Sparky's Update - Saints Row: The Fourth?

Hey gang, welcome to the first normal Sparky's Update in quite some time. It's been a few months, so just as a reminder so you know to click away from this page, this is just another one of those blogs where a random faceless dude blogs about his thoughts on games he's played, thoughts on the industry that everyone and their mother shares, and the occasional thought on books and movies. If you haven't run screaming for the hills, you have been warned.

Today I'm going to primarily be talking about the state of the urban free-world action game known as Saint's Row and what technical improvements I'd like to see in the future. If you don't follow me or are reading this well past the time when I've talked about it, I thoroughly enjoyed Saints Row: The Third. It's definitely among my favorites in the genre, along with its predecessor, GTA: San Andreas, and Red Dead Redemption. I don't feel the need to recap the game's strengths, as by now, you probably know if you're going to like it or not. So instead, I'd like to talk about where I think the series should go and what should be addressed.

The Technical Stuff

Truth be told, the genre has come a long way since the days of the PS2 and Xbox, especially in terms of presentation and delivery of the story. Saints Row: The Third never really changes the basic backbone of its predecessor too much - graphically, it's not much of an improvement save for the cutscenes, and the gameplay is comfortably familiar. You still have three rival gangs, three major allies, and a bunch of activities and shops to keep you occupied when you don't feel the need to play through the main story. So basically, then, it's everything I want in an open-world game of this sort - lots of stuff to do and it's a lot of fun without ever being frustrating. It also has mostly fixed some of the older problems that might not be obvious.

Namely, Saints Row 3 doesn't suffer from a glaring technical problem that has plagued just about every other urban open world game - that of the majority of cars being the same type and/or class of car you've just driven. It was a memory issue in other games that seemingly eliminated the randomness of car generation in order to help process all the information of the world. You'd see a ton of cars just like the one you were either driving or had just abandoned within a short distance. It was jarring. While Saints Row 3 doesn't entirely eliminate that problem, it is noticeably lessened and is a pleasant little upgrade.

The problem isn't entirely alleviated, but it's obvious that with the next generation of consoles, it should be either eliminated or hardly noticeable. With that change, I'd also love to see more varieties of vehicles, including older/newer models of existing cars, varying amounts of body damage (almost all the cars of Saints Row 3 look pristine, albeit sometimes a little dirty), and better car details. The graphical engine of Saints Row is starting to show its age, and that's never quite so apparent as when you're looking at the cars.

One problem that's still inherent to the genre is the empty-street syndrome, wherein you'll sometimes be wandering on foot for long stretches at a time without a seemingly appropriate number of cars on the street. This has been a problem since GTA 3. It's slowly seen some improvements, but we aren't quite at the point where traffic ebb and flow feels natural. Having less traffic at night with more parked cars makes sense, as does heavier traffic during the day, but the current ghost-town feel of the city at sporadic times on foot never quite feels right. That being said, I think pedestrian traffic in the game feels fantastic.

Speaking of being on foot, the last major upgrade I'd like to see is better climbing detection. Some crates, boxes, and fences felt as though they should have been a cakewalk to climb on or over, but the game doesn't quite do a great job of deciding what can be climbed and what can't. This needs to be addressed somehow.

And that's it for the major complaints. Obviously, there are a laundry list of little upgrades. The graphics engine could use a major overhaul. Having a homie drive to a selected map destination while you ride shotgun seems silly, but would make car-to-car combat so much more fun. There were many little glitches, particularly during the Night Blayde mission, that need to be addressed. I would love to see a much bigger variety of stores, even just within the ones offered, as well as the return of the car shops. Activities need better difficulty balancing, and actually, some sort of optional feature that reduces the difficulty, amps up yours and your homies' hit points, and makes your vehicles harder to destroy after MULTIPLE deaths would be a great benefit.

Where I'd Like the Series to Go

This is kind of a misleading title, as it's a catch-all for all sorts of things I'd like to talk about in terms of the series' future.

First, I think the Stilwater and Steelport areas have been played out. By now, the environments all look the same. Instead, maybe move the focus towards a few large city areas joined by large stretches of outdoors areas - imagine San Andreas, but on a larger scale. And speaking of, a larger scale is an absolute must for everything within the series. More stores, more weapons, more characters, and most importantly, more quests would go a long, long way towards increasing replayability.

I'd also like to see implementation of faction favor and disagreement. Rather than the typical three-gang system of the last few Saints Row games, let's see a wider variety of gangs - say, six. Everything you do for one gang might upset another, and vice versa. Buying up property will either help or hurt your relations with gangs, as would criminal actions on their turf.

