Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas, and Grand Theft Auto IV were all my jams back when they released. I found GTA III to rent around when I first bought my PS2 and was blown away by what I could do in the game not to the mention the storylines and voice acting. San Andreas was a group effort between my friends and I in order to get it at launch. I remember spending hours on my 18th birthday playing the game via an extension cord we ran from my house to the camper in my backyard instead of going in the woods and enjoying life like proper teenagers. Then I bought GTA IV with my PS3 purchase and was floored by how the series had evolved not to mention the multiplayer.
The point is: I loved Grand Theft Auto growing up. All the way through high school and partially in college. But! When GTA V was released, I liked it, but it didn’t wow me. I think it’s a great game, but by this point, I had now played tons of open world RPGs that I felt did the whole explore everywhere aspect better and really it was more of the same. Not only that, but Saints Row, from the third game on, had captured my heart instead. Again, it’s not like I hate GTA, but Saints Row is just more fresh at the moment. These fifteen reasons are why I think that series is way better and more interesting than GTA right now.
15 Keith David
Yeah, you’ve had some amazing celebrities star in your games Grand Theft Auto, but you’ve yet to enroll Keith David, one of the coolest actors on the planet. David had a small role in Saints Row up until Saints Row IV where they literally just put him in the game, and he’s your Vice President. I’m not exactly sure what launched David into being an inside joke to the internet, but he’s cool as hell. Be it in a game, or just people finally realizing how underutilized he is, Keith has won our hearts. The point is he’s amazing in whatever he does, and the fact that he got to be in a video game as himself fighting evil aliens is telling. Much respect to you Mr. David.
14 Character Customization
The main character roster in Grand Theft Auto is pretty great. Trevor, from GTA V, is definitely the icon of what the series is all about: purified mayhem. As memorable as these anti-heroes are I never felt ownership over their personalities. In GTA IV you could make small story choices, and you can dress up your characters (beginning in Vice City), but it pales in comparison to the wealth of options available in Saints Row. There are the usual set of options between how you look, including sex, but it goes deeper than that mainly in the voice department. The amount of voices you can choose from is insane and must have cost a lot in terms of the game’s production. One of the funnier options is Nolan North, who you may know as Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, who, similar to Keith David, plays himself. Needless to say, he’s great.
13 You’re The Boss
Tweaking your character to your liking is great and all, but let’s not forget the most important part of who you play. You’re The Boss of your gang and everyone bows to your whim. This was taken a step further in Saints Row IV when you became the President of the United States. Political comments aside *cough* no one, not even Trevor, can hold weight against being POTUS. Everything you do is ten times cooler. It’s a tribute to bad ass film Presidents like in Air Force One and Independent’s Day except, again, ten times cooler since you can actually play them. The only thing cooler is God so yeah; look forward to that in Saint’s Row V.
12 You Can Be A Toilet
Okay, so we’ve covered the fact that you can create a custom character and that you’re the POTUS so what could be cooler? What about saving the world as a toilet. That’s right, a literal honest to goodness porcelain throne. In Saints Row: The Third you get transported into a simulation where your avatar is a toilet caused by a glitch, which makes sense in terms of that mission. For fun, though, you can maintain the transformation in the real world, because why not. Between The Third and IV, there are other unique skins and costumes at the ready as well, but the funniest is definitely the toilet. It just makes every cutscene more entertaining when everyone is talking to a toilet. I know it’s not a joke everyone will like and at some point, it seems like a lame Adam Sandler movie, but I like it. It takes potty humor to a new level.
11 The Alien Scourge
To go along with the theme of paying homage to classic political action movies, like in Independence Day, it's more fitting that you’re the POTUS fighting against an evil alien race hell bent on enslaving humanity (which adds in a bit of The Matrix as well). There are three villains in video games that are easy to have no sympathy toward: Nazis, zombies, and aliens. That’s not to say there isn’t fatigue with all three, but it seems the industry rotates on these villains periodically. Fatigued or not, the concept of fighting aliens in the real world, or virtual reality as the leader of the free world is a unique concept. Being the President, U.S., or otherwise is special and one I’d like to see more of in video games in general.
10 Super Powers
Saints Row The Third armed you to the teeth with unique vehicles and gadgets to cause mischief and mayhem. Saints Row IV topped that by implementing super powers, which, like the toilet, was introduced via the virtual reality set up by the aliens. Eventually, you could use them in the real world too, which doesn’t make sense like the toilet, but again, but just roll with it. You can super sprint through the city, jump around like a hyperpower rabbit then glide afterwards. Plus, you can smash enemies with your super force, or cool villains down with a little bit of ice too. I ask you this. What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold! Will these lame references ever end? I’m evoking the spirit of Saints Row so no.
9 Better Vehicles
Along with a sterling roster of main characters, I will say GTA has a nice variety of vehicles. A few iconic ones, like GTA III's Dodo Plane jump to mind. That being said, to reference the title of this article, Saint’s Row blows all of those vehicles out of the water. Let’s see there are super powered jets, futuristic hover bikes, tanks from Tron (basically), and, oh, let’s count the mech suit from Saints Row IV as a vehicle too. My favorite, and perhaps the most simplistic and easy to use, is that aforementioned hover bike, which becomes available toward the end of The Third. It’s like a mini motorcycle that can fly!
