Grand Theft Auto V vs. Saints Row IV
Welcome to the first ever side-by-side review here at Henchman-4-Hire! When both Grand Theft Auto V and Saints Row IV decided to release within only a few weeks of each other, we of the strained wallets could only afford one of the two. Fortunately for me, Sean Ian Mills, and my favorite gamer gal pal, Alyssa (1wombat4u), we each had a favorite. I’ve been a Grand Theft Auto groupie since the days of top-down vehicular larceny, and Alyssa is insane – or at least that’s what I would call someone who isn’t in love with the GTA series. But we’ve had some amazing times in the co-op Saints Row games, so she decided to check out the latest in that wacky, dildo bat-loving series. And now we have pit our two experiences against each other in a head-to-head battle to see which 3D crime simulator is truly the best.
It’s the grand daddy of the entire genre vs. the knock-off that managed to find it’s own direction; it’s Grand Theft Auto V vs. Saints Row IV!
Let the battle begin after the jump!
Sean: Grand Theft Auto V once again exceeds all expectations for the series, somehow managing to create an even bigger, better and more detailed game world than any of their previous ground-breaking games. Returning players to the fictional state of San Andreas, GTA V is a sprawling majesty of urban crime and backwater badassery in a world that has to be experienced to be believed. This is the game all those parental groups try to warn you about, and it lives up to all of their worrisome complaints. GTA V is hardcore everything, and I couldn’t be more delighted.
In a first for the series, GTV V has multiple protagonists, and they developed a seamless ability to switch between them on the fly. Because of this feature, the story is deeper, richer and more fleshed out and expansive than ever before. They have also overhauled everything from mission quality, random encounters and the point of money. For the first time in a long time, the thefts and robberies in a Grand Theft Auto game actually matter to both the story and to your in-game walet.
There is no more immersive video game experience than Grand Theft Auto V. Even the simple act of walking down the sidewalk is an impressive feat of technology and creativity. I have more fun just walking down the street in GTA V than I do in some other games in their entirety. It’s an amazing, beautiful game. And how better to enjoy this kind of world than by blowing it the hell up?
Alyssa: Saints Row IV isn’t the height of current-gen graphics and processing power, and there’s very little that’s original in the game’s storyline, but Saints Row IV is the most fun that I’ve had with a sandbox game in a long while. In fact, fun seems to be the entire point of the game. This isn’t the story of an immigrant who’s come to the States in the hope of getting his slice of the American Dream.
No, Saints Row IV is the story of someone who’s had that American pie, bought bigger slice, and then bought the pie store. For those of you who are familiar with the franchise, many fans (myself included) felt that Saints Row had jumped the shark with its third installment, wherein the title gang/characters have achieved international stardom, complete with fans, merchandising and the adoration of millions as they proceeded to take over the city of Steelport.
Saints Row the Third did, in fact, jump the shark. But Saints Row IV found the monstrosity that ate that shark, shot it into space, strapped on a pair of rocket boots and jumped all the way to the moon.
The First Two Hours
Sean: In the first two hours of Grand Theft Auto V, I have chased down a gang-banger in a train yard, got my hair cut, bought a new shirt, lost my job at a car dealership and assassinated Mark Zuckerberg on live TV. Not too bad when you’re building a story from the ground up. GTA games usually start small. They introduce the characters and the world, and this game is no exception. We meet two of the main characters in the first two hours, and the way they come together is pretty gleeful – it involves crashing a Hummer into a car dealership ( and explains how my character lost his job).
Beyond that, the First Two Hours don’t really involve much crime. There’s some vehicle repossession and a little angry revenge vandalism after one of the characters finds his wife in bed with her tennis coach. But Grand Theft Auto V starts small with the promise of much bigger down the line. And it definitely gets bigger. Much bigger.
Alyssa: Who are the Third Street Saints? Are they sociopathic killing machines? Or puckish rogues living a life of mirth and whimsy? Such is the question that commences Saints Row 4. Through three previous games, the Saints have transformed themselves from a ruthless street gang into beloved pop culture icons. They are rich now, powerful, influential and untouchable. Where do you go from there?
