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How the Saints Row Franchise Differentiated Itself from the Sea of GTA Clones

Upon the 2006 release of Saints
Row
, the words that seemed to be on everybody’s lips were “GTA Clone”.  And when you look at the most general
structure of Saints Row, there is a
vague similarity. You are playing a sandbox game set in a city area where you
go around killing people in 3rd person.  While at its most basic level it is similar to a game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (the
latest GTA game out at the time that Saints
Row
was released), the differences are quite numerous.  Unlike in the GTA series, in Saints Row you were an active member of
a gang (the 3rd Street Saints), and your main mission was to go
around the city and claim land for the Saints from the other gangs (the Vice
Kings, Los Carnales, and Westside Rollerz).  Because of the fact that you were in a gang, there was a
much higher sense of camaraderie than in the GTA series.  Sure, you had friends in San Andreas, but Saints Row went as far as creating a “Homie” system where you could
recruit a fellow gang member to help you on a mission or stronghold
takeover.  On a different level,
the protagonist in Saint’s Row is
largely silent for the whole game (he/she maybe has 3 lines of dialogue), so
there is really no characterization. 
What I mean by this is that you could place any person into the position
of the protagonist in Saints Row and
it wouldn’t change, because the only thing that you really know about the
character is that he or she is part of a gang.  With every GTA game (starting with Vice City), you play as a
named character and learn a lot about whom they are and the struggles that they
go through, which is extremely different from Saints Row.  Yet
despite the differences, the easy categorization was to say it was like GTA,
but GTA was better so they did not need to play Saints Row.  In order
for Saints Row as a franchise to
survive, it needed to differentiate itself from GTA.

As much as I loathe the dildo baseball bat, you certainly wouldnt find it in GTA    As much as I may loathe the idea of a dildo baseball bat, it definitely separates them from GTA

Luckily, Saints Row 2 was
able to do this, partially due to what GTA IV did to itself.  With GTA IV, there were some funny
parts, but the overall story was the much
more serious Hard Times in Liberty City through the lens of Niko Belic.  So all that Saints Row 2 had to do was amp up the humor a bit, and the
disparity between serious GTA IV and
ridiculous Saints Row 2 would
separate them as products.  While
they would both still be sandbox games, the tone of Saints Row 2 would clearly be different.  They also may have benefitted from the
fact that Saints Row 2 came out six
months after GTA IV (Saints Row 2 in October and GTA IV in April), but they did amp up the
humor and ridiculousness and that helped to establish them as two separate
products.

Another example of the ridiculousness of Saints Row: The Third       And here are the 3rd Street Saints robbing a bank wearing masks of one of their own gang members

Now we come to the latest release, Saints Row: The Third, which hit store shelves yesterday.  I think that Volition benefitted
heavily from the fact that there hasn’t been a proper GTA game since 2008, but
it’s not hard to tell that GTA IV and
Saints Row: The Third are completely
different products.  I was recently
watching a video of gameplay of Saints
Row: The Third
and in addition to being able to use the Mega Man arm cannon
as a weapon that has unlimited ammo, there is an upgrade system and the fourth
level for bullet damage is “You take no damage from bullets”.  Granted, the level requirement for this
unlock is very steep, but you would NEVER think that type of perk would be in
any Grand Theft Auto game.  And
that is exactly what they wanted.

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