Monday, May 16

The Skin-Deep Doctrine

Saint's Row was an essential title for those trying to avoid the post-launch blues with the Xbox 360. Filling the sandbox action void on Microsoft's new console would ensure some haphazard consumers would purchase the game regardless of acclaim; however it managed to be a good enough game in its own right to earn a place in many gamers' collections and as well as make a sequel inevitable. There were even some elements in this Grand Theft Auto Too that Rockstar had not thought - or not been able - to implement previously. These were in the form of the relatively minor free-aim shooting while driving, to the time-consuming and surprisingly-addictive multiplayer component that offered both co-op and competitive play.

Upon hearing that said inevitable sequel would be making its way to all major "next-gen," platforms, I was relieved to read that I could enjoy GTA's foul-mouthed cousin on my Playstation 3 (this was after my first 360 had succumb to the Red Ring of Death, and I had vowed never to purchase Microsoft's second console again; never only turned out to be five months). I even went as far as to pre-order Saint's Row 2; confident that Volition's second effort would be just as puerile and hilarious as the first.

Oh how wrong I was.

Sure the vulgarity and violence were there, but the fun was not. After Grand Theft Auto IV's triumphant arrival, Saint's Row 2 felt unpolished, rough. It was ugly. I could still free-aim while driving, but I didn't care. There was no Niko, no Little Jacob, and most importantly, no Liberty City. For those of you residing in Brisbane: Stillwater was Lutwyche compared to Liberty City, which was as lively and memorable as Melbourne. Within hours I was walking back to my local retailer to demand my money back.

Years later, my brother pleaded that I re-engage with the title; insisting that it would play better than I remembered. Sorry Rubes, you were wrong. Years later, Stillwater is just as ugly and lifeless as I remembered it to be. No longer Lutwyche, now as dark and as desperate as Zillmere. Even more blemishes became apparent after having played so many more visually-magnificent games since 2008.

The following is a rant about my feelings toward the Australian Government's baffling games classification system, and is not really related to the original intent of this article. Still, if you'd like to read about some questionable decision-making then please, read on!

Some of the themes encountered were abhorrent as well. To the point where you seriously have to question the criteria for games classification in Australia if a game like this gets released, and another like Mortal Kombat is refused classification. Sure MK is far more violent, but allow for me to share with you an early mission from Saint's Row 2.

The player character's gang needs a new base of operations, so you are then tasked with cleaning out a dilapidated church which is home to a rival group and a portion of Stillwater's homeless. After dispatching the resident members of the Sons of Samedi, you are then asked to destroy the makeshift shanty town the homeless had set up inside the structure. You're even asked to throw these people at their homes to destroy them quickly. It gets worse. Finally, you need to kill the remaining hobos to claim this turf as your own.

Moments before this gang-banger's innocence is lost forever

After this ritual slaughter, you're treated to a cut scene depicting your user-made hero and his old friend stacking the bodies of the freshly slain. One even has the gall to complain that the clean-up duties should be delegated to some fresh recruits. After killing thirty-something innocent, disadvantaged people I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of apathy. After my willingness to murder Stillwater's most downtrodden inhabitants, would it matter if I ran down a couple hundred pedestrians whilst commuting between mission objectives? Apparently not. With no sense of consequence or moral compass, nothing I did mattered; whether that included spraying raw sewage across the city or accidentally shooting a few civilians while engaged in a firefight with rival gangs. This I would argue, is behaviour that is in direct contravention of Australia's classification code; as the violence I rendered in game would offend against the "standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults," (ComLaw, 2005:

The OFLC sure have made some crappy decisions

Now let's compare this to Mortal Kombat which pits up to four "kombatants," against each other in a fight to the death. Players can defend themselves against their opponents with a variety of devastating and ultra-violent moves. Pretty much anything that I've seen in the demo (which you can download by creating a US Playstation Network account, once the bastard is live again) is violent beyond the confines of reality and - while not suitable for minors - was nowhere near as traumatic and dehumanizing as my experience with Saint's Row 2. Maybe the Office of Film and Literature Classification needs to look a little deeper than the viscera shown on screen. In MK you partake in ridiculously violent fisticuffs for the purpose of self-preservation. Saint's Row 2 tasks players with killing those that have already hit the bottom, and are unable to help themselves back to health and prosperity. I know which game that I would prefer to have in the hands of Australia's gaming community.

"Honestly sir, he was coming at me with a weapon!" 

End rant. I dare say it was a result of playing Saint's Row 2 for longer than I should have. On the bright side, the game's soundtrack does feature tracks from both Mastodon and the Dillinger Escape Plan, so it's not all bad. Let's return to the topic I had originally intended to address.

Appalled at what I had seen and heard across an hour of broken play, I decided to trial the developer's impending effort, Red Faction: Armageddon. While at first the familiar palette of red and brown was unappealing, my opinion quickly changed upon first using the game's most striking ability: players can now repair all of the destruction they cause.

No longer would a fallen staircase impede my ascension towards an objective. Further to that, any reckless rocket fire could now be forgiven with the touch of a button.

I didn't get to see its application in firefights - say where you could repair a surface that previously provided cover - but the potential is strong to say the least. My only fear is that the experience will be reduced to dispatching hordes of multicoloured demons as seen for the majority of the demo. I sincerely hope that the final release offers more than tense, though uninspired encounters with Mars' dangerous faunae. 

Did anyone else find the early stages of Saint's Row 2 as objectionable as I did? What about your thoughts on the Red Faction: Armageddon demo?

