Open-world games rarely grip me. Back in 2001 when Grand Theft Auto III (re)defined what an open-world experience could be, I had no choice but to fall in love. At that point in console gaming, it felt like a brand new genre.
The world was my oyster. The game was only hampered by my imagination — and a lack of properly functioning airplanes.
Since then, countless games have mimicked and steadily improved upon open-world games at the cost of running them into the ground. Very little new has happened to the genre in more than a decade. They all generally carry the same plot and mechanics with a few details rearranged here and there — the same games with different coats of paint. And some titles, such as Mafia II, have such linear stories that their open worlds only serve as unnecessary padding to lengthen the gameplay.
The protagonist starts at the bottom of some kind of gang ring and works his or her way through rival gangs to the top of the empire.
Yep, that’s about it.
You start with shit weapons, shit cars and do shit jobs as you slowly work your way up and earn respect from the big boys upstairs. Eventually you gain access to better stuff and the game is supposed to become more fun because of it.
I’ve played my share of open-world games, despite never being a diehard fan of the genre. My main problem with them, aside from the lack of innovation, is the first 40 percent is always boring. Getting from the amateur area to the parts where the playable character feeling like he or she is getting powerful and actually making progress in the world takes too long.
I picked up Sleeping Dogs around the time it launched, due to an enormous amount of praise oozing from my Twitter feed about it, to see if it did things differently.
I found myself stuck at the bottom, working my way up like I’d done a dozen times before.
With every turn in Sleeping Dogs, I found myself asking the game a question that remained unanswered for no reason.
“Why can’t I store any car in a parking garage?”
“Why do I have to drive across town to meet someone for a mission briefing when I have a cell phone?”
“If I’m an undercover cop, why do the police chase me after missions, even missions that I arranged with the police?”
“Why is the same button used for ‘sprint’ and ‘vault’ when mapping ‘vault’ to any of the seven currently unused buttons would make the chase sequences 100 percent more fluid?”
“Why must I achieve a certain respect level to buy clothes when I have $100,000 in my pocket? And why must I have a certain respect level to wear gifted clothes that are currently in my closet?”
It didn’t make sense. My little tiffs with the game destroyed my ability to take it seriously, and it wants to be taken seriously.
Every time one of the nagging questions popped up in my head, I thought of another recent open-world game that answered them all without hesitation — Saints Row the Third.
Saints Row the Third is the only open-world, gang-based game I’ve played that completely threw the feeling of working your way up out the window. As a matter of fact, it threw it out the window of a luxury jet flying above the clouds in an exploding carton of fireworks.
Although it’s technically true that you work your way up from the bottom in Saints Row the Third, it never feels like it. The first sequences of the game involve your character stylishly robbing a bank and then shooting fools from a bank vault that’s hanging from a helicopter. After that, you break out of an airplane, skydive from it, shoot your way back into the plane, jump out again, and shoot more fools as you parachute down to the ground — all while rescuing the girl.
And that’s just the beginning.
Saints Row the Third looks at the video game industry and says, “You know what? We’re tired of doing all that boring street thug to drug lord crap. Let’s give the players what they want from the beginning, and let them have a fucking blast.”
That’s exactly what it did, and it’s ruining my ability to enjoy other open-world games.
In Saints Row the Third, the only thing stopping you from buying the best guns and pimping out your wardrobe is money, which you get from missions. There’s an RPG-like leveling system present, but the customization of your inventory, cars, clothes and crib don’t depend on it. If you’ve got the money, you can walk out of a gun shop with a triple barrel shotgun that shoots flaming bullets while wearing hot-pink thigh-high leather stiletto boots, fishnet stockings, booty shorts and a strapless bra.
Side note: That scenario in no way reflects how I played Saints Row the Third. Obvi.
My point is that I spend enough time in my real life starting at the bottom and working my way up. I’m doing that right this second in my own life; why would I want to emulate that in a video game?
Sometimes when I put a game in, I just want to have a shitload of fun. Saints Row the Third gives me my cake and lets me eat every last bite, including the leftover batter from the beaters. Because of that, I yearn to go back and play it whenever I play any open-world gang-ring game that’s come after it.
Depending on whatever happens to THQ, I hope I won’t have to worry about where the franchise is going. As long as Volition remains in the driver’s seat of Saints Row development, I shouldn’t have anything to worry about.