GTA and Saints Row stand at the crossroads of open-world gameplay, given their conflicting approaches to criminal activities.
Both series follow the same format - a criminal must climb to the top of the ladder, kicking down anyone trying to bring them down. Initially, Saints Row struggled to find its identity beyond a run-of-the-mill GTA clone. However, future installments would truly set it apart from the GTA series entirely.
It all began with the anticipated releases of GTA 4 and Saints Row 2. From this point forward, the two series diverged into separate paths. The former prefers a semi-realistic approach to crime dramas (for the most part), while the latter is completely over-the-top in their antics.
Note: This article reflects the writer's personal views.
5 major distinctions between GTA and Saints Row
#5 - Customizable player characters
Player customization wasn't a feature in the GTA series until their online mode in 2013. Going back to the original 2D games, players could pick one of multiple pre-selected characters, but there wasn't any major difference to the plot. Future games will use protagonists with clearly defined stories and personalities.
By contrast, Saints Row allows players to create their own character. Known collectively as the Boss, players can fully customize their appearance. Notably, the player can choose between a male or female character. With the exception of GTA 1 and Game Boy Color ports of GTA 2, Rockstar lacks this unique distinction.
#4 - Open-world environment
One of the major strengths of GTA is the scale and scope of their in-game maps. Each title offers a variety of distinct locations. Both Vice and Liberty City bear a striking contrast of hot and cold atmospheres, for example. San Andreas takes it up to eleven with Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas.
Unquestionably, Saints Row falls a little flat in this regard. Stilwater and Steelport are industrial cities that lack diversification. However, one DLC episode introduces New Hades, an underworld area full of lava. Saints Row 4 is a futuristic space-themed game that uses a virtual simulation for the main setting.
#3 - Weapon arsenal
Both GTA and Saints Row share a similar combat system, with the use of different fighting styles and weapon classes. Normally, players can choose between a pistol, shotgun, rifle, explosives, and melee objects.
However, Saints Row has more refined hand-to-hand combat. Starting with the second game, players can choose between fighting styles and finisher moves. For example, a professional wrestler would perform a backbreaker on their opponents. Meanwhile, GTA players can only change their attacks in San Andreas gyms.
Another major difference is the use of ridiculous weaponry in Saints Row. While GTA does use silly items like sex objects, Saints Row takes it up a notch with futuristic guns like Disintegrators. The design team clearly had fun when they fooled around with these weapons.
#2 - Continuous storylines
While the GTA series does share continuity within their universes, each game is completely separate from one another. Players follow the stories of different protagonists throughout the series. Each game can be set years apart, often in unrelated areas. As a result, protagonists rarely interact with each other.
Saints Row uses interconnected storylines between each game, with a linear focus on one particular gang. Known as the Saints, players must survive various conflicts with rival organizations. While there are some plot holes in the game, Saints Row does poke fun at itself and the ridiculousness of their situation. For those who haven't played Saints Row, imagine if the GTA games only focused on the Grove Street Gang.
#1 - Thematic approach
The most obvious difference between GTA and Saints Row is their gameplay philosophy. With the exception of GTA Online updates and the jetpack from San Andreas, the series is mostly grounded in reality. Saints Row, on the other hand, never takes itself too seriously. This also extends to in-game storylines.
Niko Bellic can have an introspective discussion about the harsh realities of war in GTA 4. Meanwhile, players can get the Ow My Balls! achievement in Saints Row 3. That's not to say the GTA series lacks humor, but it's clearly a major priority for the Saints Row series.
Despite their differences, both GTA and Saints Row have a dedicated fanbase. Interestingly enough, the Oppressor MK II from GTA Online bears a striking resemblance to the Specter from Saints Row 3 and 4. Perhaps these series really are different sides of the same counterfeit coin.
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