The first chapter of this game answers that question well enough: “Zero Saints Thirty.” Myself and several of my cohorts from the series’ previous games volunteer/buy my way into a special operation to kill a terrorist who’s gotten control of a nuclear weapon. The gameplay seems not only familiar at this point, but cribbed directly from games such as Call of Duty. It’s a big part of this game–not simply mimicking other games’ styles, but parodying them with no shortage of disrespect. This is a game, I should say, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and goes to great lengths to lampoon other genres.
With my trusty combat knife and silenced weapons, I fought my way through an army of terrorists and killed their leader, but not before they launched the missile directly at Washington D.C. The only way to save America, clearly, was to leap on the rocket in mid-flight and disarm it by hand. This video tells the rest:
So I saved Washington D.C. in immaculate style. What’s next? Well, I ran for the American Presidency and won. I am now the most powerful woman in the United States, with Keith David (Starred opposite Roddy Piper in They Live, voiced Goliath in Gargoyles) as my second-in-command. As President, I signed a bill entitled “Fuck Cancer,” and punched a fillibuster-threatening member of the opposing party in the face. And that’s when the Aliens attacked and started abducting other Saints Members.
I fought my way through the alien troops inside the Capitol Building, and made my way onto the lawn where I apparently had a gigantic flak-gun installed, just in case. I hopped in the gunners seat, and was about halfway through shooting down all of the flying saucers when I realised that I was playing Space Invaders:
I destroyed the enemy ships, only to be captured by the alien invasion force’s ruler. When I woke, I was in the 1950s–an era of driving safely, poofy skirts, and no swearing. Obviously, I had to escape. With the help of Kinsey, one of my associates (a computer hacker, conveniently enough), I got out what was just a virtual reality simulation, and found myself in the alien mothership. I started my escape, and Kinsey and Keith David rescued me. There, I discovered the horrible truth: The best and brightest minds of planet Earth had been abducted, and each was placed in a simulation of Steelport (the city from Saints Row 3). It would be up to me to rescue them.
The game didn’t even attempt to make this sound like something other than plot from the Matrix, but I was okay with that…
Sean: Rode a missile directly into Washington DC? Became President? Punched a Congressman? Fought off an alien invasion? Well…did you get into an argument with your shallow, shrew of a wife, then play tennis with her later that same day? I don’t think so. Probably not a drop of existentialism in Saint’s Row IV. That’s what makes Grand Theft Auto V impressive: it’s deep, often depressed, and mostly psychotic characters.
Sean: The Grand Theft Auto series has always brought its own characters to the table, but never before have they been so fully realized. GTA is able to tell a bigger and better story by creating the main characters themselves, and Franklin Clinton, Michael De Santa and Trevor Phillips are some of the best in the series so far. They are definitely some of the most complex, and that makes for great drama.
Franklin is the gang-banger on the mean streets of Los Santos, who dreams of a bigger, better and richer life. He’s sick and tired of the stereotypical world he inhabits, and when he hooks up with Michael and Trevor, he realizes that his dreams might just come true. Franklin represents the traditional rags-to-riches GTA character, like CJ Johnson from GTA: San Andreas. Michael is a former crook who long ago made a corrupt deal with the feds to go into unofficial witness protection. He’s living a boring rich life in Los Santos, with a wife and kids who hate him, but nothing to do in his retirement to take his mind off his troubles – except maybe getting back into a life of crime. Michael represents the more storied GTA characters, like Niko Bellic or Tommy Vercetti.
And then there’s Trevor.
Trevor is a maniac in the purest sense of the word. A former companion of Michael’s from back in his criminal days, Trevor is a psychopathic murder and meth-dealer who gets pushed to his angry edge when he finds out his old buddy is still alive and is once again pulling jobs. Trevor represents the wild insanity that all GTA players eventually succumb to when we cut loose and go on car chases, murder sprees or when we see how many grenades we can throw around before we reach the 6-star wanted level. Trevor is us at our absolute worst.
