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The Brutality of Saints Row 2

I’d like to take a moment to discuss a game that does some really interesting things with character and storytelling: Volition’s GTA3-em-up, Saints Row 2. Wait, where are you going? I’m serious. Here’s the thing: SR2, more than any other game I’ve played, makes me despise my player character. By the end of the game, my PC is the most reprehensible person in Stilwater.

SR2 is a game that borrows liberally from Grand Theft Auto 3 and its successors. The player character is a sociopathic criminal, doing a series of missions to gain power in a city while murdering thousands of people in the process. Playing a game like this, the player should expect to do horrible things; it’s a game (in this case) about a street gang leader taking over an entire city. These games set up an environment in which the player can suspend their ethical disbelief. The world is farcical, with corrupt police, over-the-top raunchy radio ads, and stereotyped characters. All of the characters with dialog are criminals, and none of the bystanders get enough characterization to make the player empathize with them.

But there’s something weird in SR2‘s approach. The middle of the game consists of three parallel storylines, corresponding to the PC‘s strengthening of her gang, the Saints, through destruction of three rival gangs: the Sons of Samedi, the Ronin, and the Brotherhood. The Sons of Samedi plotline is a drug-running crime story in the Tarantino vein. The Ronin is a full-on action movie, complete with katana duels. But the Brotherhood is the brutal story of the cold-hearted destruction of a man and his family.
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