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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 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.
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.