I also wouldn't be too upset if the next game focused on an entirely new gang, or at least, a new branch of the Saints struggling to make it without their corporate whore brethren. Along the same lines, it'd be great to see a whole laundry list of new protagonists and antagonists, perhaps with a few thrown in for good measure. Now, this is going to sound hypocritical, but perhaps the new game could still star The Boss, as I really think the character has come into his/her own as one of the best protagonists in games. Seriously, the guy had some of the funniest damn lines I've ever heard. So new gang, new characters, but same central protagonist. That make any sense?

What Else I've Been Playing

I wrapped up Uncharted 3 recently, which plays a lot like its predecessor. That's a great thing. There are some superb set pieces, highlighted by the sobering and great desert "level," wherein you find yourself.... oh, never mind. I don't want to spoil it. It's a great game, though I do wish they had kept the money/cheats/unlockables aspect from the first. That would have given me so much more incentive to play it back through.

WWE '12 isn't going to win over the world, but it's a fun, solid wrestling game with some truly inspiring work by the community in the creation of Create-a-Whatever. There is no other game on the market right now where I can have Weird Al Yankovic putting the hurt on Robocop and Spiderman. It's ridiculously good fun, and if you haven't picked up a Smackdown vs. Raw game in a while, this might be one you'd be interested in.

I've also started playing Castleville. Oh, shut up.

4 Comments
4 Comments
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Hey gang, welcome to the first normal Sparky's Update in quite some time. It's been a few months, so just as a reminder so you know to click away from this page, this is just another one of those blogs where a random faceless dude blogs about his thoughts on games he's played, thoughts on the industry that everyone and their mother shares, and the occasional thought on books and movies. If you haven't run screaming for the hills, you have been warned.

Today I'm going to primarily be talking about the state of the urban free-world action game known as Saint's Row and what technical improvements I'd like to see in the future. If you don't follow me or are reading this well past the time when I've talked about it, I thoroughly enjoyed Saints Row: The Third. It's definitely among my favorites in the genre, along with its predecessor, GTA: San Andreas, and Red Dead Redemption. I don't feel the need to recap the game's strengths, as by now, you probably know if you're going to like it or not. So instead, I'd like to talk about where I think the series should go and what should be addressed.

The Technical Stuff

Truth be told, the genre has come a long way since the days of the PS2 and Xbox, especially in terms of presentation and delivery of the story. Saints Row: The Third never really changes the basic backbone of its predecessor too much - graphically, it's not much of an improvement save for the cutscenes, and the gameplay is comfortably familiar. You still have three rival gangs, three major allies, and a bunch of activities and shops to keep you occupied when you don't feel the need to play through the main story. So basically, then, it's everything I want in an open-world game of this sort - lots of stuff to do and it's a lot of fun without ever being frustrating. It also has mostly fixed some of the older problems that might not be obvious.

Namely, Saints Row 3 doesn't suffer from a glaring technical problem that has plagued just about every other urban open world game - that of the majority of cars being the same type and/or class of car you've just driven. It was a memory issue in other games that seemingly eliminated the randomness of car generation in order to help process all the information of the world. You'd see a ton of cars just like the one you were either driving or had just abandoned within a short distance. It was jarring. While Saints Row 3 doesn't entirely eliminate that problem, it is noticeably lessened and is a pleasant little upgrade.

The problem isn't entirely alleviated, but it's obvious that with the next generation of consoles, it should be either eliminated or hardly noticeable. With that change, I'd also love to see more varieties of vehicles, including older/newer models of existing cars, varying amounts of body damage (almost all the cars of Saints Row 3 look pristine, albeit sometimes a little dirty), and better car details. The graphical engine of Saints Row is starting to show its age, and that's never quite so apparent as when you're looking at the cars.

One problem that's still inherent to the genre is the empty-street syndrome, wherein you'll sometimes be wandering on foot for long stretches at a time without a seemingly appropriate number of cars on the street. This has been a problem since GTA 3. It's slowly seen some improvements, but we aren't quite at the point where traffic ebb and flow feels natural. Having less traffic at night with more parked cars makes sense, as does heavier traffic during the day, but the current ghost-town feel of the city at sporadic times on foot never quite feels right. That being said, I think pedestrian traffic in the game feels fantastic.

Speaking of being on foot, the last major upgrade I'd like to see is better climbing detection. Some crates, boxes, and fences felt as though they should have been a cakewalk to climb on or over, but the game doesn't quite do a great job of deciding what can be climbed and what can't. This needs to be addressed somehow.

And that's it for the major complaints. Obviously, there are a laundry list of little upgrades. The graphics engine could use a major overhaul. Having a homie drive to a selected map destination while you ride shotgun seems silly, but would make car-to-car combat so much more fun. There were many little glitches, particularly during the Night Blayde mission, that need to be addressed. I would love to see a much bigger variety of stores, even just within the ones offered, as well as the return of the car shops. Activities need better difficulty balancing, and actually, some sort of optional feature that reduces the difficulty, amps up yours and your homies' hit points, and makes your vehicles harder to destroy after MULTIPLE deaths would be a great benefit.

