[NSFW] GTA and Saint’s Row Compared

Can't we all just get along?

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Not exactly heaven...We were all going direct to heaven.

Better to rule below than serve above?We were all going direct the other way.

In 2004, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was released. It was a semi-sequel to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, still using that same graphics and gameplay engine, except for the addition of a minor amount of customization and some territory grabbing features. These features didn’t carry over into Grand Theft Auto IV‘s main gameplay, and that probably didn’t hurt the game’s critical reception any. By the time its third installment came out, Grand Theft Auto was billing itself as a game with story, and its reputation as a sandbox game began to exist alongside the stories it would tell. Thus, it was not a big deal to never visit features presented in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas again. However, where one developer saw nothing, another developer saw a potential to thrive.

 Looking like Goku, looking like Piccolo, looking like animeRobust character customization has been a hallmark of the Saint’s Row series.

In 2006, Volition, Inc and THQ released Saint’s Row, an open world adventure game similar to the Grand Theft Auto series. You play a youth caught in the crossfire between gang warfare, and you’re rescued by a local vigilante gang determined to clean up the city you live in. Joining this gang puts you in various criminal positions, and eventually leaves you dead in the water. It looks like a chopped up clone of Grand Theft Auto, just with all the serials filed off and a different coat of paint. However, it featurs a fully customizable main character as well as customizable vehicles, and quests focused around securing territory in the city from other gangs. It felt like a lot of the features that were in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas found their way into Saint’s Row somehow, and this seemed to help the game carve a niche for itself with the Grand Theft Auto shark swimming in the sandbox adventure waters. It was largely met with positive reviews, and the fifth installment was recently released.

For being such similar games, the two series have actually developed largely independent of each other. Grand Theft Auto still focuses on telling a story over bringing the player into the game. Saint’s Row, on the other hand realized they didn’t have much separating themselves from Grand Theft Auto and went a different route. Still customizable, they added even more to the game. Big-name voice actors played the series protagonist in the second game, more customization was added, and the series gained something iconic in the second entry. Grand Theft Auto told dramatic stories about criminals and the world they live in, aiming to emulate classics like The Godfather and Scarface while still providing light-hearted fun. Saint’s Row became something different: The stories told in this series had dramatic tones to them, but they focused more on being over the top and silly.

Grand Theft Auto being dramatic and serious. Video NSFW.

Saint’s Row being silly and lighthearted

Really, the two games are entirely different experiences—if not in gameplay, then in the stories they tell and the worlds they present. Saint’s Row ends up playing more like a super hero game, telling stories you’d see in crime-based pulp media and being larger than life. Grand Theft Auto tries to be more like your gritty criminal dramas, telling stories focusing on more realistic characters in a more realistic world. They appeal to two different crowds, and truly the two do not compete. Both have their dedicated fan bases, and while Saint’s Row doesn’t have the mass appeal of Grand Theft Auto, the developer somehow survived the bankruptcy of their publisher and continues to thrive.

Initially appearing as A Tale of Two Cities, these similar-appearing games turn out to be worlds apart from each other. Both are big-budget, mainstream titles that receive huge amounts of media coverage. Both have spanned multiple console generations and multiple platforms. Of course, the best part of it is you can play both of them. In short, these games are so far unlike each other, that despite how some of the noisiest authorities insist upon them being received, for good or evil, they should be without the degrees of comparison.

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About the Contributor


From 2013 to 2018

Obviously, I'm Robyn. I'm nonbinary/gender neutral(my pronouns are xe/hir), into videogames, and other stuff. Somehow I found myself on this corner of the internet. I hope we all can be friends and have a good year together at this school!

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