After getting through the final cut-scenes of Fallout: New Vegas, I realized I wanted to play something different. The 60+ long hours of RGP gameplay made me crave a different format, and in my hunger I turned to Saints Row: The Third; a title in a series I had never touched. This was a rare move for me. Story lines are what I derive a lot of enjoyment from in video games, and jumping into a franchise at the third title is like picking up a book, skipping to the last few chapters, and just reading them. This works with very few kinds of books, like coloring books. Still, it seems like Saints Row is one of those kinds of books; and much like a coloring book, Saints Row can be a lot of fun as long as you don't take it too seriously.
The game format is a lot like Grand Theft Auto games of that time, which you can surmise from any screenshot or gameplay video; no cover mechanic and vehicle controls that you can't decide are bad or are ones that you're just not used to. Still, there's something a little more whimsical about Saints Row. Given what your character does in-game, whimsical probably isn't the right word, but there seems to be an inherent naivety toward realism that ends up being very disarming when you try to critique it from that standpoint. The introductory cinematic is done like the Star Wars title crawls. The first tutorial sequence has you running around with a machine gun with unlimited ammo and a Johnny Gat mask that makes you think you're playing with Big Head Mode on. It's almost laughable, but it's nearly impossible not to have fun with it. The environment created by the game makes it so things that might bother you if they were in other games just don't matter there. I don't know whether it's done on accident of by design, but I'm all for it right now.
Oh Yeah! That makes TWO NLF Blitz
references, everybody! TWO!
The only problem here is that there's a chance that feeling isn't sustainable. Eventually, the charm may wear off, and the player is left looking for a reason to continue. There are a couple ways they may be able to do this, one of which is through the story. I'm not sure how likely this is. These games typically aren't known for their storytelling prowess, but GTA IV really broke out in that way so there's always a chance to be surprised. I haven't played much past the opening sequences and a couple side missions, so I can't comment a whole lot on plot strength, but I don't think that will be what saves the day (assuming the day actually needs saving).
A second way the game may be able to hedge against disillusionment is by exploiting the player's hoarding instincts. Saints Row appears to feature the ability to buy property and use those various properties to stash weapons, vehicles, and clothes. If Elder Scrolls and Pokemon have taught us anything, it's that we don't have a problem with collecting and storing things. Furthermore, the ability to upgrade weapons and even a character's abilities add additional areas where players can satisfy their need for measurable progress.
Still, that simple, honest fun I felt in the first couple hours of play may never go away. The fall-back characteristics I just described may not even be necessary; they may just be nice additions to a good game. I'm anxious to be able to play more and find out.