Best Video Game Series: (18) Saints Row

This is Objection Network’s countdown of the top 25 video game series of all-time. We’re counting down to the best franchise ever on March 31. For more info on the voting process, click here.

18) Saints Row (2 votes, 81 points)

Chris: I know there are fans of Grand Theft Auto that are seeing this and rolling their eyes. I understand — it’s different strokes for different folks. But you can put me firmly on the Saints Row side of the equation.

I had already played three GTA titles before I stumbled on the first Saints Row. And it was…okay. It took itself less seriously than GTA, and that was interesting to me. The customization options were nice, and the story was pretty solid.

But my love of SR truly started with the sequel. I’m actually upset that I didn’t put Saints Row 2 on my list when we did the Best Games Ever list a few years back. What sets SR2 apart from its predecessor (and its subsequent sequels) is its perfect balance. Silly missions and others that were important. Legit characters and others who were train wrecks. Over-the-top side missions and others that really made you think.

Okay, I’m lying about that last one. But I did like that you could essentially tackle Stillwater’s three enemy groups in any order.

Maybe in response to GTA’s more level-headed approach, Saints Row has gone off the deep end since SR2. The Third shifts the scene to Steelport and is essentially a worldwide struggle for power, and IV is basically just the manifestation of writers on crack — outer space, aliens, a digital simulation, superpowers…it’s everything you could ever want, almost to the point of excess.

Saints Row is unapologetically silly and outlandish, and while that might turn some people away, it was exactly what I wanted at that moment in time. And now that I’ve thought about it, I’ll absolutely be playing it for the YouTube channel at some point.

Shaun: I’ll say it. I  hate that this is here. I think our panel did a bunch of peyote the night before we voted, saw the results later, and was like “oh yeah. I voted Saints Row in the top 25 because I thought it would be ironic.”

And not even as a question of if it’s more fun that GTA (it is). But how does this series get so high when none of the games in it go beyond “mindless fun?” The only game that I would say even cracks into “better than mediocre” is 4, when they said fuck it to logic and went all out with their ludicrous campaign and video game satire. Being a super-hero in an open world has never felt so good — never — but the mission variety and barely-there story struggled to keep me interested enough to finish it. Maybe it all comes down to the purpose that Saints Row serves as the anti-Grand Theft Auto series in an industry where it seems like everyone is inexplicably obsessed with it.

And yet, I can’t help but leave here with this thought: BioShock, our 19th selection, explores political impulses and existential crises even in the midst of multi-dimensional inquiries into how our universe works.

Saints Row 4 — our 18th selection — let’s you get your dick sucked by a robot.

Cary: When it comes to Saints Row, the big question for me is: is the series better than GTA? Since it’s higher in the list than GTA, the answer is, HELL YES. It’s the sheer absurdity of the series that puts it over the top for me. And that’s including the much more serious Saint Row 2. (Which, with side missions such as the “Septic Avenger,” is hardly free to throw stones.) The things about Saints Row is that it takes the GTA model and cranks everything up to “11,” from the utterly ridiculous/hilarious storytelling to the imaginative weaponry to the crazy worlds and inhabitants of Stilwater and Steelport. It’s all so…so…magical. If you like your action-adventure, open-world games to fall within the realm of insanity, then Saints Row is definitely for you.

Christine: Saints Row was another series I wasn’t sure I’d get into. I first got introduced to it by a friend who was over my place one day, and it was at a time when my Xbox 360 was still fairly new. I was being shown games that people personally loved or they were recommending ones they thought I might like (I was still building my game library then). She brought over the first Saints Row and Saints Row 2. When she showed me the first game, I wasn’t really into it. I’m not sure what it was. Was it because it looked like a Grand Theft Auto wannabe? Was the first game trying too hard to be a serious story about gangsters? Either way, the first game was doing nothing to convince me that I’ll want to play Saints Row. Enter Saints Row 2.

