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, Saints Row: The Third.
Did you miss Part 1? Here you go.
PART 2: Muscles and Explosives, How Original
Spacegar: Well, let’s talk about our favorite activities? I know you hated driving the tron motorcycle. But that was just nightmarish.
Barkspawn: Yeah yeah yeah we’ll get back to that but SRSLY WE JUST DROVE A TIGER AROUND, why are you burying the lede here?! My god that was fantastic, didn’t think tank mayhem could be topped but this has really been the highlight of this SR3 experience thus far. You driving with the tiger in the passenger seat, tiger getting angry whenever we slowed down because tiger’s gotta go fast, me “calming” the tiger by punching it repeatedly in its tiger head from the backseat … so, so good. My day, it is made.
SG: I think I liked the Professor Genki reality show a lot. Not as much as the mayhem, I mean not by half, but it was actually really fun. It was kind of like how they should have started the game. I mean if you’re going to make it like a traditional game just start out bonkers. At some point along the way it’s like the entire game starts taking mushrooms by the handful and the story and execution just meets a level of excellence and absurdity no other game attempts. The Professor Genki shooting games wear the Saints Row freak-flag pretty perfectly.
BS: Yeah I feel like those levels really exemplify the crazed soul of this game. Just this insane series of obstacle courses with people in various mascot costumes trying to kill you, flame and electric barriers everywhere, brutes with miniguns spawning out of nowhere, hosts providing running commentary on the whole thing … it’s just insanity. Unfailingly entertaining insanity.
SG: Though hearing you say “Oh, we I have unlimited grenades!?” in that first Mayhem was pretty great. It hit me right after you said that, no matter how many times I failed that mission I was basically able to get out all my aggression ever. The childhood stuff, the adult stuff, I left it all like so many disappearing exploded vehicles on the streets of steelport. But like those vehicles that childhood scarring seems to almost immediately respawn as soon as I look away.
BS: Haha alright, childhood trauma aside I feel like we should acknowledge that while some of the side missions were pretty great - mayhem, insurance fraud, and Professor Genki in particular - some of the others were sort of tedious. Like you said, driving the tron motorcycle through the tube of … well, whatever the tube was supposed to be (the internets? or something?) was way less fun than it sounds. And those “Snatch” missions where you just have to race to pick up
prostitutes “hos” as they are so charmingly referred to throughout the game and drop them off at a given location in a very short amount of time? Just a pain. The notoriety, the other cars driving into you constantly, the whole concept of delivering sex workers as a fun game … not great.
And none of this would even be much of an issue if you didn’t have to replay these same types of activities over and over again. If it’s not fun on easy it’s certainly not going to be any better on hard. You just get to the point where it’s like “what, another heli assault? DAMN IT.”
SG: Yeah, but the middle of the game is kind of the most robust for the player. Every few missions in the main story opens up new side activities, which completing will open up more difficult versions of those activities. What this means is you can kind of play whatever you want to during the middle of the game and still be pushing forward. You like heli assaults? Heli assaults will help your city takeover. You like doing missions? Those open up more side missions which you’ll probably feel like playing as you detour. Saints Row isn’t like GTA IV, which keeps a large chunk of the map off limits from the start, but they do have you playing through the main story to open up side missions (kind of OK in my book).
BS: So. Can’t think of a smooth segue here, but I feel like we might be dancing around a pretty glaring issue with this game which is how it portrays women. I really, *really* do not want to derail this whole thing with an in-depth analysis of the gender politics of Saints Row but at the same time we can’t pretend like there aren’t some at least moderately icky things going on in the city of Steelport. If you choose to play The Boss as a female (which we both did) there’s this really interesting juxtaposition between your character, a total badass who refuses to take any shit off of anyone - seriously, it’s like if FemShep had an incredibly profane younger sister who gave zero fucks about maintaining law and order - and the countless mostly-naked women all around you who serve mainly as props.
The most egregious example of this is hands-down the “Ho Boat” main story mission in which you have to race to a ship on jet skis (wonderful), fight a bunch of Morningstar guys in order to board the ship (great), defend the ship from approaching boats and helicopters (fantastic) and then search for the hos that have been sealed into shipping containers (what, what?) so that you can either sell them back to the Morningstar (come on, gross) or keep them yourself so that the Saints can pimp them out for extra hourly cash (I feel queasy). Fun as the actual gameplay is there’s just no way to come out of that one feeling good about how you just spent the last half hour.
