It’s always a shame when a game company goes out of business. Still, it gives me a good idea for my first article here.
No, I’m not here to talk about company closures. That would be pretty damn grim for a first article, wouldn’t it? No, I’d like to talk about one of THQ’s final releases, Saints Row the Third (which I played recently a bit in memory of THQ), and why games like it can only keep me occupied as long as a ball in a cup would.
Saints Row the Third is a very well put together game. I would be more descriptive there, but nothing else really gets across the same vibe. It’s just so well put together. There are endless costume choices, tons of vehicles, and many diverse (and perverse) weapons to choose from. The fun should go on for days. I should be neck deep in fun by owning this game. I should be absolutely drowning in fun.
I am not drowning in fun. Games like this just have this affect on me. They offer infinite fun for a while, and then I simply get bored. There’s only so many times I can wreak havoc on an unsuspecting city population before it becomes a chore. I drop the controller, and, as it strikes the ground, I raise my hands to the heavens and scream “I. AM. BORED!” Then my neighbors file noise complaints, but that is totally beside the point.
I’d like to back up and make this clear: I am not what you would call a hardcore gamer. If a game isn’t hitting home with me within the first couple of hours, I’ll likely never play the game again. Games like Grand Theft Auto IV really fall into this category with me. Would I like to hop in the game every once in a while and wreak havoc? Sure, but if I do I have to be prepared to sit through cutscene after cutscene and mission after mission just to get to the good stuff. I can’t get myself to pick it up and sit through the intro. This happened with Persona 4 Golden, which is sitting in my Vita, relatively unplayed. It also applies to the entire GTA series, which I bought and never played.
Saints Row the Third does not fit the mold I just described. All the exposition I need is given within the first few cutscenes. Within two missions, I have a UAV that can destroy military vehicles from the sky. I can make my character completely naked and go streaking. There are so many things I could be doing, and I really think that kills the fun for me. There is no direction whatsoever. I can do whatever I want, and that’s entirely overwhelming. This isn’t a situation where I thrive. I am the type of person that seeks direction.
It seems like I’m anti-open-world in games, but I’m really not. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 3 kept my interest for hours. Minecraft is still the kind of game I can play for a week nonstop. What’s so different about these games that makes me enjoy them so much? It’s not like they’re any less open world. I could walk across Skyrim for hours and never run out of things to do or fun to have. Minecraft is actually almost infinitely open world, and yet that doesn’t bug me at all. So, why can’t I have the same fun times with Saints Row?
A sense of discovery is what sets games like Skyrim and Minecraft apart from Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. In the latter two, everything you need to discover is on the surface. There are guns and cars, so drive and shoot things. The city is just sort of a template for you to perform these actions in. The streets of San Andreas and Liberty City are exactly the same in function. If you built a GTA-style game with completely randomly generated streets, the feeling would still be the same. The streets may look different, but in the end, they’re all just streets, full of the same pedestrians to terrorize and the same cars to steal.
Skyrim’s environments should be just as tedious. After all, the entirety of Skyrim is cut-and-paste assets. Every patch of forest is just another monster to kill. However, what is in the environments makes all the difference. The land of Skyrim is packed full of new beasts to slay and new people to meet. Wandering around, there could be a new unique quest around every corner. The same goes for the Wastelands of Fallout 3. Wandering the Wastlands, you could meet anyone, ranging from a cult of vampires hidden away in the abandoned underground to a group of ghouls trying to keep themselves from being enslaved. Every interaction feels new and refreshing.
Minecraft is on the opposite side of the coin in this case. Minecraft is the definition of cut-and paste; that’s how it’s built. It’s worlds are procedurally generated based on assets in the game. Anyone can go find a list of every single block that could possibly exist in the game if they wanted to. And yet, the worlds of Minecraft hold truly infinite potential for creation. You can create machinery with complex inner circuits, or a mine cart roller coaster, or a scale model of the entire earth if your heart desires. It’s only limited by your imagination and patience.
I guess that’s why games like Saints Row the Third aren’t fun in my eyes. They may seem to have infinite possibility one the surface, but in the end it’s all the same mechanics in different places. It’s not endless fun, it’s just endless waves of NPCs that you can have the exact same fun on again and again and again, and that’s just not enough to keep me coming back. Really, the ball-in-a-cup example from earlier really holds up here. You can play with a ball in a cup almost anywhere, yet it’s the exact same activity again and again in a different location.
To wrap up here, I want it to be totally known and clear that I love open world games. Like any type of game, they just need to have the proper content. Games like Saints Row just can’t provide the variety I need to fulfill my casual-gamer appetites. But hey, in GTA IV you can call your cousin and go bowling. Skyrim’s got nothing on that.