There’s also a more academic understanding of the characters as representations of the id, the ego and the super ego, but my book-learnin’ didn’t go that far.
Alyssa: You start Saints Row 4 in full body armour, wearing a helmet that hides your face as you fight terrorist forces. Kinsey, your intelligence/computer expert, notably refers to you in gender-neutral terms as you play through the introduction. It doesn’t stay that way.
After you’ve completed the game’s prologue, and become President of the United States, you’re given several templates from which to choose for your character, then given the opportunity to alter every single aspect of that template until your badass-in-chief is just the way you want him or her. In Saints Row IV, you are the character, with one of the best create-a-character systems in all of gaming.
Supporting characters, such as Kinsey, Keith David, and the rest of your gang, are mostly auxiliary. In a way, I could say that they only exist to aid you in whatever mission you’re trying to accomplish, or to progress the game’s storyline (at one point, Kinsey is nearly killed, fueling your desire for revenge). Everyone’s interests are tied to your own. It would be sociopathic to say that the only purpose of your gang’s existence is the simple fact that you need them to get what you want (to reach the story’s conclusion), but that’s sort of the point. The game makes it a point to remind you at every turn what a violent sociopath you are.
Even so, the characters are fun, the dialogue between them is almost always hilarious, and although your individual gang members aren’t the most memorable crew in gang-dom, they feel like real, legitimate comrades. Especially when you ring them up to provide support while you’re on a mission.
Sean: GTA V has create-a-character too, but only in the Online Multiplayer, and that works for me. They’re mute and don’t utter a word, but they’re just as handy with a combat shotgun as the main characters. Plus GTA even went so far as to give the online multiplayer a few storylines of its own. The servers may have been messed up for the first few days, but once GTA straightened everything out, the multiplayer has been a blast.
And virtual Sean looks much better in a badass suit and tie than the real Sean, let me tell you.
The Best Part
Alyssa: The game. This might seem a bit general, but it’s the only way that I can describe it. Everything seems perfectly timed, especially the game’s humour. The game goes in multiple directions as you progress, from a side-scrolling beat-em-up portion called “Saints of Rage” to the epic journey through the alien mothership to face the alien overlord. The one portion that stays in my memory as being truly epic is free-falling through the ship’s upper level through a large shaft to reach the emperor’s throne room. All while Stanley Bush’s “You’ve Got the Touch” plays in the background.
The alien emperor says to you through your communicator, “You can come for me, but you don’t stand a chance.”
Your reply: “One shall stand, and one shall fall.”
This game loves pop-culture references, and it knows its audience. Saints Row IV laughs in the face of common sense or plot structure, and simply offers fun at every turn.
Sean: The heists, by far. Grand, movie-caliber heists are the corner stone of Grand Theft Auto V, pitting all three main characters and their team of crooks against seemingly unbeatable scores. The smaller missions are fine throughout the game, but when you finally get to one of the big heists, everything else is put in its place. And not just because these are the biggest, baddest, toughest missions. It’s the little things that truly make the heists stand-out. From the preparation missions that have you gathering necessarily supplies beforehand, to the fun of picking your team from a pool of colorful characters you may or may not have met on your travels. (I especially enjoyed hiring Packie McReary from GTA 4 to be my gunman on several occasions).
And since most missions in the game don’t give you a cent, it’s the heists where you make the mad cheddar (as kids are wont to say these days). You watch in real time as your loot count goes up, and your actions effect how much money you take away from each heist. Then when you’re fleeing the cops, you lose a little every time you’re hit or crash your car, so you’ve got to be careful. The heists are action-packed and full of character and personality, and at the end, you get a ton of moolah! What more could you want from a video game mission? I only wish the game had more of them!
Alyssa: Paul, the skyscraper-sized energy-drink. I can’t say it’s the destructor I would have chosen, but there it is. One of your gang-members, Pierce, named it.