While Saints Row limits players to solely playing as a male character with your choice of being white, black, Latino, or Asian, Saints Row 2 expands your options by adding a female to customize and play as. Ever since I started playing video games, I always want to play as the female when the option is presented to me. There aren’t enough stories centered around women and being able to choose my playable character as a female in her own story is really exciting to me. Especially when I can make my female Saints Row character be the baddest gangster to ever walk the streets of Stilwater. Being able to play as a female in Saints Row 2 piqued my interest in the game considerably and I found myself immediately immersed in the story and having fun playing the side missions. It also doesn’t hurt that I can keep customizing my character’s outfits, cribs, and cars as much as I want. It’s also an enjoyable aspect of the game to have that many options to choose from and to give each feature my own personal touch.

Later installments in the series saw the Saints Row games become more absurd and crazy as time went on. Saints Row 2 felt mostly serious but it had its moments when it didn’t take itself too seriously. Saints Row: The Third was a large departure from the more serious tone of the previous game and upped the wackiness factor and humor to levels I can’t even begin to describe. One-way ticket to crazy town while tripping on acid? If that’s the best way to describe Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV, then it’s the kind of crazy you want in on. And it’s just so much fun! Saints who gain superpowers and can sprint down a street as if they were The Flash. Saints who run the country as President of the United States. Yes, you read this right. In the fourth game, your Saints character becomes president. Story may have mostly taken a backseat in later games to focus more on the fun gameplay and ridiculous missions you find your characters tasked to do, but it’s really the biggest draw for me to play. It’s pure joy and I find myself laughing at the dialogue exchanges between my character and one of her Saints crew (Pierce being one of my favorite interactions) as I do the missions. I also appreciate a lot of the pop culture references and homages this series does. The biggest homage/reference to the Mass Effect series in Saints Row IV is one of the best in my opinion.

I think Saints Row is one of those series that deserves a place in a Top 25 list and I’m happy to have it on my own list. You come in expecting the series to be a certain way, only to come out of it with your mind blown. In a good way, of course. I never expected to play or fall crazy in love with this series, at least 2-4, but I did. It’s an awesome series and I’d gladly dive back into the madness with the Saints any day. They’re my ride or die crew.

RELATED LINKS:
(19) BioShock
(20) The Sims
(21) Grand Theft Auto
(22) Halo
(23) Animal Crossing
(24) Silent Hill
(25) Donkey Kong
#50-26
Intro/Honorable Mention

PREVIOUS TOP 25s:
Video Games
Pokemon
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Female VG Characters
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Animated Movies
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One thought on “Best Video Game Series: (18) Saints Row

  1. I didn’t recall anything in SRIV about that…uh…robot. So I looked it up. Ah, CID. I didn’t try to romance him. If I had known *that* reward was in store, I might have. And, to Shaun’s point, there’s the intriguing crux of the matter of having Saints Row eke out ahead of Bioshock in this list. (Would be interesting to hear the debate play out on, oh, I don’t know, and podcast or something.) Can high-brow and low-brow art inhabit the same list? On a “greatest movies” list, can you allow both Anchorman and The Dark Knight to sit side by side?

    As I said with Bioshock, I can’t speak to the whole series, but there’s no arguing that the first game is astounding in scope and depth. It’s story is tight, and its twist as revealed by Ryan had me floored. (Seriously, I felt so very duped.) Bioshock is a game that’s designed to make the players think; debate their choices; and question Ryan, Atlas, and every other character’s motives. Saints Row is the exact opposite — it’s all about free-wheeling, gang-busting absurdity. It doesn’t ask players to think…at all…about anything. The main characters aren’t puppets (not in the same sense as in Bioshock, anyway), they aren’t manipulated by a system, and they aren’t asked to make choices based on any set of morals.

    I can accept the placement of the games at 19 and 18, respectively, because in a sense, the they cancel each other out. If you put the two on the scale, Bioshock has equal the heft in storytelling and character development that Saints Row has in gameplay and sheer enjoyment. Bioshock doesn’t need fellatio-offering robots to be good, and Saints Row doesn’t need existential crises to be good. Each has its place, and its just so happens that their placement here slightly favors ridiculousness over ingenuity. Humanity has made worse choices.

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