After I posted my Saints Row 3 review, EB and I continued playing the campaign. I’d already made up my mind that the story was a thin excuse for stuff blowing up left and right, and I said so in my review of the game. A good third of the campaign missions are just side missions with a bit of window dressing, and what little story there is can be summed up by “that guy is doing bad things to us, so he must die in the worst way possible.”
EB bitched me out for my characterization of the story, especially since it turned out that the campaign mode lasted a bit longer than either of us expected. I stood by my assessment though, although I didn’t really have that much in the way of justification for my stance. I was thinking about iconic moments in games recently though, and one stood out that makes a good contrast to Saints Row 3.
Fallout: New Vegas is a game that reminds me of land mines. There are certainly literal land mines in it, and I ran afoul of them many a time in my adventure, usually losing a limb in the process. Luckily, limbs have a way of growing back pretty easily in the Fallout series. But I think of land mines when I think of New Vegas because it’s super buggy – playing with a guide is almost required, lest you veer slightly off course and end up glitching your way into an unplayable save.
Beyond its proclivity for surprising me by self destructing itself, there’s a few things about the story that really just stand out when I think about the game. At times, you’re given choices. At one key point in the game, the faction you’re working with will task you with investigating certain threats to their dominance over the New Vegas region. One of these threats is the Boomers – a group of reclusive, artillery wielding folk shacked up at an abandoned airbase. You can choose to bluff and tell your boss they’re no threat, or you can choose to go and attempt to wipe them all out. Alternatively, you can try to gain their trust and convince them not to interfere.
However, if you gain their trust well enough, they’ll let you in on a secret – they’re descendants of the bomber crews that used to work out of the airbase, and they’ve secretly been training to fly bombers themselves. All they have is simulations, and a legend that at the bottom of a nearby lake there is an ancient plane, the last of its kind, preserved and unmolested through the apocalypse and the intervening collapse of society.
If you succeed in the entire quest line, you can convince them to use their artillery to aid you in the final battle at Hoover Dam. As you lead your allies into the fray, they’ll periodically shell the enemy forces and help you push them back. It’s a pitched battle, and every little advantage helps, even if the odds seem insurmountable. If you did everything just right, when you get about halfway across the dam, a dark shadow obscures your view as a deep rumble shakes the dam to its very core. The work of hours of sidequests pays off, and the Boomers manage to make one last bomb run, obliterating your enemies for great justice.
When this happened, I just wanted to jump up and yell – the hard-fought victory and the “long odds against them last minute allies” felt like a momentous reward for all the quests I’d had to do to make it happen.
Contrast this with a somewhat similar scene in Saints Row 3. The enemy is assaulting your home base, and you’re armed to the teeth, with almost all of the supporting cast backing you up. Things are looking somewhat grim, (I guess? I had near infinite rocket launcher ammo and they really weren’t doing that much to damage me…) when Pierce arrives to save the day. He hands you a gun that lets you call in airstrikes, and it’s got infinite ammo. As if you couldn’t already just obliterate the enemies with the rocket launcher, now you can call in a relatively small area of effect bombing strike.
Problem was, I didn’t really need the help, I didn’t do anything to deserve it, and I really couldn’t have given a crap if Pierce survived to bring me the target locator. I didn’t care about the building; the base was one of about 6 that I owned, and it wasn’t generally the most convenient. Despite the fact that my allies had said repeatedly that they had cleared the hideout out and STAG knew about it, it still seemed as active and populated as ever just before the assault, and afterwards it was still business as normal.
The game occasionally gives you choices, but they’re so inconsequential that they might as well not even be there. I don’t really consider this paper-thin story (seriously, I’m not sure I’d want to use it as a tissue) or the lack of real choice to be a huge detriment to Saints Row 3. Saints Row 3 is about huge, crazy spectacles and throwaway setpieces. It’s the Transformers of video game franchises.
But seriously man, in case you didn’t catch my point here, the story sucks.