In one version of the simulation, after you’ve gotten superpowers, you’re forced to fight Paul (Fighting him with a rocket launcher while screaming, “Fuck you, Paul!!” is hilarious). The fight takes you on a helicopter ride to the game’s version of the Statue of Liberty, which is a skyscraper-sized statue of a steelworker. You hop in, and by whatever means, you pilot it in a giant battle with Paul where only one giant person will survive.
Sean: This is a tough one, because I wouldn’t say GTA V is very ‘crazy’. Obviously players can create their own insanity, with massive police chases, shootouts and off-road races, but that’s up to the players themselves. The game takes itself very seriously. The heists are very structured and detailed, and even the smaller missions are grounded in reality. But that’s why the game gave us Trevor Phillips: to live out the wild, awesome stunts we all wish we could do in real life. Trevor, like I said above, represents the player cutting loose. At one point, he rides a dirt bike onto the top of a speeding train, then you have to keep riding down the length of the moving train to the engine. I wish the game had gone a bit further and let you drive the train, but for some reason, they didn’t make trains driveable in GTA V. It would have been sweet to pilot it myself, rather than just watching a cinematic of Trevor crashing the train head-on into another one – but it was still fun to watch.
Beyond that mission, there’s the one where Trevor pilots a crop duster into the open bay doors of a military aircraft, shoots his way to the cock pit, then has to jump back out those same bay doors when he’s shot down. That was a lot of aerial craziness for a psychopath in a dirty T-shirt. But other than that, GTA V keeps things pretty grounded in reality, for better or for worse.
Sean: Speaking of worse, there aren’t enough heists, simple as that. They’re the best part of the game, they were heavily advertised before launch, but there’s only maybe four or five actual heists over the course of the game. I wanted more, dammit! I wanted to put my crew members to better use, and have a real Ocean’s Eleven style team walking the mean streets of Los Santos. Hopefully I’ll be able to build up that kind of badassery in the online mode.
As for legitimate gripes about the game, I don’t have many. Any problems I’ve had with earlier GTA games have been solved. I’ve got nothing bad to say about the driving, shooting, killing or general tomfoolery. They fixed the money problem by giving us tons of things to buy, from clothing to property to expensive luxury cars. Some of the side missions, like searching for alien spaceship parts, submarine wreckage or toxic waste, can feel a little tedious, but they are completely optional. I’m a little disappointed that the game never made use of everything they put into their world. They created a fully functional military base, but you never set foot on it over the course of the story. Likewise, they talk about the prison a lot, but you never have to break into or out of the big, sprawling prison complex out in Blaine County. Those feel like wasted opportunities.
I also couldn’t get my hands on an Impotent Rage superhero costume. That was a grave disappointment.
But these are all minor problems because the single player for GTA V is pretty darn perfect. So it’s a shame that the Online Multiplayer was so broken at the start. I couldn’t play for nearly five days due to broken servers. Some people were getting on, but apparently I was one of the unlucky ones. Then once GTA fixed the problem, apparently a new one arose when thousands of players randomly had their characters and progress deleted without warning. That’s kind of a big deal, GTA. I dodged that bullet, though, and I finally earned enough money to buy a nice apartment – only to realize how limited the Online mode really is. Races, deathmatches and a few other standard multiplayer games; there’s a lot to do, but in the end, it’s all the same.
Speaking of things being the same…
Alyssa: Steelport. While it’s a sandbox-style environment, the city never changes. Throughout the game, the sun never rises over the Steelport simulation. It is always dark, or dusk, or twilight depending on which area of the city you’re in, but the sun never shines. The lack of diversity in the environment can make things monotonous after a point. Not so much so that it makes the game unplayable, but it still feels like a step down from the game’s predecessors.
Sean: You should experience one of Grand Theft Auto V’s thunderstorms and sunsets. They’re both fantastic.
Odds & Ends
Alyssa: Saints Row gives you freedom. It gives you super powers ranging from heat and ice blasts, super speed, super-jumping, telekinesis and more. In the sort of game where you have to steal or own cars to get around a massive cityscape, now you can do it on your own, traversing the entire city in a matter of minutes with leaps and sprints, moving so fast that motorcars are knocked off of the road in your wake.
