The Diverging Paths of Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto

When the first Saints Row came out back in 2006, it was often labeled as a simple Grand Theft Auto clone.  It was an urban themed open world game based around stealing cars, engaging in gang wars, and wreaking a little havoc on the streets when you felt like letting off some steam.  Sound familiar?

But Saints Row was definitely not a bad game.  It was far from it, in fact.  Saints Row implemented a lot of intelligent design choices (i.e. the GPS system which is now a staple in modern open world games) that made it a pretty damn good experience.  Even still, it was hard for Saints Row to escape the looming and intimidating shadow that Grand Theft Auto cast over many games, and many in the public still referred to it as a GTA knockoff.  But as the series went on, the developers at Volition decided that it was better to splinter off and carve its own niche in the open world genre.  At the same time, Rockstar was solidifying its status as the king of crafting intricate crime themed stories with multi-faceted characters.

Intelligent Absurdity

By the time Saints Row: The Third came out, it was plainly obvious that Saints Row was no more a Grand Theft Auto clone than a purple dildo bat is a reliable weapon.  Volition eschewed the serious undertones that were prevalent in the GTA franchise and imbued Saints Row: The Third with a level of crazy that made it completely and totally unique.  Vitol jets, a pimp with an auto tuned voice, and a wrestling match with a luchador were just some of the things that made Saints Row really stand out from its open world brethren.  It was insanity done with a touch of self-awareness and intelligence that made it rise above just brainless stupidity.

Just a regular day in the streets of Steelport.

Just a regular day in the streets of Steelport.

Criminal Drama

Rockstar, on the other hand, decided to hone its storytelling to make GTA IV as serious and grim as possible.  Even the GTA III trilogy had its fair share of silliness, with things like jetpacks, tanks, and headshots that would lead to spraying blood fountains.  But with GTA IV, Rockstar rid themselves of those absurdities and played to the company’s strengths by committing to superb writing with well-realized characters.

Of course, that’s not to say GTA IV was devoid of any humor.  There were plenty of funny moments and characters, but they were presented in a way where everything still seemed grounded in reality.  The story was more about exposing the flawed nature of the characters and seeing how they dealt the situations that were handed to them.

Playboy X or Dwayne?  They both sucked in their own special ways.

Playboy X or Dwayne? They both sucked in their own special ways.

It’s fantastic that two games that are in the same genre can be considered polar opposites from one another.  The next iterations of the Saints Row and GTA franchise are releasing this year, and I’m extremely curious to see how both games going to turn out.  I often see people debating which series is better, but I feel like that is a foolish and ultimately pointless argument.  Yes, both games are open world games, but when you look at what they are trying to accomplish, they could not be more radically different.