SG: Yeah, that mission is later in the game, and by the time we had hit it we were starting to have that discussion. So the Saints are a criminal organization, modern criminal organizations are pretty terrible be it human trafficking, drug trafficking, online scams and fraud. For the game the Saints are kind of like a loveable gang of miscreants and sociopaths, and even though every woman in the game appears to have double Ds, when the game forces you to choose between selling back or pimping these women it’s one of the real glaring “not Saints” sort of moments.
BS: Y’know, I feel like “set the hos free” would have been a great option here. If they’re only going to give you two ways to end the mission how about two different ways? Picking between “keep the women as sex slaves” or “let the other guys keep the women as sex slaves” isn’t much of a choice.
SG: We love the Saints cause they offer us the ability to play this way, and when their reality and our reality connect it gets sort of depressing. But that’s not even getting into STAG and their constant mid-00’s political commentary. That stuff sort of saves the game after all that stuff with human trafficking.
BS: Yeah, the STAG stuff [the Special Tactical Anti-Gang Unit, a paramilitary police force, is called in and martial law is declared in Steelport] is nice because it sort of comes out of nowhere and changes the landscape of the whole game. Automatic low-level police notoriety that can’t be wiped, new weapon, soldier, and vehicle types, the fact that many of the bridges connecting various parts of the map have been raised and entire sections of the city are now “Restricted Zones” that instantly increase police notoriety to five stars - it all serves to subtly bump up the overall difficulty level and provides a nice change of pace right when you think you know exactly where the story’s going.
But now that we’ve been playing for a while I want to ask you what you think about the music. Everyone seems to go apeshit over GTA playlists so it’s hard not to view the radio station selections in SR3 as a bit lacking in comparison, at least in terms of quantity. Then again I am Not a Music Person so I can’t really comment on the quality of what is available, except to say that - somewhat surprisingly - “Funky Cold Medina” never really gets old.
SG: I’ll turn you into a music person eventually. But they definitely have an odd view of music for the game, I mean there’s an Adult Swim radio station. I guess sometimes you just want to hear the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme?
BS: Because you never get tired of hearing that one.
SG: Yeah, Dangerdoom and Motley Crue. It really isn’t a bad track list, but it seems like the stations all re-start after a mission, so it’s easy to hear the same few songs over and over again. That might just be me, I don’t know. But it does have something I always wished GTA had, which was a mixtape system. You can basically have the music be Butthole Surfers, Run DMC, and Bonnie Tyler non-stop if you want it to be. And why wouldn’t you?
BS: Fair enough. Alright music aside, one of the things that I really loved about the game was the ability to change my character’s appearance as many times as I wanted to by visiting a plastic surgeon. And not just clothing - though I’m sure you noticed that I took the opportunity to change my outfit at least two or three times a session - but every aspect of my appearance. Hair, makeup, body, voice, personality traits - everything can be tweaked, and I can’t express how happy this makes me.
SG: I hit the random button in one of those places and fucked myself, though. Decided to just go with it and remake the zombie into a, well, golden-colored girl with no hair and a normal voice. I changed it back after one session, cause zombie is the best voice option. But I could never get the face back, so I just gave her super duck-lips. I mean, no other game seems to give you this ability. You can make it so that like the lips pop through the cheek, or the eyes through the forehead. I mean, any other game would not give you that sort of glitchy power, but SR3 is like “fuck it, if you like it go for it.”
BS: Yeah, I kind of enjoyed watching you go nuts with the character creator. I tend to be semi-boring and usually go with variations on “pretty girl with an unnatural hair color and a quasi-punkish outfit” so it was cool to play with someone unafraid to explore the weirder options and come up with something as strange as possible.
SG: As we push through the middle we started trying to do more of everything, including stuff like survivals. We even did a survival mission against a bunch of furries. So survivals pop up randomly, you get a call on your cell phone and have to survive for a few waves at a nearby location. These rank up there with Mayhem for me, at least post-game. But before going on about my infinite rocket ammo (dear god best upgrade ever) these Survival missions are a good chance to see how powerful you are.
