Cop Stars

After hearing some positive buzz, I downloaded the Saints Row demo from Xbox Live Marketplace. I played it for an hour or two last night. It's just what I expected-- a fairly ugly (graphically) next-gen (there's ragdolls!) clone of Grand Theft Auto 3. It copies every feature of the game, but tweaks some of the already unrealistic mechanics to make them even less convincing. For instance, where in GTA3 there was the Pay 'n' Spray, which erased your notoriety by repainting your car, Saints Row features a drivethrough "confessional," which instantly erases your notoriety without touching your car or providing any kind of rationale for why the cops no longer care that you killed a dozen of their fellow officers. Likewise, in GTA, when you are busted or sent to hospital, you lose all your weapons since, logically, they would be confiscated (though it's a big jump to believe you'd be out on the streets after your 20th consecutive arrest for mass homicide.) The mechanic is the same in Saints Row, but you get to keep your weapons. Sure it makes the game easier and more fun for players who don't like the annoyance of losing their AK when they die, but from a plausibility standpoint it just further breaks a gameworld that's already pretty far-fetched. The graphical style is completely style-less; everything looks like a bad CG render from 1998. As much of the story as I played is completely boilerplate and forgettable. "Grand Theft Auto: Worse" was the least witty but most appropriate phrase that went through my head while I was playing.

What it really made me think about was the disposability of notoriety in this type of game. You kill a few dozen people in broad daylight, you hide in an alley for 5 minutes, and it's like a global memory wipe. You get arrested, and you're back in Ammunation that afternoon buying a fresh sniper rifle. Nothing you do in the game, aside from pre-scripted missions, "matters" as far as the gameworld is concerned.

I would love to play a more low-key version of GTA. One where role-playing, as it were, impacts the experience, and matters to the gameworld. You are a criminal, maybe a hitman, but drawing attention to your crimes has a serious impact on your notoriety and the penalties you face when caught. Your goal would be to kill and steal, but to do so with cunning, so you're either not witnessed or cover up your deeds. Being arrested would be a serious penalty, and there would be separate notoriety for the police and criminal organizations; being "known" in one way could be a boon, while the other just meant you'd been sloppy.

I'd just like to play one of these games that hugged the earth a little more; blowing up a car in the middle of the financial district with a rocket launcher would make you infamous across the city, and you'd be hunted relentlessly by the police.. unless you had incredibly strong protection from the criminal underworld. I want to feel like I'm in this world, interacting with its populace, as opposed to an invincible little god of destruction who never sees any long-term repercussions to his actions. Being able to do whatever I want with no penalty acts to remove any kind of weight the gameplay itself could have. I want to have to be careful when I'm an unknown street thug, no mafia kingpins backing me up; I want to have to plan a hit and plant a bomb under my target's car, the satisfaction of getting away scot free, instead of simply lobbing grenades into a crowded street for kicks, then running for the cop star pickup to wipe my slate clean. I'm looking for Grand Theft Auto with gravity.

1 comment:

animalleaderisgreat said...

Nah, Saints Row (and Saints Row 2) are the bomb -- wildly fun and imaginative. Qua its massive PR campaign, GTA IV allegedly incorporated gameworld-consequential events through player action. This unplayable mess might have fooled a few lobotomy jobs, but only on a bad day.

The kind of game you describe would be, I think, political in nature, and perhaps even content. Which is to say, it would involve systems and organizations rather than characters and invididuals, though of course it would contain the latter. We've seen a masterpiece of a political game lately, Killer7, and we know Suda-san can cope with open-world play (to a degree). So, Grasshopper ...