Oh When The Saints Go Barging Through: A Saints Row Retrospective
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Starting out as a gangster flavoured alternative to the monolithic GTA franchise, dribbling into view as a sophomore effort that copied rather than countered its notorious counterpart, Saints Row has matured into an unashamed super silly and superpowered juggernaut that has wrangled itself from the shackles of the “like GTA but” comparisons.
Upon reflection, no entry in the Saints Row series is like another. There is always a fresh brush stroke keeping each game irresistibly fresh, cunningly unpredictable and explosively joyous. Whether you’re gangster trippin through the murky Stillwater suburbs, dousing blocks of houses in excrement all the while flicking through a set of classic 80s hits from the likes of Duran and Duran and Culture Club, or fleeing to the seismic skyscraper city of Steelport; you’re always embarking on new whacky adventures.
The seed of a typical gangster game bloomed into a flower of whimsy and delicious insanity that drinks booze and parties with its fellow spores until it droops over in a senseless stupor. This is to say the level of lunacy jumps several notches from one game to the next.
You might call the first Saints Row a GTA knockoff, but in Saints Row 2 you’re engaging in a menagerie of ebullient quests and activities, like the aforementioned spraying shit at houses in the suburbs, dressing up as a cop to put a stop to crimes, and speeding around on a flaming quad bike whilst hitting pedestrians to add time to the clock.
By Saints Row: The Third you’re slamming down unsuspecting enemies and innocents with wrestling moves like flying clotheslines and floatover DDTs, participating in a deadly game show hosted by a cute but fiendishly diabolical scientist cat hybrid named Professor Genki, and the missions are higher octane and far more out of control than any missions you’ve done in previous Saints Row games.
Then there’s Saints Row IV, which takes all the craziness of the previous games and decides to go completely off the wall with superpowers and aliens. There’s also Gat Out of Hell based entirely in Satan’s fire-spewing domain-but unfortunately that’s the ugly duckling of the series and can easily be skipped.
Suffices to say the Saints Row franchise ended up in a position similar to that of a child who decided to drink a dozen Monster Energy Drinks, inject him/herself with steroids and decides it’d be a hoot to grab faeces out of the toilet and hurl them out his mates on the school playground. Saints Row had morphed into an unashamedly bat-shit open-world sandbox series and it was an amazing antidote to GTA’s seriousness and realism, managing to create something almost entirely different in the process.
Personally I feel like Saints Row 2 is the zenith of the franchise because it balanced freakish insanity without overreaching. There was a sense of existentialism in Saints Row 2 that didn’t feel confined or restricted in any way, whereas Saints Row: The Third added pleasing but safer new features and activities that didn’t show us the same level of ballsiness the second game clearly had in spades.
As for the upcoming Saints Row reboot, I’m in two minds about it. When I first saw a trailer I was rather disappointed and deflated by it. There was something very Fortnite-looking about it and that made me feel like the anarchy had been neutered. The characters looked like unlikable nerds and annoying nerdy Gen Z types. Upon looking at the Gameplay though, I think this reboot will be good solid entertainment and I’d like to think it has a bent towards goofy comedy that juxtaposes the hard-ass gangster motifs of the original series.
I look back on the Saints Row series with much fondness and an admiration for what Volition did to elevate their game with each entry. Taken as a whole Saints Row was a true rags to riches story of a gang that started off as a typical crew trying to takeover territories, all the way up until they’re literally ascending above the ground and fighting off evil forces as a bunch of anti-superheroes. One thing is certain, the Saints came, they saw, they conquered, they dominated, they became incredible hulks and they smashed all in their wake until they ruled the world.