"Saints Can't Lose"

The hyper-polished realism of the recent GTA V trailer may have derailed the eyes of those who were following the numerous Saints Row 3 trailers, but somehow I already knew what to expect with the forthcoming Take 2 Share Increase Assistant. It all looked depressingly real, even down to the erection of  foreclosing signs. The fucked economy appears to be the theme, but this doesn't appeal to me. I fucking hate watching the television and being reminded that "times are tough". Why would I want to play a 100% realistic recreation of the horrors around me when I can play a game which allows me to vacuum up pedestrains and fire them into the air towards chimney stacks?
The Saints Row series has had a quite glorious evolution from a GTA clone with interesting side missions, to a fully-blown celebration of the absurd, ridiculous and - dare I say it - fun. Games of recent years have lost the meaning of the word; the relentless chore of checkpoints and getting to the end through gritted teeth. I think that's why the vast tsunami of Saints Row 3 trailers have struck a chord with many. Games have pushed themselves so far towards the believable that they have forgotten the fantastical possibilities that videogames can be.
The swagger of Saints Row 3 is undeniable. It's totally unapologetic. Volition Inc. don't give a hoot if you want to play games which somehow have some kind of deeper meaning. Here. Have a purple dildo-themed baseball bat. Have an open world full of pedestrians just asking to be thrown great distances. Have fun! You remember fun, right? I play videogames - like many others - as a form of escapism. The aforementioned dreaded goings-on of real life... these are things I do not want to be reminded of. So I turn to videogames and their valuable immersive quality. They envelop my consciousness and make me forget one day I'll probably die in the most horrific way. Ah, videogames! How I love you!
Steelport might not have the grand vision that Liberty City invoked, but that's not the point. It's the purest form of a sandbox yet seen; impossibly huge skyscrapers beckon you to fly to the top and basejump from their heavenly headpieces, shops can be bought and acquired strongholds can be upgraded to the point of ridiculousness. The side missions from the franchise make a return, though appear to be a lot more flexible in how they can be tackled. Money actually can buy more than fancy clothes - they can buy numerous upgrades to weaponry and elements of gameplay. I must admit, I spent a great deal of time exploring and enjoying the open world even before getting to the meat of the campaign itself.
Two things instantly stand out to me when comparing Saints Row 3 to GTA IV. Firstly, the ability to leap into cars at will is such an insanely unrealistic yet totally invaluable ability. Niko Bellic's more sedate way to acquire a vehicle seems pedestrian in comparison. Sure, you can do the same in Saints Row 3, but why would you? The second thing which stood out for me was those inticing collectibles which are squirreled throughout the game world. Saints Row 3 makes collecting stuff not only fair, but achieveable. How so? Aha.
I am an obsessive completist when it comes to collectibles, but finding and shooting 200 tiny pigeons in a vast cityscape borders on un-fun. Bless you, developers of Volition Inc. Bless you for not only highlighting collectibles with a big ol' neon marker, but - what's this in my upgrade menu? Collectible Finder? Fuck, yes! Someone's done collectibles properly - at last. No more fumbling about the city on a wild goose chase looking for those bastard flying rats. Now I can grab a helicopter and survey the skies for newly-placed icons. More open world games need to do this.
Cars in Saints Row 3 also feel a lot more stable than the barrel-rolling vehicles of Liberty City - too many times I would take a corner at some speed and watch in dismay as my vehicle uncontrollably roll itself into an unsatisfactory inversion of which Niko would have to crawl out of. There is always things happening as you drive to destinations - respect (which is the game's equivalent of XP) is earned through near misses, driving down the wrong side of the road and grabbing some big air. My obsessive respect whoring is at maximum at time of writing, yet I'm still finishing up on the open world activities. Someone had the foresight to include upgrades which essentially makes me almost invulnerable to damage. The pacing of when this unlocks is around the point where you would actually start pissing about the open world. It's pretty smart.
So the Campaign Mode itself. I've not remembered a time before in my somewhat bloated videogame-playing life where I had my jaw drop with amazement and awe over the audacity of some of the missions. I get the feeling games these days have a horrendous dilution process of signing off and making sure people aren't too easily offended. Saints Row 3 gleefully dances around conventional rules, throwing its clothes off with gay abandon and streaking down the street brandishing nothing but a smile. No spoilers. I can tell you that http://deckers.die is still fresh in my mind - inventive, bat-shit insane and reminiscent of the antics Kojima-san got up to during the Psycho Mantis boss battle in Metal Gear Solid. It's like a breath of fresh air.
Edge Magazine recently gave the game 6/10, which makes me love the game even more. The po-faced monocle-wearing Brits who like their games with ultra-deep meaning and Japanese subtitles didn't like Saints Row 3? Good. It's not for you, sir. Move on and take your army of cloned commenters with you.  By the way, were you the same reviewer which gave GTA IV 10/10 too? You do know that the shooting sucked balls and the revolutionary animation system made movement a drunken mélange of possibilities, right?
You may not be a fan of Saints Row 3, but it's a game which all of us should at least play once, if only to remember that there can be games out there which unshackle themselves from the constraints of real life.