Reporting Luke McKinney
Saints Row IV is coming out on Tuesday, which is why I’m uploading articles now to pay the rent until I’ve finished playing. If you’re unfortunate enough not to have a job where the Xbox isn’t a research tool, I recommend becoming officially sick, telling your friends you’re going traveling, and buying at least one kitten per loved one in your house to distract them while you’re doing something more important.
Volition, Inc. have elevated “make money and/from explosions” beyond the plot of their games to their entire corporate strategy. They survived the destruction of their publisher THQ to make another Saints game. After the eponymous, over-the-top criminals commandeered an entire city in Saints Row The Third, people asked “How can they top that?” DS said “With super-powered presidents fighting aliens,” and that’s the hardest a question has been answered since someone asked whether there should be light.
Saints’ Row is often described as a fun Grand Theft Auto clone, which is like describing Harrier Jump Jets as a fun Wright brothers clone. They didn’t copy anything; they understood the basic principles and then applied them better to kick almost infinitely more ass. They clearly adore GTA, and equally clearly thought “But what if it was fun?” After the high point of Vice City, Rockstar’s series have been more about giant technical masterpieces than about any reason to actually play them: huge worlds studded with even huger gameplay flaws. Volition rounded off all the annoying jagged edges with constant explosions and tigers.
Which got us thinking: if they could improve one of the most impressive games ever made, what could they do with other bestsellers?
Sergeant Johnson kicks Spartan’s ass and becomes the lead character.
He teams up with the Arbiter and Cortana, who’s been downloaded into a combat-chassis loaded with plasma weapons and actual clothing, two things she has been very obviously lacking all this time. This kickass trinity of actual characters uses the chunk of wood in metal armor (aka “Master Chief”) as a battering ram to break down the door to the armory where the forty extra weapons the Halo franchise should have had by now are hidden.
They use this arsenal to rampage through the game kicking seven new species of alien ass, with nine new kinds of anal orifice created just so this game can shove plasma grenades into them. Because Halo have been photocopying the same few @$$#()!%$ for a decade. One new enemy and gun is barely enough for a new room in a proper action game, never mind seven whole sequels.
For the rest of the game the Chief can be used as almost-bulletproof cover, thrown down stairs to create a loud distraction, or posed to hang clothes from as an attractive novelty drying rack.
The Saints descend on Generic Fantasy Kingdom Number Umpteen-II-B-Ceti with weapons so gigantically impractical a Jaeger would accuse you of compensating for something.
They bring their shark gun, the gun which does exactly and gloriously what the name suggests, setting it to autofire at anyone who says “…” The only time the fun should be held up by three periods is when you’re dating triplets. Any two characters found staring wistfully past each other’s shoulders while saying “Oh, it’s nothing” are locked in a penthouse suite with a crate of champagne and a new status effect, “oh my it’s hot in here” until they get on with it. Because humanity will go extinct if it takes a world-ending threat to get two people to kiss.
While the protagonists are thus distracted, the Saints rampage through the game kicking down every locked door, demolishing shin-high obstacles, and blowing holes in every invisible wall in the world. The resulting freedom allows the role-playing game characters to actually play a role again, making choices and affecting the story, instead of running down a single path with fewer character choices than Pac-man.
Saint Samus Aran, a religion I’ve just accidentally created and will worship for the rest of my life, loses all her equipment when a space station explodes and collapses into a black hole. She then immediately gets all her equipment back by diving through the simultaneously exploding and imploding wreckage, then power-bombs the heart of the singularity to travel through time to Other M, a game which did for female characters what the guillotine did for the French wig industry.
Here she promptly plasma beams every idiot who isn’t herself, kicks her own younger ass until she stops simpering, and then there’s a player choice of whether the player wants them to rampage through the galaxy looking for fellows, indulge in a spot of double-chronal-self-interference, both, or neither, and then she returns to her future to explosivesplore a whole new world.
Mass Effect was a game where you adventured through the galaxy in a sweet spaceship blowing things up and deciding who to have sex with. It’s half Saints Row attitude already!
Unfortunately the other half was like Wall Street bankers: offering a huge array of interesting options, and as soon as they’ve got your money they ignore the lot, wrap everything up, and run away with the cash. Mass Effects 1 and 2 were packed with interesting character decisions, then 3 staggered in like a drunken father, waving his hands and muttering “Yeah, yeah, whatever kids, here’s what I think happened and then it was all suddenly over, the end.”
Mass Effect 3 ignored more individual choices than a Russian election. It gets it over with right at the start too, spawning you under effective arrest by Alliance Captain Anderson. You had the option of promoting him from the Alliance to the Council in charge of the entire galaxy at the end of the first game. If you didn’t, he’s in the Alliance. And if you did, he’s here right at the start of to say that he quit the Council and went back to the Alliance anyway. Never mind the developers, even the characters are telling you “Nope, couldn’t be bothered with that important job you expected me to do.”
Saints Row gave you choices which actually matter. The end of every mission in The Third is an option: cheaper guns or vehicles, money or experience, gaining an attack where you could literally explode people with your hands or saving your luchadore honor. And if you chose the stupid hand-explodey thing, you have no lucha honor.
The game ends with an important narrative choice: rescue the screeching she-devil who’s been calling you a thing-sucker for ten solid hours, or kick all of the ass. I think they meant that choice to be harder than it actually was.
The choice completely changes the final mission and ending of the game. If Volition remade Mass Effect, it would do the same! You know, the way BioWare promised to, before pulling a Lost and evaporating dozens of hours of intrigue and plot they never planned to finish in the first place. Alas, the ending of Mass Effect has already been permanently ruined. Twice. So we’re going to grab our ‘Merica gun, climb in a jet fighter that looks like a screaming eagle, and blow up the world.