I feel like we’ve lost sight of the word “fun” lately. Especially in gaming, where every new AAA game is a masterpiece and awe-inspiring and perfect, and every new indie game is a super-introspective work of art. People don’t sit down anymore and play a game to have fun, or at least they don’t say they do. They do it because they “can’t put the game down,” because “it’s cool,” because it’s “what their friends are playing.” I haven’t heard someone really, earnestly say “I’m playing this game because it’s fun” in a long, long while, and that “someone” includes myself as well.
Then I played Saints Row 3.
And suddenly I was blowing up hapless strangers from a city block away, gunning down gang members with a helicopter, blasting my way through strange faux-Japanese game shows. I was having fun, dammit.
Of course, SR3’s excess seems like it should be as much a curse as it is a blessing. As fun as mowing down entire police forces with a tank can be, it’s also ludicrously easy, as is most of the game. You gain access to most heavy weaponry pretty early on, and the upgrades you can accumulate bring you from lowly street urchin to nigh demi-god pretty damn quickly. So you can see how, after a few dozen sessions of doing this, you might start to get bored.
…but you don’t.
No matter what you end up doing, there’s always something else, something bigger to blow up or kill or steal, and it’s always (there’s that key word again) fun. A lot of this, I feel, is because the developers at THQ realized that kind of unfettered sandbox gameplay, the idea of being able to cause unlimited destruction, is what gamers really want, at least when it comes to that particular genre. Tell me the last time you saw someone play GTAIV and not enter in the unlimited weapons cheat, or immediately summon a helicopter.
THQ didn’t just make that level of destruction immediately accessible, they justified it completely by writing it into the story. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, you actually do get points for causing more destruction and mayhem, even more so than another outstanding game in the sandbox blow-em-up genre, Just Cause 2. In certain side-missions (and some main ones) you’re basically given an infinite rocket launcher and told to go nuts. I challenge you to play some of those missions, flip on the classical music station on the in-game radio, and not giggle to yourself like a damned idiot as you level another gas station.