2016 has proven to be a very anniversary-filled year for gaming. Several franchises and consoles have hit milestones ranging from five years to decades. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided came out five years after Human Revolution did, right down to the exact day, Lara Croft’s adventures have reached 20 years, things like that. So it goes with Volition’s Saints Row franchise; not only has the open world series hit the decade milestone earlier this week, they’ll also be celebrating the five-year anniversary of the third game in the series this November.
Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series had a lot of copycats when its third entry rolled onto the scene in 2001. While the previous two entries were fun enough in their own right, GTA III took the series to new heights, giving players all the freedom they wanted in a 3D space. With that game’s success, clone after clone followed with the intention of getting in on a piece of the pie. Of course, for however many there were, few of them did anything new besides changing the setting. The best GTA clones are ones that have their own unique spin on Rockstar’s formula, and while it took time for Saints Row to get there, they eventually carved a unique identity for themselves with hard work, a lot of dildo bats, and a healthy dose of stupid.
So what did the original Saints Row have to offer to separate it from GTA? To be honest, not a whole lot; its big claim to fame in 2006 was being on the Xbox 360 at a time when Rockstar’s last entry was still stuck on the Xbox and PS2, plus a sprinkling of multiplayer and customization. It was a GTA clone in every sense of the word, from the focus on gang culture and music choices to the goofy naming puns and clothing options. But that was enough for players because, at the time, there wasn’t anything like GTA to play on the then next gen consoles. When the sequel released in 2008, months after GTA 4 came in and swept the world away, the big question hovering around Saints 2 was what it could do to stand out and keep from being unfavorable compared to Rockstar’s title. While SR2 definitely succeeded in part due to its goofier approach compared to GTA 4’s more somber story (driving around town and spraying literal shit at people will never not be funny), it still couldn’t shake the “knockoff” moniker.
Every series has an entry where they go from “this is really good” to “oh my god, this is f-ing amazing,” and for Volition, that was with Saints Row: The Third in 2011. Again uncontested for the year as far as its distinguished competition is concerned, the game decided to be much more stupider, much sillier, and a hell of a lot more fun. It could sometimes lean a bit too hard on the stupid, like the bit where you corral zombies around town, or a mission where you shoot up a lab with a giant naked man to fight his clones, but it all mostly hung together with an interesting narrative thread.
With that game in particular, it’s always easy to pin down the part where it clicked in my head that I loved this entry: the mission “Party Time.” It’s simple as far as mission objectives go; you just go into a penthouse party and kill practically everyone inside. But it’s the way you do so that makes it memorable, jumping out the helicopter in time with Kanye West’s vocals start to his hit song “Power.” It infuses the mission with an infectious energy, and simply put, it’s just freaking awesome. There are plenty of other parts of that game that help it stick out, such as chainsawing a horde of wrestlers set to “You’re the Best Around,” becoming a sex doll and a toilet, or shooting up hooker assassins (they came highly recommended, okay?), but “Party Time” will always be the go-to memory of my time with the game.