When GTA 5 releases this September it will be on the cusp of a new generation of gaming hardware. In the past, Grand Theft Auto was the very essence of open world gaming, partially due to the fact that there wasn’t anything else like it. The open world was packed full of social commentary, pop culture references and gameplay that defined what a sandbox game should really be. When Grand Theft Auto 4 came out on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it still retained some of that magic formula, but opted for a more serious attitude for the main character, rather than the typical drug lord or gangster power fantasy. It was certainly refreshing but when it came time to get silly, the crazy weapons and go kart handling was sorely absent. With an increasing number of games being set in open world environments, can GTA 5 keep the series on its open world throne or has it already it already been usurped? Or is the hype surrounding the game even deserved?
Saint’s Row seems to have been created by developers pointing their fingers at other games and declaring “That isn’t stupid enough.” With everything turned up to eleven, the game is always fun and over the top, never taking itself too seriously trying to execute a story. Born almost as a direct response to GTA 4’s seriousness, Saints Row is a game and it wants to make sure you have fun even if it means making fun of itself. Running around in a coked-up pseudo-Miami with a blazer and katana? Not stupid enough. Make it a dildo bat, dress yourself like a luchador and dropkick pedestrians while calling in an airstrike. Such is Saints Row. A sillier game cannot be made. The constant one-upmanship has to be applauded. Volition has given itself the ability to go where other games cannot. With Saints Row IV, the world is all a computer simulation, making gameplay feel more like the raunchiest superhero movie rather than the gritty crime dramas of yesteryear. Even with the great writing that Rockstar has shown us, the battle for comedic supremacy has already been lost to them.
So what does a game like GTA 5 do in a situation such as this? All that it really can do is be the best Grand Theft Auto game it can be. The older games walked a fine line between attitudes, but with more competition specializing in one or the other, it hurts the experience when the game falls out of balance. Grand Theft Auto is a Jack of all Trades and a master of none. It isn’t the god game that some make it out to be and it certainly doesn’t deserve the immense hype given to it. Those who love open world games should be excited for the upcoming release of GTA 5, but these days a wealth of options exist that are hard to ignore. Play the serious. Play the silly. Play everything in between.