Welcome to sorry not sorry, a new series of articles where I delve into just a few of the vast worlds of video games and explain some of m unpopular opinions about video games as though they were an objective fact. In honor of Agents of Mayhem, which I’m loving, I wanted to address the question of which is the better series, Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto. Here we go.
Realism VS Fiction
Grand Theft Auto has always been a game in pursuit of something believable. From the locations, to the weapons, to the vehicles, the series has always remained firmly rooted in reality. Yeah, I know how that sounds considering the amount of bullets you can take before you die or how quickly the cops forget you just killed a legion of them. But, hey we’re talking video games and GTA has never gotten anywhere near how weird as Saints Row. In GTA 5, Rockstar made sure you remembered the playable characters existed in the world while you weren’t playing them. This did this by showing them in the midst of various activities whenever you switched to that character.
Saints Row, on the other hand, has no interest in realism. That became abundantly clear when, in the first scene of the third game, the Saints Row gang has become such an influential brand that they have an energy drink being sold in Japan. From there it only gets stranger until the player character becomes the president of the United States in the 4th game and gets super powers. Everything in Saints Row is unapologetically goofy and that is its greatest strength.
Realism is highly overrated in video games. There is a limit to how realistic a video game can be and still feel like more fun than real life. Cooking games are fun because you don’t have to clean up after you bake a cake. Games like GTA and Saints Row are fun because of the level of impossible, irresponsible destruction and mayhem you are allowed to create without any of the consequences.
GTA has an intrinsic limitation to the mayhem you can cause because of its attachment to reality. It’s high enough to get the job done but, that’s one area where GTA simply cannot compete with Saints Row. In video games, Fiction beats realism, Saints Row beats GTA.
No one comes to these series for the writing so, I felt like it’d be more useful to look at character composition rather than writing when it comes to these two games.
This is a really subjective category and so I don’t feel comfortable objectively stating that Saints Row has had, overall, a more likeable and compelling cast of characters than in any of the GTA games. That’s up to you but, what I can and will say up and down is that Saints Row has always done a fantastic job of portraying diversity in their cast. From allowing the complete customization of the protagonist to the expansive roster of allies the player character amasses, Saints row has meaningful representations of Queer characters, characters of color, and women.
I can’t remember the name of a single significant woman in the entire GTA series. Rockstar simply seems to have something against portraying women of any substance while Saints Row embraces it. So Saints Row all the way.
This encompasses a lot but, when I think of all of the things Saints Row edges over GTA, it all boils down to the fun factor. GTA has sort of a turbulent relationship with the term sandbox. In some areas, GTA nails what it means to give players control over their world. But in other places, it falls short. Yes, you can steal fancy cars but, you can’t keep as many fancy cars as you want, if that. You can change your character’s clothes but, there aren’t many options. There’s a constant tension between freedom and understanding that you don’t have total freedom. You are playing in a sandbox where the player is supposed to be in control but you experience that sandbox in the body of another, often unlikeable, person.
Saints Row is about customization and removing that degree of separation between you and its world. You can steal a ton of cars and squirrel them away for later. After you store a car away you can customize it because, unlike in GTA, the car is actually yours, rather than a loaner. You can play as whoever you want, dress in a multitude of styles, you can get piercings, and tattoos, and extensive plastic surgery. It really is up to you. Because Saints Row concerns itself with player freedom and this makes it the better game. Also, superpowers. The Superpowers are fun.