Welcome to Space/Spawn, in which Spacegar and Barkspawn each choose a game for the other to play for the first time. In this inaugural edition Barkspawn has challenged Spacegar to play the co-op campaign of the greatest game of our generation:
Part 1: Escort Mission
Spacegar: Oh, god this game. It’s the craziest game on so many levels. It looks on the outset to be a Grand Theft Auto clone, but whereas in GTA running around using an RPG is a sign of desperation from just getting tired of so many tactical-cover shootouts in Saints Row the RPG is like a cause for celebration.
Barkspawn: That’s exactly it; there’s just such a fantastic sense of glee that permeates the whole experience. Honestly, “bonkers” is the only appropriate descriptor here.
SG: And character customization is awesome. Getting to hear my zombie character’s squawks amidst the super serious mission set-ups is kind of amazing. I mean I had heard the game was fun, but holy shit this game is spectacular.
BS: Right? I mean sure, it’s lewd, juvenile, and beyond ridiculous most of the time (you really haven’t lived until you’ve been in a shootout while riding in a chariot pulled by a man in a gimp suit) but what’s so great about SR3 is that it knows exactly what it is and embraces it wholeheartedly. It’s not a game that’s trying to make some trenchant point about humanity or make you rethink your worldview - it just wants you to have fun, and if I may say so it succeeds gloriously.
I feel like we should include some sort of disclaimer though, like “Be Advised: If you don’t think dildos are funny you should probably skip this one.” For those of us with warped senses of humor it hits just the right spot but yeah … maybe not for everyone?
SG: Well, what about the missions that are just your character with unlimited grenades or rockets needing to do a certain amount of property damage? They can’t be nearly as fun solo. Even though I always wonder what’s going on on your side of the map: you get a big jump in property damage and know that something wild just happened.
BS: Good lord, I have rarely been happier in a video game than when we did those “Mayhem” missions where the sole purpose was to do as much property damage as possible in a set amount of time. Infinite grenades? Calling in airstrikes on parked cars just because? YES PLEASE.
And as far as I can tell the destruction/damage goals are the same in both single-player and co-op so higher-difficulty missions can actually be pretty challenging to complete alone.
SG: Really what stands out is how this is kind of the best co-op game I’ve seen in a while. I really liked the GTA Online game, but honestly its missions weren’t a third as good as the main story’s missions. Saints Row: The Third gives you the ability to play these fully detailed missions with another person; no grindy leveling-up prospects required. I mean cars come easy in GTA single player, and in Saints Row as well but not having to save up $400 K for a car you just want to cruise around in with a friend makes SR3 online just smarter. Maybe it’s apples and oranges but I love playing this open world co-op game with a friend enjoying the story too.
BS: Yeah, I’ve really been wanting to try out SR3 co-op for a while now. I’d played (and enjoyed, obviously) the single-player version of the campaign but it’s infinitely more entertaining with a partner in crime. Aside from having someone there for all those “holy shit, did you just see that?!?” moments a lot of the missions actually work better with two people. The best example might be those “Escort” missions: one player drives the car and tries to avoid news vans while the other, uhhh, works with the client in the back seat (there is a “pleasure meter” involved). The entire backseat component is missing from the single-player version, and … you know what? Maybe this wasn’t the best example.
SG: I still have no idea what’s going on in the story. The zombie voice doesn’t help at all, but I guess the Saints have sold out and have to fight some other gangs now. I mean the Saints have gimps and ninjas in their gang, who would willingly mess with these guys? This is a serious question, I literally have no idea who these characters are or how they fit together. Not that I have a problem with that, I’m a big EDF fan, but still. Enlighten me?
BS: Alas, the one drawback of choosing to play as a zombie! The short(ish) version: you’re the leader of the Third Street Saints, the dominant gang in the city of Stilwater. Your character is referred to only as “The Boss,” your gang color is purple, and no one gives a shit about Pierce. The first two games in the series chronicle The Boss joining the Saints, rising through the ranks and then steering the group toward becoming the dominant force in Stilwater; at the outset of SR3 the Saints have become complacent and fully sold out complete with TV shows, clothing stores, and an energy drink (Saints Flow!).