What this game lacks in graphical amazements, it makes up for in pure gameplay. But that aside, the majority of the fun comes from the game’s dialogue, and the way all things and parts of the game are presented to the player. The timing, as I’ve said, and the delivery are brilliant. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, and it doesn’t ask you to, either. It genuinely just wants you to have fun. And you will.
Sean: Super powers? I can’t compete with those, unless you count the ‘super jump’ and ‘super speed’ cheat codes. But who needs super-powers when you’ve got the Republican Space Rangers? I said before that it’s the little things that matter, and in Grand Theft Auto V, there are so many little things! To create full, total immersion, GTA V has things like back sweat, high beams, discarded shopping carts, rats, and flip-flops that actually flop! The amount of detail in the game world is unlike anything any of us have ever seen before in gaming, and it’s a thing of beauty.
The radio stations are all perfect, especially the scripted talk shows with their usual hilarity. The vehicles are varied and fun to drive. The animation and character handling is amazing. The very physics of people interaction are perfect. You can bump into people on the street, you can push them over, you can insult them, and if you get into an accident nearby, they’ll whip out their smart phones and start taking pictures.
And then you can run up to them and punch them so hard that their phones go flying out of their hands. It’s great.
Alyssa: Saints Row IV is a sandbox-cityscape, similar to the one created for Grand Theft Auto V. It has the same basic rules: Rules like gravity. What you must learn is that these rules are no different than any other video game. In Saints Row IV, some can be bent. Others can be broken.
Whereas GTA is the hyperrealistic gangland epic that the world has been waiting for, Saints is its whimsical counterpart. Saints Row doesn’t bog you down with complex, winding backstories or entire missions dedicated to washing the dishes or taking your rubbish out to the corner. The game gets straight to the point, and lets you do exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it.
Is it worthy of the blockbuster status that GTA has? No. But will people remember the Saints after this final, epic installment in a franchise that began seven years and four games ago? No one who’s ever played Saints Row 2, 3 or 4 will ever forget them.
Sean: You said it yourself, Grand Theft Auto is a blockbuster. I’m glad the people behind Saints Row have found their own niche,but they started as a GTA knock-off, and they will always be that knock-off. They didn’t even bother to make a new city this time around. Though don’t get me wrong, I would love to have access to super-powers in Los Santos.
But that’s OK. Super-powers are a luxury in a game like this. Grand Theft Auto V delivers everything else a good gamer needs: story, character, gameplay and a riveting sense that you are on the ride of a lifetime. This series has been breaking down barriers and redefining the genre for years now, and every time they put out a new game, it’s better and more amazing than the last one. GTA V is the kind of game you don’t trade-in. It’s the kind of game that stays near your machine at all times, just waiting for you to pop it back in to take your Banshee for a spin.
It’s the kind of game that’s still fun to play even after the story is over, because it’s just so much fun to exist in its game world.
Alyssa: Saints Row started as a GTA knock-off, but if you ask any gamer to choose between the classic Saints Row 2 and Grand Theft Auto 4, you might be surprised by their replies. Saints Row, starting with the second installment, became a creature all its own, with more fun and better coop multiplayer than anything Grand Theft Auto had even attempted up to that point. GTA is ice cream. Saints Row is ice cream with sprinkles. But was the extreme twist in the game’s story too much?
I agree that GTA is the original. I’ve never played the fifth installment, so it could be even better than Saints Row. But in Saints Row IV, you’re the president of America. And you have superpowers that you use to fight aliens. Compared to the epic story and realistic physics of Grand Theft Auto, the comparison isn’t quite as close as it once was.
Sean: You give me a super-powered president, I’ll give you psychotic meth-dealer with a penchant for helicopters and older women. I think it’s safe to say both games have their charms.
Alyssa: This is a simple choice. Take the red pill, or the blue one. Whatever you choose, you’ll be glad you did.