I finished Saints Row the Third.  So naturally I’m eager to start up another game, this time on a more difficult setting.

A cutscene featuring my homies and my purple lip gloss

To its credit, the game retains its fun and humor to the end, as well as its effortless match between player and character goals.  (Player goal: have fun and blow stuff up.  Character goal: pretty much the same.)  There’s no attempt to address the real world or teach a lesson or make you feel that crime is bad.  There’s no Troubled Betrayer.  For awhile the game just keeps topping itself.  You get missions like these:

  • ride around with a live tiger; keep him from mauling you by driving fast
  • get a tank and blow up as much stuff as possible in a time limit
  • defeat wave after wave of attacks by mascots and furries
  • deal with a zombie infestation
  • piss off the military by burning its banners
  • also by blowing up an aircraft carrier
  • bond with a military woman by talking about your favorite R&B star
  • streaking (shock as many passersby as possible!)
  • protect your homie as he goes around distributing mixtapes
  • take on a Mexican wrestler, in the ring
  • throw yourself at cars to run up insurance charges:

Ragdolling for profit

So, you rarely get bored.  A couple of activities are not easy (they involve racing the clock in a part of town that’s hard to get around), but they’re just side quests.  I also found the airplanes kind of hard to fly, but no showstoppers.  A couple missions feel a bit tacked-together (like an excursion into cyberspace).  Oh, and it’s a bit laggy on my machine, though playable.  That’s about it for downsides.

Is all the violence kind of questionable?  Well, I’d argue that treating it all as camp is more respectable than dressing it up with faux seriousness, a la Grand Theft Auto IV.  GTAIV ends up, I think, papering over our enjoyment of the cartoon violence by making gestures toward deepness.  But you know, if you really disapprove of cartoon violence, then just don’t make the player into a violent criminal.

There’s a part of us that likes to just break all the rules.  That’s half the secret of games and jokes and stories.  It’s also why villains are almost always more memorable, more beloved even, than the heroes.  Batman would be a bore if he just had street thugs to deal with; he needs the Joker and Penguin and the whole grisly crew.

For what it’s worth, though SR3 doesn’t pretend that the Saints are saints, the bad guys are always presented as a bit worse, and the protagonist is not without virtues… she’s loyal, she’s fearless, she runs her operation based on mutual profit and fun rather than fear, and she gladly helps out when Burt Reynolds asks.

Nothing says respect like a gang boss in bondage gear with a rocket launcher

What about sexism?  Well, like Skyrim, the game is all about equal opportunity brutality; your homies and enemies alike are totally on board with armed and dangerous women. I dunno, for the most part I think the developers keep the crudity on the side of funny rather than offensive, over the top rather than over the edge.

If that sort of thing bothers you though, just play as a female.  I tried both, mostly because there’s an achievement for it, and somehow the game feels a little squeamy when playing as a male.  A female boss subverts the whole gang theme.  Plus, Female Voice 3 (the Latina, played by Rebecca Sanabria) is awesome.  While being brash and tough as necessary, she’s also lighthearted and cute, and that helps sell the notion of the game as campy fun.  I like being able to play a villain, but not a psychopath.

As I’ve mentioned before, it often felt like GTAIV was mostly about driving, with criminal interludes.  SR3 makes this aspect of an open-world urban RPG much more fun: better steering, respect earned through reckless driving, some diversions like stunt jumps, an afterburner to get through long highway rides.  Still, you eventually get access to helicopters and planes, which makes getting around town for missions easier.  (Also, FWIW, I finished SR3 in 52 hours, which is a pretty satisfying amount, while I put more time into GTAIV while barely reaching Act II.)

I still haven’t tried co-op, which should be big dumb fun.

The game is pretty good about teaching you what you need to know, but one thing I didn’t realize till late was that you can upgrade weapons (at the gun stores).  Also, if you need a bunch of money, kill one of Prof. Genki’s clones.  (Easiest method: kick him in the balls, shoot him while he’s down, repeat many times.  He has a lot of hit points.)

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