I had planned to wait until the release of Watch Dogs before writing any GTA comparison articles, but with its announced delay, I’ve decided to go ahead and get this one out of the way before Saints Row 4 (SR 4) loses its prevalence. Don’t get it twisted, I thoroughly enjoy SR4 (as you’ll find out below), but it dropped an entire month before GTA 5 and we all know how much of my life GTA 5 has taken up, I can only assume it’s doing similar to other gamers.
While both games are explicitly open world and allow the player free reign over their interactions with the setting and its populous, both series have diverged greatly within their last two releases.
Take for instance GTA 4, which moved further towards realism and semi-mature POV. Saints Row 3 on the other hand decided to take the dynamics of the GTA world and blow it way out of proportion. Saints Row 3 is essentially GTA on crack, where as Saints Row 4 takes it up several notches and diverges almost completely away from resembling anything related to it. That said, it made creating a comparison a bit difficult, but I still feel it’s necessary to do.
Both GTA 5 and Saints Row 4 are Open World/Sandbox games that allow the player to explore the city as they chose. They also both provide the player with a 3rd person POV, giving both games a similar feel at first glance.
In both games, stealing of vehicles is not only encouraged but rewarded on several occasions. Add to that the fact that the police (alien enforcers in Saints Row 4) are out, not to capture, but to kill you. Maybe there’s a chance that the LSPD officers don’t kill the player when “caught”, but I’ve yet to experience an arrest yet. It would appear that whatever historical events that have transpired in both games have left the current world bitter, angry and violent.
The upswing of this is that sex and sexuality in both worlds don’t seem to be as taboo. In GTA 5 your characters can visit strip clubs and go home with a stripper. In Saints Row 4 your character is given the option to sleep with all but one of their crew mates. Add to that the overly sexualized costume options available for purchase and you’ve got one hot and steamy city overrun with violence and innuendo.
I’ve got to make one thing clear before I continue as it plays a huge factor in the games differences. While GTA 5 was planned and developed to be a long term stand-alone game with an almost reboot feel to it, SR4 was initially planned to be released as an expansion pack to SR 3. This is notable by the fact that the setting in SR 3 and 4 are the same, thus losing its ability to compare to the awe one feels when first exploring Los Santos in GTA 5. Since SR 4 takes place in a matrix like version of Steelport (a city reminiscent of New York), there are no vast mountainous views or beautiful sunsets to take in. By sticking to the same old setting, SR 4 misses out on the beauty points as there’s very little new to explore in the game. Sure, there are the Tron missions, but they hardly count.
Another difference between the two is the way each game delivers satire. In GTA, the billboards, characters, locations and dialogue mostly tend to jab at real world entities while Saints Row 4 makes passive references to other games. Both make you laugh, and both are having fun with pop culture without overly saturating the game with humor. It is odd though, GTA 5 has characters performing some truly disturbing acts, yet somehow I feel that SR 4 is darker in tone.
Of course, the major differences between GTA 5 and SR 4 are the superpowers. GTA 5 keeps players pretty closely tied to the real world, meaning that the physics are fairly close to what we’d experience here on the physical plane. SR 4 however, decides to ignore real world possibilities and lets the player run up walls, throw people and vehicles with your mind and even fly. It really is a dramatic turn away from what we all expected after playing SR 3.
The last major difference, to which I’m slightly perturbed at Rockstar over, is the lack of fully customizable characters in GTA 5. In SR 4, as with previous iterations, the player is able to design their character from physique to attitude. In GTA 5 you switch between 3 separate protagonists. While each protagonist is targeted to appeal to separate play styles, I still feel limited on options here. I really enjoy being able to create a character and let my play style reflect what I’d expect the character to do on their own. With GTA 5 I’m pretty much stuck acting like Trevor whenever the game calls for it.
Both games are absolutely great, they’re both fun to play and keep you laughing while you do, but they’re hardly comparable at this point. Prior to the release of SR 4, I’d have told anyone that Volition was going to give Rockstar a run for its money in the Sand Box category, but since SR has gone in a different direction with the Saints Row series, I don’t think they’re even in the same category anymore. If you haven’t yet played SR 4, take a break from GTA 5 (or wait till you finish) and prepare for some fun space mutant bashing, but don’t expect to spend much time ripping through the streets committing crimes and inflicting chaos.