Video Games: Gameplay and Story Segregation

I mentioned before how I started Grand Theft Auto IV and just wasn’t enamored with it (though I still plan to go back and play it later). Well, over Christmas vacation I played Saints Row: The Third
and figured out my problem with what’s happened to the Grand Theft Auto series: gameplay and story segregation.

In Grand Theft Auto, you can go on a killing spree, have the entire military after you, and then get blown with a tank and what happens is… you end up in the hospital minus a little cash. But in the Grand Theft Auto IV, they’re trying to have this serious story about an Eastern European immigrant and it just doesn’t work in this universe where you’re immune from all consequences. Like in the beginning of the game, I wouldn’t hijack a car because it seemed out of character, and when I got bored and started punching a random passerby, the main character, Niko, started apologizing and I felt bad.

Saints Row the Third, on the other hand, is another world where death and crime mean no consequences, but they fully embraced how ridiculous that is and have a world where it’s all a big joke to everyone. And it gripped me right away as being much more fun because it didn’t try to make me take any of it seriously.

A serious story just doesn’t work in a world with no consequences. I remember that Grand Theft Auto III was pretty crazy, but they put more actual story in Grand Theft Vice City, and then in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas it got ridiculous. They had some story about crooked cops trying to pin the death of a cop on your character, but you regularly can murder like twenty cops each day an on one cares. Now, San Andreas did get pretty crazy at times — like I remember jet packing out of a secret military base — that it tried to tack a serious story on at all was just silly. And now Grand Theft Auto IV seems much more serious than silly — at least from the few hours I’ve played — and it just doesn’t work. While the Saints Row series may be a ripoff of the Grand Theft Auto universe, they seem to better understand that the goal for such a game is fun and any story needs to be completely over the top to fit the ridiculous world where crime pays and there are no consequences. And thus right now I’m more excited for a Saints Row sequel than the upcoming Grand Theft Auto V which looks like it’s just going to add even more tedious serious story. That’s just not going to work unless there is an actual consequence (like a Game Over screen) for going on a city-wide rampage.

Oh, and Saints Row also made it easier to retry missions (and even had in mission check points). Sorry, but I don’t want to spend all my free time driving to the same place over and over in an imaginary city.

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  1. My favorite ridiculous contradiction in GTA San Andreas: The main character claims to be all about cleaning up the drugs in his neighborhood, but later on helps his buddies with their drugs and has drug running missions. And I thought politics had a meandering story-line…



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