1. Comlaw (2005). National Classification Code, Visited 15/05/11.


  1. I never played the Saints Row Series, purely because it straight ripped off GTA.

    My comments here pertain to your description of GTA IV, and why SRII didn't match up. No Niko, no Little Jacob, no Liberty City.

    I have to disagree on the first. I will be happy when the next GTA comes out and it doesn't feature Niko. Seriously, he had to be the worst GTA lead character out of the series. One minute he says he doesn't want violence, the next he is mowing down row after row of cops? Where is the sense in that?

    And the entire, and I mean entire, side cast pissed me off, but none more so than Roman. I just wanted to shoot him the first time I saw him.

    Liberty City was amazing though. The textures, the detail, it was truly beautiful, pity the characters they had populating it were just down right terrible. San Andreas, Vice City and GTA III were far better games.

  2. I enjoyed GTA III more than the other the PS2 instalments, but it was severely lacking in the character department; this was not only because the main character didn't speak, most cast members were genuinely unlikable. GTA III is essential because of its scale and interactivity: it was so far ahead of anything previously seen in the sandbox action game field.

    Vice City was fun, but like the 80s it was all about excess. Very little substance beneath the multiple homicides and cocaine-snorting politicians.

    San Andreas was a massive expanse and was populated with many memorable characters and locations; I never finished it though. This was on account of me never coming to grips with flight. I couldn't get through the mission where you had to fly under the radar.

    GTA IV is the best instalment without a doubt. Infinitely replayable and charming. Sure Roman was annoying, but I actually enjoyed most of his dialogue - cheesy as it was. Brucie, Little Jacob and Packie were also brilliant support characters who were genuinely endearing. As for Niko's hypocrisy: surely you can look past that one line, Sambo. Ultimately I came to realise that Niko's quest to find meaning in life put every cop killed into perspective. He had done worse than that in his past, and often hints at him believing that he is past the point where he can be redeemed. Niko is my favourite Rockstar character, full stop (if I end this sentence with a full stop, does that mean this is full stop squared?). Liberty City is also my most favoured interactive space.

  3. Ok firstly I never said Saints Row 2 was good. I said it was Hilarious because of how ridiculous and stupid it is.

    I have been having a great time just massacring randoms and doing ridiculous side missions. Lets all learn to look past flaws and have a good time. Seriously I think calling Stillwater - Zillmere is a compliiment considering what the game is.

    On a side note I am enjoying Asshat Creed 2 this time around. I have lloked past my racial prejudices and embraced what I was meant to do, run and kill people. I am eagerly awaiting Asshat Brotherhood.

    Mortal Kombat was shipped today buddy - Happy Birthday.

  4. Where'd you get that from bro?

    Also, on the topic of GTA IV being the best GTA, I disagree entirely. While agree Liberty City (as in the actual City itself) was amazing, San Andreas, as a "world" was far more exciting, with more to do and explore.

    The onyl support character I liked out of IV was Packie, and would have rather game be about him than Niko. On the topic of Niko, the choices made in the game had no bearing on his attitude to life. honestly, if he thought he was that far beyond retribution and actually cared about it, wouldn't he just top himself?

  5. Is anyone looking forward to LA Noire?

  6. I think I will pick it up, but not right now. It sounds really innovative, but I am slightly worried about repeatitiveness.

  7. I'm getting LA Noire. Word on the street is: "It good mang."

    Sambo, there are plenty of people out there who have done horrible things who haven't killed themselves. Depending on the choices you make, you notice a change in the city itslef. Like in the random encounters you can have with citizens. If you spare the life of the guy in the projects, you run into him later and he tries to kill you. He's got a gun now, and as far as he is concerned you should have pulled the trigger; because he would have (and now does) if your roles were reversed.

    Also, I completely disagree with the assertion that Niko doesn't change his outlook either. What about his bright musings upon starting the relationship with Kate? What about his reflections on his past life after sparing the life of the traitor? If you play the good guy, you get plenty out of Niko. There are some inconsistencies, but there are in every game.

  8. I just didn't see it. Sure, he was talking, but does he really change his ways at all during the game? he continues to put himself in these situations where he has to do the things he apparently doesn't want to anymore.

    At least with previous GTAs, the main protaganist wasn't trying to be something they weren't. Carl knew exactly what he was doing was wrong, but he did it because of circumstance (which is a very real issue and is relatable).

    And the thing about Niko was used as an extreme. He seems as though he hates himself enough as it is when he arrives in Liberty City, after murdering the huge number of people that he does, all the while saying he doesn't want this life, would drive him to an extreme action.

    And randoms wanting to shoot me know that I let live earlier isn't a change in his attitude. It is a consequence of a choice.

  9. So what you're saying is, you'd prefer GTA IV to be a dating simulator with no violent content whatsoever. It's the trappings of a series and a genre built around violence on a massive scale.

    Can you think of a single GTA where your kill count didn't hit the thousands? We shouldn't be able to relate to any of these characters, but we do. For me, I like GTA protagonists because they want to change. Not because they do, that would mean no fun.

  10. I don't want it to be a dating sim, but I would mind some kind of outcome from decisions made on a story basis. And I have no issue with the kill count hitting a thousand.

    MY point there is that Niko wasn't a good protagonist for the GTA series because of how he was portrayed and how the storyline progressed. The story was contradicted by how Niko was portrayed.

    And you can have GTA protagonist evolve throughout the course of the game and maintain it's "fun" levels.

    Also, we still good for next weekend?! Pumped bro, so very very pumped!

  11. Still good for next weekend brosef. Very much looking forward to it.