Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Saints Row 3 is about the War on Terror... and you play as the terrorists

at 2:30 PM
It's not that strange a premise for a game, I suppose. Then again, it is a strange premise for a comedy sex game. Saints Row: The Third is an unabashedly stupid game, there's no doubt about that. It just doesn't realize quite how stupid it is. And it would be kinda funny to see, for instance, a U.S. Iraq War veteran play the latter half of the game. It wouldn't actually be funny, because the game is so busy making stupid unfunny yolks about how WEIRD sex is and how CRAZY it is to be gay and how COOL it is to shoot someone in the dick that you don't really notice what's going on unless you're the kind of person who stops for a second to say "hey. what's going on?"

It's actually just now that I'm remembering, and this really lends a massive heaping of credence to my theory, that the Red Faction games are overtly about joining a terrorist cell and taking down the military.
I thought it was ill-justified and kind of politically despicable in those games, but hey, that's most video game stories for you. Didn't really bat an eyelash. Sad to see it peddled to teenagers, but smart teenagers will figure out what's going on anyway, and dumb teenagers will be impressioned by something else dumb sooner or later. Why accuse some idiot game devs of being idiots? They made a fun game, they get a pass.

FOR NOW.

The premise of Row 3 is that the Saints are an Ivy League crew club that go a little overboard after winning the World Crew Cup, deciding it's time for them to take over Fake City. I wish that was the premise. It's actually that you're a member of a purple-themed gang, and despite the fact that literally thousands of people are dying left and right in this lightly futuristic open gang war, you get pissed off that your friend dies. It's not clear why. Presumably he was in Saints Row 1 or 2, and your character was a fan of those. So it's time to take it to the Red Gang, who has managed to unite the Blue and Green gangs against you. I'm not making up this color shit. It is pretty literally Power Rangers. Anyway, you have to build up the reputation of Purple Gang from scratch (dunno why, they appear to be some kind of Disney-level mega-corporation with their own department stores and television channels and record labels), such that you can be strong enough to kill Red Gang (sigh, whatever), then you move on to Blue and eventually Green. That's all so preposterous that I kinda liked it. The gangs have goofy themes like cyber-ninjas and luchadore-commandos and it's got an, I dunno, Running Man kinda feel?

At some point Sarah Palin shows up and says "wow, this gang shit is getting out of hand. We need a military crackdown here". I don't know why this had to happen, or why it had to be played as a mockery of right-wing politics, because if gangs were literally patrolling the streets in tanks, the military would be exactly the most sensible and desirable solution. People would be demanding it! It's not like "everything was going just fine until these jarhead assholes showed up!" It was anarchy approaching apocalypse. And that was fine! I was enjoying that! Taking a ridiculously fantastical situation (color-gang wars) and introducing what would be the level-headed and logical result (martial law) ruins the fun - especially if you're going to sit there and act like martial law wasn't the natural resolution. So now we're left with an anarchic organization trying to establish street-level power through violence (player-side Purple Gang) and an invading military force attempting to reimpose order with the declared purpose of reestablishing peace. So the player is Al Qaeda in Baghdad fighting against the US military? That's a little awkward, especially considering the game's hesitance to acknowledge it.

It's funny that now I know I can go to Volition games if I want to play out juvenile terrorist fantasies about wanton murder and oppressing a populace through random acts of destruction and violence. There's apparently a market for that! What disappoints me is that they don't embrace the evil spirit of it all. It would be genuinely harmless fun, completely removed from reality if they just let the fantasy run wild, let it be destruction for destruction's sake. Make the protagonist someone like M. Bison or Carnage. Instead, Volition thinks the player will better be able to connect to nuking an entire city of innocent people if their character seems 'honorable' and the villains seem 'mean'. It's okay to drive a tank over a baby, as long as you're using that tank to shoot at someone who betrayed your best friend (who was also a psychopathic murdering asshole but honor, dude)!
I'm arbitrarily peppering in screenshots here. I have no images to help illustrate my point.
It's certainly a case of show-me-don't-tell-me, where what the characters seem to think is happening is not what is actually happening, and we're apparently supposed to be as ignorant as they are. This creates an irksome disconnect, making it more difficult to enjoy the rampant destruction. If the game is going to ask me to murder hundreds of soldiers whose only sin is trying to stymie the highest domestic death toll since the Civil War, could it at least not patronize me along the way? The "saintly" portrayal of our protagonists as a bunch of comic goofballs "just tryin' to have a good time" undermines my own good-time-rampage, not to mention it gives the game a weird pro-capitalism cultist propaganda vibe (that Red Faction: Guerrilla bore as well). I'm all for, you know, fightin' the man. I don't need society. But I feel like if the DKs had done a video game in 1981 instead of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, it would have been a bit smarter than this.

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