Games have been called a lot of things over the years. This article isn’t about all of that. Let me be crystal clear about it. This article is about a particular point of my life when I realized what exactly games meant to me. This is going to take a little context so bear with me.
In 2012 the world did not, in fact, end. However, it did change me and change for me in a very significant multitude of ways. I lost one of my best friends and probably one of the best people I’ll ever know. His name was Dash Albert. He was just shy of 400 pounds, had asthma and was balding at 20. None of that ever got him down though; no one would have blamed him for it if it had. He always found a reason to smile and he had one of those laughs that was so infectious you couldn’t help but laugh too. We had pretty much the exact same sense of humor which makes it hard for me even today. I’ll see something that makes me laugh and then that little part of my brain that sorts patterns would let me know that it’s something that would have made Dash laugh too.
On December 25th 2012 Dash got home from dinner with his father, sat on the couch, and fell asleep. He never woke up. He had had an aortic dissection; it can happen to anyone at anytime for no reason at all. There is nothing that raises or lowers the risk of it and even if you are on an operating table with your chest cracked open and doctors ready to go when it happens you only have a 1 in 3 chance of survival. I wish it was something I could campaign against, something I could take up a cause for, but it’s not.
On Christmas day in 2012 one of my best friends died for no reason and it left me adrift in a world that was a little less bright for his passing, but all the more memorable for his having lived.
Fast forward to 2014, Dash was still gone and it had only gotten slightly easier. Saints Row 4 was just about to release and I was debating picking it up. Saints Row The Third had left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of Saint’s Row since the first one. I was sucked into the hype for SRTT and it was a textbook case of something not being able to live up to what was promised. I enjoyed it sure, it was fun, but what I enjoyed most about SR2 was that the wackiness was there for you to find, but it wasn’t up in your face 100% of the time. SRTT’s tone is all over the place and despite the attempt to make a more unified threat in the Syndicate it still like a felt very a segmented enemy at best. Add to that, a lack of depth, a dearth of the kind of fun “find it for yourself” secrets that made SR2 a joy to explore and places in the story where it was obvious more effort was put forth than in others and you end up with SRTT. Fun but ultimately flawed and not nearly as satisfying as SR2 because of it. Worst of all, they killed off Johnny Gat almost immediately. Now I wasn’t particularly attached to Gat, but his arc in SR2 made me like him as a character and killing him off, I felt robbed him of the chance for further growth and damn near tore the heart out of the series. Not quite betrayal, but pretty close.
I decided after that to completely avoid any news about SR4, I was vaguely aware of the plot and what was going to be on offer for pre-order. I went back and forth with myself for awhile about the matter until finally I decided to pick it up. I was wary, but hopeful.
I ended up getting the Collector’s Edition as I am fond of making poor financial decisions with little to no reason behind them. I still have all the little things that came with it. The Gat statue, the miniature dubstep gun, even “The Button”.
I’m not going to review Saint’s Row 4, that’s not what this article about. The most I’ll say on the matter is that it is to SRTT what SR2 was to Saint’s Row. In other words, I enjoyed the shit out of it and it restored my faith in the series. It struck me, as these things often do, that this was something that Dash would have loved. The things that the guards shout as you stab them to death during the parody metal gear section, the references to Ghostbusters when you fight a giant can of Saint’s Flow. Even the game itself and its place in the series. I mean for crap sake you start out as a street gang member in Saint’s Row and by the end of the series you end up as king of the damn universe.
I suppose what I’m about to say next could be considered a spoiler so I’ll throw up the obligatory
The game’s been out for over a year now so if you haven’t played it yet you either don’t want to or don’t care so whatever.
I already mentioned how in SRTT Johnny Gat was killed off almost immediately, but it was ambiguous enough that I hoped he would show up later, but he didn’t. He was gone. In a few missions of SR4 they hint that Gat may in fact be alive and trapped somewhere on the alien ship. Lo and behold in the mission “The Very Next Day” you find out Johnny is in fact alive and had been the entire time. Zinyack had abducted him in SRTT as he was apparently the only person capable of stopping the planned invasion that takes place in SR4.
I think it’s worth noting again that I really enjoyed the game. Then something happened. After you rescue Johnny you unlock a loyalty mission for him. Like Mass Effect 2, SR4 has you fighting aliens and doing loyalty missions for your crew. Unlike ME2, the loyalty missions in SR4 usually involve you doing some goofy crap for no particular reason. Case in point, Johnny’s loyalty mission has you and Johnny gunning your way through a simulation of Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax. There’s no real goal in it. You just run around shooting down mascots, reminiscing and catching up on everything since Johnny’s death/abduction. It was just so damn enjoyable. It really felt for all the world as though my friend had come back. It felt like I was catching up with him on all the jokes, games, movies and miscellaneous crap that he’d missed since he’d been gone. I will be forever grateful to Volition, for awhile I had my friend back.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that games aren’t a means of escape or anything as mundane as that. Games are experiences that may or may not have some small resonance for all of us. I know that Saint’s Row 4 isn’t high minded intellectualism, it’s not even my favorite game when you get right down to it. But it did give me a moment in my life that I will always treasure and it showed me what games mean to me.