Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Devil’s Advocate: Why you should be excited for Saints Row IV’s latest expansion, the series itself, and almost offensively large article titles

As you may or may not have heard, Gat’s back and the Saints are rollin’. That is to say, Saints Row IV has announced an addition in the form of Gat Out Of Hell, a full-fledged expansion pack to the game. So why should you care? Why does this matter? Why are we even dedicating an article to this? Simple.

The Saints Row franchise is gaming in its purest, most perfect form.

Gaming, over the years and decades, has become a more complicated affair. Triple-A titles, as a result, work to meet the expectations of the changing market. They have to appeal to the masses but also have artistic merit. They have to be deep and replayable, yet publicly accessible. They have to constantly innovate without losing touch of what made them big in the first place.

And this dialogue is good! It’s excellent! It has created a situation where we get games that challenge what games are like Gone Home. We get games that discuss complicated suggests like the American Dream in Grand Theft Auto IV. The series known as Borderlands strives to create whole new genres of gaming like the FPSRPG (which is a great Scrabble option, by the way). As these games come out, they are each incredible in their own ways. With their own things to say about the art form.

Saints Row is, in this regard, no different. What does set it apart, however, is that it asks, with sincerity, an entirely separate question: Remember when games used to be about having fun? And it’s a fair question. As much as Gone Home touched me with its story or G.T.A.’s cynical world view had me thinking, these weren’t exactly “Big, sloppy grin” inducing affairs. They were, to be sure, trying to be about something. Saints Row, conversely, is about doing whatever it takes to make the player smile. No exceptions. Want a power fantasy? Here, now you can fly and use super speed. Want cool weapon? Here’s a rocket launch and a baseball bat. Want a character that looks like you? Here’s a ridiculously deep character creator, complete with three genders (Male, Female, Nolan North).

This is wonderful! Every moment makes you smile, every joke makes you laugh, and every single moment is a greater power fantasy than the last.

Pictured: Twerking Grannies. Not Pictured: A coming of age story that challenges what it means to be human in an age of cynicsm.

While it may be accurate to say that “Saints Row IV is just fun”, it’s selling short a franchise that is a commentary on the industry in general. Throughout the game are woven slight, subtle, but definite digs at trends in gaming. A good example would be the game’s so-called Romance System. In Saints Row IV, you can fall in love with most of the rest of the cast, regardless of your gender. The thing is, the romance system is intentionally lacking. You simply approach a character, ask them if they want to “bang”, and they will almost immediately agree. You are then congratulated on successfully romancing the character. While this seems goofy in itself, it’s also a marvelous satirical send-up of Bioware’s romance systems. After all, for everything right Bioware does, it’s hard to dispute that in games like Mass Effect 2, romance consists of pressing the Paragon button over and over again you have sex for the first time and are informed this counts as “Romance”. Examples of this kind of subversion and commentary are peppered throughout the game in the most triumphant way.

Other games may call this a power fantasy, but "All Mighty Ice Deity" is pretty low level 'round these here parts

In other words, the Saints Row series is not only about having fun, but about challenging the shortcoming of other games’ missteps. In this way, it is an accompaniment to other games. A palette cleanser or dessert. It encourages us to get in touch with just doing crazy, ridiculous stuff and to ask ourselves whether games that are “more serious” are actually all that better.

Perhaps the best summation of the entire franchise is in the trailer for Gat Out of Hell itself. Right here in the trailer, Gat speaks to a mysterious citizen of Hell.

Gat: “I’m gonna shoot the devil in the face.”
Citizen: “It’s a little more complicated than that.”
Gat: “Nah, I said ‘In the Face’.”

This is followed up shortly by Gat acting exactly as promised. “Hey, Satan.” *BANG*

And sometimes, it’s nice to get back to that kind of wish fulfillment and wacky power fantasy.

- Ben Worley-

P.S. Also there’s a gun that allows you to play music so loud and bumpin’ that all nearby challenges are forced to twerk. And that is awesome.

Ben Worley is an unpaid social media shill for several games and properties, but Saint's Row is not one of them. He writes an article for this website when the mood takes him, like a fine wine in summer.

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