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How Saints Row Has Taken The 'Random' Out Of 'Randomness"

Let's say, for example, you have a friend in your social group called Gordon. He's a little bit eccentric and silly on occasion, but for the most part, Gordon's a normal guy who wears normal clothes and talks about normal things, and everyone pretty much agrees that he's a top guy. One day, Gordon turns up to the pub, not dressed in his usual shirt and jeans, but in a luminous pink catsuit with golden, star-shaped glasses and proceeds to perform a fully choreographed dance routine to a medley of S Club 7 hits. You and your friends howl with laughter as this seemingly ordinary man displays hitherto unseen levels of quirkiness. The next day, however, he's back to his old self, wearing his old Slayer shirt and dark blue jeans and talking about his office job, and you and your friends reminisce fondly about the time Gordon went all random.

A few months later, Gordon turns up to the pub, again donning his pink jumpsuit and signature glasses, and yet again your group is doubled over with laughter as he showcases a wide array of Bayonetta-esque dance moves. "We're going to be talking about this one for a long time!" a member of your group might say. Gordon is thrilled with the reception that his antics receive, so decides that the best way to proceed would be to wear the luminous pink catsuit every day.

All of a sudden, it's not that funny anymore. You and your friends might share a chuckle now and then about Gordon's questionable fashion choices, but it suddenly becomes routine. He is just "the guy in the luminous pink catsuit". You don't share happy memories of Gordon's hilarious dance routines anymore, because he performs them three times a day, without fail, and you find yourself pining for a time in which Gordon's wacky behaviour was a rare treat, as opposed to his standard way of living.

This hypothetical story sums up my feelings towards the Saints Row series, as of late. Once upon a time, Saints Row was a very balanced affair. The bizarre, poo-spraying mini-games were juxtaposed effectively against the more mundane missions, ensuring that the stupidity stayed special and the duller missions were enticing in their promise of future wackiness. Enter Saints Row: The Third, however, and suddenly we're fighting aliens in a space movie with giant purple dildo bats. What would have been totally random and entirely awesome in previous games is now mundane. It's routine, and the most effective way to eliminate any sense of bizarre fun is to make it routine.

I bring this up because a full gameplay trailer was recently released for Saints Row IV, and I couldn't be less excited for the full game. As I heard a developer describe your "totally badass superpowers" and the effectiveness of the Dubstep Gun, I felt my eyes glaze over. I zoned out and starting checking my e-mails and looking for pictures of cats. What was intended to be "ZOMG so random!" has become utterly boring, and it's entirely a problem of contrast. You can only have craziness as long as there's relative mundanity. You can only have rebellion when there's something to rebel against. Both of which are sorely missing from a scenario in which you fight robot aliens with superpowers and you're also the President, for some reason.

Suggesting that Saints Row should take more influence from Grand Theft Auto than it already does may be redundant but I feel it's appropriate in this case. The reason that lines like "Lance Vance Dance" and entire Vice City radio commercials are imprinted in people's minds is because they were the exception, not the average. The wacky comedy was paired effectively with the relatively normal missions. It felt special when you were tasked with distributing pornography from a glider or jumping a motorcycle over a rooftop obstacle course to project a pair of breasts onto a building, and that can be wholly attributed to the fact that the rest of the game was spent performing somewhat menial and mundane shooting and driving missions.

Even outside of the sandbox genre, games that contrast wackiness and mundanity are often far more effective than those that pile on the crazy 24/7. The over-the-top fight scenes and video game references in Bayonetta are memorable because they're juxtaposed so frequently with a sombre and serious storyline. Compare that to something like Shadows of the Damned, in which the infantile humour is thrust into your face so often that it becomes overbearing and irritating. The Raikov section of Metal Gear Solid 3 is extremely effective because it's a fleeting and short break from the status quo of shooting and sneaking. In Bulletstorm, ridiculous action is the status quo, and it's very difficult to excite the player with something that they consider to be routine.

Sadly, Saints Row IV looks set to continue this trend of "all weird, all the time," and I certainly won't be purchasing it. If the series ever wants to win back my fandom, it's going to have to calm down, take a deep breath and bring some normality. Giant purple dildos and super-powered Presidents might be exciting to some people now, but it won't last forever. Just ask Gordon.

SilentHeaven109 | 13th May, 2013

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