Saints Row the Third and Why I Can’t Play GTA

As of this writing I’ve played about four hours of Saints Row: the Third – a game I resisted for a while, overlooking it as another Grand Theft Auto clone. Now I find that I’m acclimating to the game much more easily than I ever have GTA.

It’s pretty much due to what everyone has told me is Saints Row’s main selling point – how it focuses more purely on the “fun” than GTA does. This has definitely worked for me, but not for the same reason it might work for everyone else. This game get’s at a core reason why I’ve had a lot of difficulty with GTA.

Simply put, I am a terrible GTA-player. For some reason the game’s mechanics just don’t fit me well at all. I could talk about how much I hate the controls, but I think it’s largely due to the varying focuses seemingly pulling each GTA game apart.

The first game in that franchise I actually played was San Andreas, and despite understanding how most people play GTA to reign chaos and destruction on its virtual cities, I mainly got pulled into this game for the setting and characters. Rockstar does such a good job with its cut scenes, characters, voice acting, and backdrops that I felt much invested in the main plot of the game – the part most GTA fans seem to love to ignore.

The game itself seems to want me to ignore that too. A big reason why I have a hard time with GTA is because it’s very difficult to laser-focus on a single task while playing. It wants you to play chaotically and organically, blowing up people and getting into trouble wherever you go, instead of strictly following the main quest. Because of GTA’s controls (and a few other features) I find it hard to get invested in all that and just end up fighting against the game itself much of the time.

Many fans seem to levy similar, but perhaps opposite complaints on GTAIV, a game that focuses more in its story and reigns back the chaos a bit. The chaos is still there which damages the plausibility of a story Rockstar chooses to push so much. I know most people criticize this because the increased story focus makes parts of GTAIV too linear, but in my experience it has made the game slightly more playable than San Andreas, if still pretty annoying at times.

Enter Saints Row which just decides to cut out the serious story and make a game about the part of GTA that everyone else actually cares about, and in my opinion it handles that part of the game better than GTA too. I started to realize this when engaged in Third’s experience system and collection of perks. That alone gives Third far more carrot sticks to keep me playing than GTA.

What I like the most though is how straightforward quests and activities in Third feel. One of the reasons I can’t play GTA is because half the time I’m on the way to do something I’ll accidentally hit someone or something in sight of the police and have to waste time removing my notoriety before I can start a mission or complete an objective during a mission – if I don’t get killed because of my notoriety and have to start over with all my armor and ammo gone.

Having missions completely disregard your notoriety may be a small element of Third, but it makes a huge difference for me. It might not be plausible enough for the world of GTA, and the same goes for keeping all your guns after respawning, but Third realizes that people don’t play these games for realism anyway.

This is why, so far, my favorite open-world games this generation have been Red Faction Guerrilla and Assassin’s Creed II. Those two games each focus on polar opposite sides of a formula, and each one does its job very well as a result.

Guerrilla is mainly about blowing things up. There’s a story there, but that story is mostly about blowing things up. In most cases the missions don’t even specify HOW you blow something up, just that you do it. It’s that freedom along with the game’s unique procedural destruction engine that set it apart.

On the flipside, Assassin’s Creed II puts a lot of effort into its setting with very little incentive wreak havoc on it outside of missions. A large reason why I found myself invested in the settings and characters in the series is because the Creed games make it very easy for me to access that stuff compared to GTA.

Basically what I’m saying is, for me to be able to enjoy one of these games, especially GTA, it needs to know what it is and deliberately play towards that. I’m sure that it’s possible to make a sandbox game with a great story and fun gameplay. A lot of people probably love GTA for both, but for me the whole formula just doesn’t come together in that case. Saints Row may be a game made in GTA’s shadow, but at least it has a more focused formula.


  • I still haven’t even installed that copy of Just Cause 2 I got on a Steam sale around two years ago.
  • I’ll also take this as another opportunity for anyone who plays Red Faction Guerrilla to try out the “Super Sledge” cheat. That cheat alone has ensured that I might never uninstall the game.
  • iPhone 5 Wallpaper Pack
  • What do you do every time they announce a sequel to a game you bought on Steam a year ago for $5 and never installed?
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2 thoughts on “Saints Row the Third and Why I Can’t Play GTA

  1. […] Saints Row the Third and Why I Can’t Play GTA […]

  2. […] with content. I’ve been over some of my problems with GTA compared to other open-world games in a previous post, but I’m going to focus on Rockstar’s history with controls here. All that other stuff I […]

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