Anyway, SR3 opens with the Boss and the Saints’ top lieutenants being incarcerated after a routine bank robbery gone wrong. They’re bailed out by the head of an international criminal organization who demands that they hand over two-thirds of their income in order to be allowed to continue to operate. The Boss refuses, a fight ensues, and they end up stranded in the city of Steelport with all of their financial assets frozen. From there it’s all about taking Steelport over and rebuilding your gang from nothing while battling the city’s other resident gangs and various outside forces.
SG: Rebuilding from a gang from nothing that happens to have a penthouse, a chopper, and ninjas.
BS: And gimps. Mustn’t forget the gimps. Picking our gang composition was a difficult decision but I think the ¾ ninjas, ¼ gimps mix that we went with is really working out for us. But seriously, are you really trying to poke holes in the story? You’re playing as a green-haired zombie in S&M gear who doesn’t wear shoes. This shit is airtight, obviously.
But anyway, as someone who’s played much more GTA than I have I was curious about what you’d make of SR3’s gameplay mechanics, specifically the combat and driving elements. The only real complaint I have is that the weapon selection process is a bit clunky; then again I’m the type of gamer who can forgive just about anything for the sake of an interesting premise. Seriously, I’ve played the first Mass Effect through a truly insane number of times, I’m not allowed to judge.
SG: So as I start playing the game I feel like it’s weird. I mean driving just isn’t as good, and the selection of vehicles isn’t as good as a GTA, at least GTA V (IV was terrible at everything, ever) but still. Game design is like making a math problem, there are two sides to everything. With vehicles it’s sort of based around the city layout, and the layout of Steelport, or Bridgeport, or Steelbridge town, whatever it’s called, is sort of an enigma.
I mean it’s terrible to compare a game like this to GTA V, cause it wasn’t out at the time, but we can compare to IV. IV is kind of a terrible game to drive in, it has all this traffic, an entirely city-centric road layout, and as soon as a vehicle starts going fast it has to stop again. SR3, on the other hand, is about as good a layout but has way less traffic. You can get some decent speed going and really don’t have to worry too much about getting in a wreck if you’re a good driver. But I’m sure you know that.
BS: Oh, I totally know that. I’m an amazing driver! Maybe even one of the best. What can I say, it’s just a gift I have. (Direct quote from Spacegar from approximately 12 hours ago: “You are not a good driver.”)
SG: The whole problem with the rides is you can’t look at it from a GTA perspective. I mean there’s a van with Johnny Gat’s head on the front with a flamethrower sticking out. There’s a jet-powered motorcycle. The game has this great way of starting you out just like a normal game but once the expectations are set they escape into insanity. Just look at the VTOL: I’ve always hated landing jets and flying helicopters, but if you mix the two you get this amazing vehicle that gets you around quick and doesn’t blow up every time you land, unless you’re Barkspawn.
BS: Whoa there, SHOTS FIRED. Okay, yes there is much blowing-up of aircraft. But it’s 100% intentional! If you could fly over your next location, parachute out, and then let the aircraft crash because you know you always have another one available at your crib, why wouldn’t you?
SG: Weapons are a bit different too, I really wish they had more normal weapons. Yes, it’s pretty amazing to have all the special weapons, all the unique stuff, but a few slightly better SMGs and rifles would have been useful too. I mean just for variety it would be helpful since any time I used an SMG after like three missions into the game it was the same SMG from three missions into the game.
BS: Okay, yes this I agree with. Assault rifles are usually my go-to game weapons (well, and RPGs. And I do love me some Molotovs and grenades. But I digress.) and there just aren’t many to choose from. If they were going to limit the weapon selection so severely it would have been nice to at least have the ability to modify and customize your weapons instead of just shelling out cash every so often for very generalized, preset “upgrades.”