8 Co-Op Campaigns
One of the things that kept me hooked on Grand Theft Auto on PS2 was the passing the controller around with friends. The goal: to see who could survive the longest before the police/military did them in. Finally, an actual multiplayer mode was featured in GTA IV and continued into GTA V. These two modes are great, but Saints Row —once again— takes things onestep further with online co-op. Technically, you can form parties in both online Grand Theft Autos, but only in a simulation of the city and not during story missions. Taking a buddy through the campaign of The Third made that second time more memorable. Admittedly, a three player co-op session in GTA V using Trevor, Franklin, and Michael would sway me to the other side, but that’s not currently possible, so another point goes to Saints Row.
7 Upgrading Your Empire
Since Vice City, most of the Grand Theft Autos have implemented some sort of RPG element to them in order to create a sense of progression for your campaign. It began with buying property in Vice City and in San Andreas. In those games you could increase your stats, and overtake enemy territories to create a better gang. Saints Row takes this progression a step further with a handy upgrading tool via your phone, which tracks weapon, vehicle, and other related boosts to your character’s economic standing. It also helps with increasing the power of your abilities in Saints Row IV. You can also increase your gang and even call on Homies to assist you if you don’t have any friends to go online with you. Your phone is one of the shining, unsung stars in Saints Row that makes life easier.
6 Better Weapons
Talking about weapons now —after praising the potential of super powers— may seem backward, but like vehicles, they provide a different approach to combat. I’m not above crude humor (which is obvious since I like playing as a toilet) but even better is streaking around the city whipping people with a giant purple dildo bat. It gets funnier with your super strength, included in Saints Row IV, where hitting anything with the violet dong will send them flying — giant vehicles and all. If you don’t like that, then there’s always the dubstep gun or any of the futuristic alien weaponry. A good balance between super powers, vehicles, and weapons is a must to keep everything feeling fresh plus it gives different options for all types of players.
5 Video Game And Movie Parodies
The in-game universe jokes set forth by the story are good, but it’s the poking fun at other big franchises that have me in stitches. I love the fact that they implement romance options akin to Mass Effect in Saints Row IV. Except, instead of schmoozing your way through intricate choices, all you have to do is talk to someone. Ask and you shall receive, be it straight, gay, or robotic. Realistically if you’re on a suicide mission would you really want to talk about feelings, or just f**k like there’s no tomorrow?
Even the movie parodies are on point. The opening mission in Saints Row IV is like a cross between Call of Duty and Armageddon. Every nod to media is genius and talking about them in detail would spoil the fun so please if you look at Saints Row as just another cheap clone of GTA think again. Come for the spastic gameplay, stay for the witty jokes.
4 Mini Game Mayhem
Side activities in Grand Theft Auto have never been fun to me. Even the Rampage missions seem rote and pointless since I can just make my mayhem without time or score restraints. That’s not to say Saints Row is much better. Their side activities are also dumb, but at least they’re more inventive and try a bit harder. Some of these jobs include faking injuries to get insurance money from pedestrians, which causes your character to flop around thanks to rag doll physics. All of the Professor Genki stuff reminds me of running through a maze akin to Smash TV, which is just good arcade fun. There’s also the streaking I talked about earlier, which especially hilarious if you’re a guy and made your doodle almost as long as your body. Again, these are all stupid, but in a good way.
3 Gat Out Of Hell
Frankly, the DLC for both GTA IV and GTA V are shockingly poor. At the very least Rockstar created two new campaigns for GTA IV compared to just a bunch of online missions for GTA V. To me it’s astounding because my favorite piece of DLC of all time is Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption. It is, and was, brilliant! Why not create a side story that is non-canonical and cranked up to eleven? Saint’s Row IV’s DLC, Gat Out of Hell, not only revived a beloved member of your gang, but it took place in hell. The side story has you fighting demons, and introducing yourself to famous historical figures like Shakespeare — the list goes on. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas that nowhere reach the heights of the main games, but Gat Out of Hell is definitely better than any GTA DLC.
2 Better Music
I don’t think there’s even been a Grand Theft Auto game where I was happy with the entire soundtrack. Yes, there are classics I know and love, but a lot of it, and I’m talking near 75% is garbage to me. That may just be my taste in music, but everything seems more obscure. The talk radio stuff is great though. Anyway, the cruising music is better overall in Saints Row, but that’s only where my affection begins.
What really sells me is how the game uses music during certain critical missions, which helped cement them better in my memory. Storming a rival gang’s base in The Third, while Kanye West’s Power played, or trying to save the city while Bonnie Tyler’s I Need a Hero blasted away is a treat. Even Aerosmith’s horrendous, yet amazing, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing is used astoundingly well in the opening of Saints Row IV. It's a great use of licensing, to say the least, and that's just the start.
1 Saints Row’s Attitude
This entry is the culmination of everything above.
I love a great mafia drama, and the writing is hands down better in any GTA. There’s no denying that. And while there are still laughs and oddities to be had, Grand Theft Auto has lots its wacky charm with every step. The first two Saints Row game were third-rate clones of GTA’s formula, but starting with The Third, the developers seemed to have realized that and doubled down on the crazy. It goes a long way to differentiating the series from Grand Theft Auto. Some of their ideas aren’t as great as others, but at least they try to outdo themselves with each new game. Saints Row is bloated with ideas: good and bad. The overall vibe of Saints Row is the biggest thing that separates the two series. There's an argument for GTA’s quality, over Saints Row’s quantity, but as a video game: it's just more fun to play the latter. Quantity wins.