Monday, August 5, 2013

Saints Row IV Footage and a contrast/review of SR3 and SR2

A lengthy interview with Dave Bianchi of Volition (who holds the title of Systems Designer or somesuch, which is essentially the guy who decides what the game's rules/physics are) ensues, including lots of footage showing what I suspected from prior trailers, that super-villainy is imminent in Steelport:

I don't know how it is that Saints Row managed to worm its way into my short list of favorite video game franchises, but it did. I've even gone back to Saints Row 2 to catch up on what has come before (not sure I am willing to go retro for the original, though). As it turns out SR2 has some call-outs in SRIV so this is a good thing. One trailer I witnessed showed current-Shaundi meeting the hip dreadlocked retro Shaundi of SR2, which given the premise of SR!V (aliens capture the Saints in a VR-universe to keep them occupied while they conquer the Earth, I guess) makes some sense. Or not....the Saints Row series really does work best when you try not to think too hard about it.

If you hang out on Steam forums for Saints Row, it becomes clear that there is a divide amongst its fans between those who love the audaciousness of SR3 and those who loved the attention to detail and slightly more grounded setting of SR2. No one talks much about the original anymore; it was a straight riff off of the conventional "gangsta in a big city" concept which GTA has cornered. SR2 tried to change that by introducing crazier content, and did so with such applomb that it became the core focus of SR3.

The people who contend that SR2 was a better game than SR3 aren't entirely smoking the nostalgia pipe, however. While SR2 is graphically not up to par with SR3, it is a more immersive world with more territory and more detailed regions of the city to explore in some cases. SR3's Steelport is graphically superior, and really big....but the other island port city of SR2 has a lot of hidden surprises and more effort paid into detailing areas that by SR3 are simply left out. You can go into clubs, museums, caverns, music shops and more in SR2; some have suggested that Volition may not have been able to implement as many features in SR3 as they did in the prior game due to the problems of THQ ands pressure to get their game out of the gate. My guess is they just focused effort on the stuff that their player data suggested was most interesting and cut out the stuff that saw the least overall attention (such as nightclubs that at least 12 hours in don't seem to serve any purpose other than to exist in SR2). Other items probably departed due to being redundant or creating a focus in play that was less desirable; the Saints & Sinners car-washes, for example, which probably turned into the default "head here to wipe out your cop/gang aggro" points that they served as. Too many of them in SR2 makes it fairly easy to scrub your record clean even if your enemies are lining up behind you in the car wash. Admittedly SR3 still offers this by letting you haul ass to any property you own, with the similar effect of--say--running into a gun shop you bought, eliminating aggro and leaving a bunch of confused police outside. So oddities like this that just seem amusing in SR3 also exist in its predecessor.

Shaundi circa SR2
In fact a lot of the stuff in SR3 actually exists in similar form in SR2, but the only real difference is SR2 did take the time to provide an introductory cut scene in which some nefarious, self-serving citizen personality of the city comes to your character and hires them to do whatever dirty deed it is they need done, whether it be massive amounts of property damage, insurance fraud, hosing down downtown with raw sewage favorite....working two different angles on the show "Fuzz" by impersonating a very, very bad cop. That last one did not make it into SR3, which is a shame.

The gang politics in SR2 are also more elaborate, or at least the story missions are. WHile playing SR2 it seemed odd to me that all of Steelport's flashy techno cyberpunk/Mexican wrestler/dominatrix gangs were aligned with one another. There are five gangs instead of three in SR2 and your character has to navigate a tangled web of hubris and revenge against them all. SR2 has a low-tech cyberpunk feel to it because of this; it's still got one foot in "future reality" even though the other foot is firmly in the looney-bin.

Last but not least, SR2 has more care taken with its daily street people. The AI scripting is pretty impressive, at least from the perspective of one who hasn't played many of these open-world theme park crime games before. People are engaging in weird little dramas everywhere you go, and you can intervene to make a mess of things or ignore them as you see fit. These aren't big events or even story-related, really, but they add a measure of ambience to the city that's not as evident in SR3. I would hate to think that the need for greater graphical fidelity in SR3 was part of the reason they had to limit what all the people of the city were getting up to, but its just as likely that in SR3 they really didn't expect you to be walking around all that much; SR2's city is designed in many locations with the expectation that you'll prefer to conduct business on foot. In truth, because of all the fun stuff potentially going on there's a general sense that sometimes you want to hoof it, just so you don't miss any of the little details.

The big negative I can state about SR2 is that the PC port is a shambling monstrosity. It has a number of issues I won't go into, but trying to play it on my PC was difficult; the game has speed issues, in which it runs faster than it should and this makes the game feel uncomfortable to play. Someone on the Steam forums posted what apparently is a decent fix but it was about twenty steps longer than what I consider a reasonable fix (which would be for the devs to make their game function correctly in the first place) so I snagged the 360 version instead. The 360 version, which came out several years ago, chugs along and once or twice now I've seen some impressive slowdown and even a crash once; so SR2 may just have had some issues, regardless of whether it was PC or console. That said, it's still crashed less so far than Fallout 3 ever did!

If you find yourself bitten by the "giant open-city crime simulator" genre like I have, but can't stomach the droll and profane nature of prior GTA titles (I say that because honestly GTA V looks like it will be worth checking out) then I'd say both SR2 and SR3 are worth investigating. Irreverence flows through both titles, but if I had to summarize how these two relate it would be with a D&D analogy: Saint's Row 2 is about your character's progression as a thief from level 1-10. Saints Row 3 is about your progression from levels 11-20. I suspect Saints Row IV will fall in the Epic level 20+ category once we get there later this month!

Shaundi circa SR3

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