SG: But the other side of that equation is the enemies. Unlike GTA which is guys after guys after more guys, followed by blowing up a helicopter, Saints Row has some great variety in enemies. This game isn’t about tactically hiding behind cover, since a Brute will just smash you out of cover and chokehold your ass. It’s a much more fast-paced sort of combat so it has to be sort of light. There are ups and downs within a single battle, especially in co-op where you get used to this ripping pace. GTA is really just a single player game, and I think the simplicity of the GTA online missions showcases that they really haven’t figured out how to design the GTA experience well for solo and multiple people.
BS: Yeah, there is definitely a noticeable difference between single-player and co-op in the pace and challenge of battle situations. Things tend to escalate a whole lot more quickly with both of us antagonizing rival gang members and/or law enforcement which means that it usually goes from zero to helicopters and tanks in about a minute. But I kind of loved it - I thought it made for some really fun survival situations, and of course it always helps to have someone there who can revive you if the need arises.
SG: But Saints Row has a counter for nut-shots called “testicular manslaughter” which just doesn’t fit right with where GTA has gone in the HD age.
BS: Nutshot counter, nutshot counter …. hmm, not seeing the problem here.
SG: Though as compared to those GTA rampages against innocent pedestrians Steelport pits ravagers against actual gangs that fight back. If you randomly drive over enough people you’ll eventually hit a gang member or law enforcement officer. You get different types of notoriety that have different reactions and fade disrespective of the other. I mean it’s not uncommon to get three stars with a gang, start getting it under control, and then run over a cop getting your police notoriety up.
BS: I know, isn’t it great? CHAOS! Honestly, the most difficult challenge in this game might be just, like, crossing the street without starting a gang war or a police shootout. It’s nice that they eventually allow you to purchase the ability to instantly wipe your police and gang notoriety but let’s be real: seeing just how quickly you can get your notoriety up to five stars is half the fun.
SG: Yet, I think we were talking more about our first session with the game. Basically in the first four hours or so we went through destroying an entire gang. I mean, we didn’t really beat them, but we beat them in the story. The problem was it’s all kind of generic. I mean Saints Row is kind of screwed in that it doesn’t seem to do some of this corridor and tactical shooting stuff so well, yet it leads with it.
BS: Yeah, the story logic there is sort of … squishy? We took out the leader of the first gang, blew up their headquarters, and yet they’re still strolling around their section of the city in their ugly red-and-black ensembles (cheap-looking lingerie and full-length black dusters for the ladies, and I believe you described the men as “Christopher Ecclestons” which I now can’t un-see) like nothing happened. I mean, I guess they need to be there in order for there to be a point to all of those minor city-takeover missions but it does sort of undermine the weight of the main story.
SG: But yeah, three main gangs: Deckers, Luchadores, and Morningstar. The game basically starts you out beating up Morningstar, a sort of oddly sexy gang. The ladies wear lingerie on the street, and they have a crib called “Safeword” that’s filled with kinky stuff.
BS: “Kinky stuff,” hah. That’s putting it very delicately.
SG: You eventually have a chase where you’re in a chariot being pulled by a guy in bondage gear, and the people chasing you also have humans pulling their chariots, and if you shoot those sex slaves the entire chariot blows up like a car. For some reason. It’s Saints Row logic. The other two gangs are Deckers and Luchadores, Luchadores are just like the name implies with Deckers being like a cyberpunk gang. Honestly, they sort of seem like the most powerful gang since they can control anything with computers. Shouldn’t they be like super rich?
BS: You’d think so, except that their leader Matt Miller is sort of the timid, effete type and seems way more into messing with rival gangs than actually pursuing any large-scale criminal enterprises of his own. I will give the Deckers credit, however, for having the best gang outfits by a pretty wide margin: gray and black with bright blue tron highlighting, the occasional pop of bright pink, headphones, eyeliner and hair product for days. Fantastic.
… to be continued! Check back tomorrow for Part 2.