Gameplay Substance in the Open World

November 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

I get a lot of weird looks when I mention this -or at least, a lot of theoretically weird looks- but I prefer Grand Theft Auto 4 to Saints Row: The Third (henceforth referred to as GTA 4, and SR 3).  And most of this isn’t because I think that GTA 4 is that great(though I do really like it), but because I really don’t “get” what’s so fun about SR 3.  I’ve spent 20 odd hours playing the game, I’ve finished the main story, I’ve done a decent majority of the side missions, I bought the DLC, and I’m still waiting for it to get fun.

Saints Row 3 managed to be a game that was somehow compelling, despite my disinterest in its narrative, while also not being fun.  It has all the elements that I usually like in my open world games.  Big guns, expensive looking cars, explosions, and yet, none of them felt good.  They were simply elements on a list somewhere, checked off on the challenge to making this “game.”  There’s no tension to any of the previous elements.  The cars move smoothly, and cleanly, their maximum speeds pathetic, particularly given the wide gaps between everything in the environment.  To crash in any reasonable form is an amazing feat.  The guns have no weight to them, and shred through the enemies you face.  Killing them is as difficult as matching 2 tiles, the crosshair to their head.  The only danger you face is when you stand in the open, placid and gormless for a while, letting its poorly designed “tank” enemies crush you.

And most disappointing of all are its explosions.  They start strong, a bright moment of glory, but their impact quickly fades, leaving only shells, tangentially related to what was hit.  To help illustrate my very wanky point:

Comparatively, everything in GTA 4 feels like a challenge.  The cars are weighty, and require practice to master.  The guns are imprecise, and if you stand out in the open, you will die.  The fun of it comes from the combined mental and physical challenge of planning what you’re doing, and executing it.

GTA 4 is a rage to better rags story.  Its story is about a struggle, and its gameplay enforces that.  You play the underdog, as unlikeable as he is, and the gameplay reinforces that.  SR 3 has a story of revenge and anger, where things go wrong, and things go right, but as you play it it’s a constant series of perfection.  Nothing bad can happen while you play, everything goes exactly how you want it to, and that’s just boring.

Things in life are better if you struggle to get them, and that’s why I prefer GTA 4.

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