I will always appreciate the Grand Theft Auto series for it did in terms of innovation in gaming. But Saints Row: The Third has managed to really carve its own niche in the open world genre. The craziness of that game is unrealistic, and it can even be said that it's ridiculous. But that isn't a bad thing by any means. Instead, that ridiculousness has helped Saints Row: The Third stand out as more than just some would-be Grand Theft Auto wannabe. It's fitting that the game isn't called Saints Row 3, because it's so much more than just a continuation of the series that launched back in 2006. It's an all-new experience, one that dares to be different, and in succeeding, it has proven that it's much more fun than Grand Theft Auto IV.