Where I'd Like the Series to Go

This is kind of a misleading title, as it's a catch-all for all sorts of things I'd like to talk about in terms of the series' future.

First, I think the Stilwater and Steelport areas have been played out. By now, the environments all look the same. Instead, maybe move the focus towards a few large city areas joined by large stretches of outdoors areas - imagine San Andreas, but on a larger scale. And speaking of, a larger scale is an absolute must for everything within the series. More stores, more weapons, more characters, and most importantly, more quests would go a long, long way towards increasing replayability.

I'd also like to see implementation of faction favor and disagreement. Rather than the typical three-gang system of the last few Saints Row games, let's see a wider variety of gangs - say, six. Everything you do for one gang might upset another, and vice versa. Buying up property will either help or hurt your relations with gangs, as would criminal actions on their turf.

I also wouldn't be too upset if the next game focused on an entirely new gang, or at least, a new branch of the Saints struggling to make it without their corporate whore brethren. Along the same lines, it'd be great to see a whole laundry list of new protagonists and antagonists, perhaps with a few thrown in for good measure. Now, this is going to sound hypocritical, but perhaps the new game could still star The Boss, as I really think the character has come into his/her own as one of the best protagonists in games. Seriously, the guy had some of the funniest damn lines I've ever heard. So new gang, new characters, but same central protagonist. That make any sense?

What Else I've Been Playing

I wrapped up Uncharted 3 recently, which plays a lot like its predecessor. That's a great thing. There are some superb set pieces, highlighted by the sobering and great desert "level," wherein you find yourself.... oh, never mind. I don't want to spoil it. It's a great game, though I do wish they had kept the money/cheats/unlockables aspect from the first. That would have given me so much more incentive to play it back through.

WWE '12 isn't going to win over the world, but it's a fun, solid wrestling game with some truly inspiring work by the community in the creation of Create-a-Whatever. There is no other game on the market right now where I can have Weird Al Yankovic putting the hurt on Robocop and Spiderman. It's ridiculously good fun, and if you haven't picked up a Smackdown vs. Raw game in a while, this might be one you'd be interested in.

I've also started playing Castleville. Oh, shut up.

Moderator Online
Posted by Enns

I'm worried that Saints Row The Third might be lighting in a bottle. I really enjoyed the hell out of that game and want the next one to be as good or better. I just wonder if it can be done again without getting tired or just screwed up. I've never played the previous games so I don't know Volition's track record in improving their Saints titles but judging by their PC version I think we can expect something positive.

(Googles Castleville)

What.

Posted by dankempster

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Sparky! Come on over, I saved you a seat!

As someone who's only played the original Saints Row, I'm not in the best of positions to give any kind of commentary on the series as a whole, or the most recent entry, but I really enjoyed reading this write-up. It's great to hear that Saints Row 3 takes steps to address little quirks like pedestrian crowd management and 'same car syndrome' that have been plaguing this kind of game for over ten years now, even if it doesn't entirely succeed. I loved the way GTA IV handled its crowd control, probably more so than any other urban open world I've spent time in, but getting into a car and seeing everyone else on the roads driving a palette swap of the same vehicle was pretty immersion-breaking. Hopefully these issues will continue to diminish, especially when the next generation of consoles ushers in more processing power, although that is only half the battle - developers will need to try and use it effectively, too.

As far as your suggestions for the future of the franchise go, they all seem like perfectly reasonable and logical ones based on what I've heard from other people. Most people seem to be saying that the most disappointing thing about SR3 was its length (supposedly it's markedly shorter than SR2, although I can't vouch for that personally), so expanding pretty much every aspect of the game seems like a logical step forward. So does the San Andreas-style state-wide map - to be honest, considering that the Saints Row franchise seems to be the spiritual successor to San Andreas, I'm surprised they haven't already gone down that route. But yeah, it seems like Saints Row 3 ticks the box for a much better Saints Row, so it would be reasonable to expect SR4 to be a much bigger Saints Row.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@dankempster:

Length is definitely an issue, though it could be addressed by the addition of side characters and quests. It appears they'll be adding those in DLC, which is annoying. In the fourth, I'd love to see a much meatier story, but honestly, what was there was fairly tightly scripted and I don't have many complaints about it as a whole.

@Enns:

Given the remarkable improvements each sequel brought to the table, I'm not worried about it, though I see your point. In a lot of ways, it's not a franchise I really want huge changes out of, so long as time and care are put into each game.

Moderator Online