BS: Still jealous of your infinite ammo. And how was this acquired? Because *someone* snuck in a few hours of the game while I was in class and got like five levels ahead of me. HRRUMPFF.
SG: Whenever the game first gave us like five minutes of freedom we went roaming around the city, and I got us into trouble with a gang. This was the moment I learned that Saints Row was not trying to be a GTA clone. Each gang has “specialists” with special weapons and the ability to lay down a lot of hurt. We basically had to run away, not because you couldn’t handle them but I was just not even close to ready.
BS: The only thing I wasn’t prepared for as far as the RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE strategy went was the fact that owned businesses don’t serve as safe houses that automatically wipe all notoriety unless both players have separately purchased the property. I mean, it sort of makes sense now but the first time it was like “dear god why are the cops still following us into the ammo store?!”
SG: Anyways, when we get this furry Survival that sort of marked the moment I had a complete control of the game. I knew when to use Molotovs, and when to use grenades. When to switch from the shotgun to the pistols, etc. While GTA sort of gets you to a position pretty early of knowing how to deal with combat, SR3 just has much more hectic fights. The missions often pull you into doing crazy stuff that isn’t like normal combat, like riding a tron motorcycle or racing slave powered chariots.
BS: Yeah I don’t know what to say about the learning curve with this game because the missions they throw at you are just so random. Having played the game before I obviously knew what to expect but it was fun to hear your reactions to getting these missions for the first time. (Use a drone to attack tanks! Now throw yourself at oncoming traffic for insurance money! Now infiltrate a sex club! Go on this insane game show! Many “what the fuck is even happening right now” moments from you, it was so great.)
SG: The mid-game for SR3 is pretty fantastic, lots of stuff to do popping up everywhere, some of the funniest writing in a game, and the enemies are actually tough enough that as you start to upgrade your characters and your gang and whatever else you see fit you actually feel stronger.
BS: So at a certain point fairly early on it really opens up so that you can basically ignore the main story and just work on the side stuff if you like. But to the game’s credit I felt like the main story missions actually got more interesting and (dare I say?) innovative as the game went on. My favorite main mission - and this was nearly a three-way tie with Murderbrawl and the Mayor’s very special mission which we will most certainly get to - was the final confrontation with the Deckers.
SG: So, the Deckers are in for some pain. The gang, with my favorite specialists and weapon: electro-hammer, is the one I’d probably join. Though having the British accents is kind of a bummer. Anyways, we get to the big fight with the Deckers and get sucked into a computer. First off we play as toilets with guns. Obviously. Then we’re like synthetic saints, then somewhere along the way we get that awesome weapon that basically turns you into Megaman.
And one of the obstacles is a text-adventure. Do you pet the unicorn or kill it? Kill it, of course.
BS: I initially tried petting it. It killed me immediately.
SG: To unpack this a little more, there’s a really great series of obstacles to defeating Matt Miller’s Deckers. A lot of them play on gaming and virtual reality, as well as glitches and such. Granted this can be a fairly infuriating mission, but you have to at least appreciate the developers for figuring out ways to make the missions interesting. They can’t all be about shooting people (GTA could learn something here), sometimes just make a person race around with a tiger, or throw them in the net. Think outside the box, people.
BS: This mission was so great, just like an ode to video games in general. It was bright, it was full of variety, and the pace was just perfect for those of us whose attention spans max out at “moderate.” I loved the short minigames sprinkled throughout but some of the stuff they did on the main level like randomly reversing your controls or “rewinding” back a few seconds really made this mission stand out.
SG: The end of the mission is like an actual boss fight, something I really really enjoyed. Miller becomes like a giant dragon demon with a sword. Now, I wish the game had a sword normally, but this would do. Eventually you get control of his avatar and get to use all of his super powers and special moves. This mission, at least the boss, was something I felt fairly at home with. I mean, these are the sorts of games I usually play; fighting bosses and such are my cup of tea. I loved this mission and think that it’s sort of high bizarre aesthetic was emblematic of where Saints Row 3 wants to take you in the end.
… to be continued! Check back tomorrow for Part 3.