Grand Theft Auto has been around since 1997, with its first game having a top-down perspective. Rockstar has since revolutionized the series into a full-blown explorable world, down to its nooks and crannies in 3D! Now, the series has become the basis of gamers when you mention “quality open-world games.” As soon as Grand Theft Auto III offered one of the most expansive sandbox environments in open-world games, other developers took their shots with creating their versions of Grand Theft Auto games.
One of the successful “brothers” of Grand Theft Auto would be Volition’s Saints Row. Saints Row aims to be the more arcadey and wackier version of Grand Theft Auto V. Volition released the first Saints Row in 2006, two years after Rockstar’s critically acclaimed Grand TheAll Postsft Auto: San Andreas.
With their history out of the way, let’s look at how both franchises differ from one another.
Main Differences Between The Saints Row vs GTA Franchise
The main differences between the Saints Row vs GTA are:
- Grand Theft Auto started its first game in a top-down perspective, whereas Saints Row started with a 3D setting already (up to par with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas)
- Grand Theft Auto only has limited character customization, whereas Saints Row has in-depth and dedicated character customization before you begin your journey.
- Grand Theft Auto has the option to switch between first and third-person perspective, whereas Saints Row only has a third-person perspective.
- Grand Theft Auto has a great blend of arcadey and realistic simulation in a sandbox environment, whereas Saints Row utilizes a full-on arcade mode experience.
- Grand Theft Auto has a more cohesive story and writing per game, whereas Saints Row has shallow and sometimes story-pacing issues.
- Grand Theft Auto has a standalone story per game, whereas Saints Row has an interconnected story as the franchise progresses.
- Grand Theft Auto stories and writings have a bit of ridiculousness, whereas Saints Row’s stories and writing are quirky and out-of-this-world.
- Grand Theft Auto offers an intricate world with lots of nuances and an insane amount of details, whereas Saints Row which has a fairly simple world design.
- Grand Theft Auto has a lot of excellent and iconic cities and locations (Liberty City, Los Santos, plus a few more areas such as Blaine County etc.), whereas Saints Row only has a few memorable places (Steelport and Stillwater).
- Grand Theft Auto has a great NPC response system, whereas Saints Row offers a somewhat lacking experience when it comes to a proper NPC response system.
- Grand Theft Auto has a wide array of radio stations with funny and witty radio station programs constantly, whereas Saints Row has fewer radio stations coupled only with a few quirky advertisements from time to time.
- Grand Theft Auto has a very detailed audio design (NPC reactions, voice lines, etc.), whereas Saints Row has a lackluster audio design but complements the game’s overall feel.
- Grand Theft Auto has a decent mission design but lackluster side-missions, whereas Saints Row which offers a consistent experience on both main and side-missions.
- Grand Theft Auto‘s art direction aims for a more realistic design, whereas to Saints Row‘s cartoony graphics.
- Grand Theft Auto also has much more visual fidelity and details, whereas Saints Row goes for a more minimal visual fidelity to accompany its cartoony vibe.
- Grand Theft Auto has a full-fledged online game mode for Grand Theft Auto V which is disconnected from the story campaign, whereas Saints Row only has an online co-op to complete the story campaign together with your friends but does not have a standalone multiplayer experience.
Comparing Core Mechanics
Now that we have established the main differences of the franchises, let’s dive deeper to the technical side of things.
Gameplay (Winner Draw)
Grand Theft Auto
The Grand Theft Auto franchise started with a top-down perspective. The premise and the gameplay are somewhat similar to your typical dungeon-crawler RPG; imagine that you’re playing a hybrid between Grand Theft Auto and Diablo. The game that started it all would be Grand Theft Auto III which Rockstar released in 2001.
Grand Theft Auto III is the oldest game that plays almost similar to later games. The gameplay mainly revolves on getting to a marker on the map, grabbing a mission from an NPC, and completing their request. After finishing the quest, the NPCs usually reward you with money or even “experience points” to your statistics.
Here are some of the takeaways from Grand Theft Auto’s gameplay (these points are in general and mainly focus on later entries in the series.)
- Grand Theft Auto kicks off the series with top-down gameplay but still contains the similar grit and gnarly story of a Grand Theft Auto game.
- Even the first two games have the same mechanic of going to a marker on the map.
- Characters usually have stats that affect the gunplay, stamina, driving, etc.
- Later iterations in the series offer a cover system to give players at least the option to minimize damage taken from AI enemies.
- The gameplay, driving, and combat have an excellent blend of realism and arcadey feel.
- Grand Theft Auto V has an option to switch between the first and third-person perspectives.
- Grand Theft Online offers far more content for players.
- A coherent police system that intensifies the more you resist arrest.
Saint’s Row started as a game with a fully explorable world, although this is understandable due to the game coming out much later. What separates the game from the Grand Theft Auto series is its much wackier gameplay style and story-telling (which we’ll get to later.) It does have similarities to Grand Theft Auto, like quest markers, the aspect of being able to drive around, punch random NPCs, be chased by cops, etc.
Here are some takeaways from Saints Row’s gameplay:
- Third-person perspective gameplay from the first game in the series.
- The series offers more exhilarating combat, with melee combat providing more satisfaction due to the sound effects, which make your punches and other hits feel heavier.
- Similar mechanic to Grand Theft Auto V when it comes to missions (quest markers)
- Customizable protagonist, from the face down to certain body features. Grand Theft Auto only allows you to customize certain aspects such as hair, tattoos, clothes, etc.
- Unlike Grand Theft Auto games, combat, driving, and interaction with other NPCs lean into a wacky and arcadey feel rather than blending with realism.
- Saints Row diverts into a superhero-esque series upon the fourth installment; however, Saints Row is rebooting into what the series is known for.
I feel like both games excel at what they are doing when it comes to gameplay; hence I couldn’t decide on which is better when it comes to gameplay.
Story and Writing (Winner: Grand Theft Auto)
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto’s story differs from game to game; although there are a few nods between games, the stories per game can stand independently. You don’t have to play older entries in the series to immerse fully within the story. As for the writing, Grand Theft Auto games have somewhat a hit or a miss in writing.
Most notably, in Grand Theft Auto V, some games have pacing and shallow writing. However, some games have an excellent story and pacing, which I consider Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV. Both of the mentioned games have a great storyline, and the writing is excellent.
Overall, if I were to rate the story and writing in Grand Theft Auto games, I’d give it a solid A for just those two games alone.
Onto Saints Row story and writing, this is where we see a massive divergence between the two franchises. While Grand Theft Auto has some serious and tense moments, Saints Row completely opposes this by completely overshooting the wackiness within their story and writing.
Also, the whole story of the Saints Row franchise is considered to be continuous, focusing on a gang called “The Saints.” Although there are some plot holes within the game itself, with the nature of Saints Row games, you would laugh at it if you noticed them.
The sole premise of every Saints Row game is the “Rising to Power” scheme, and it became the staple of the game. Sure, the story is linear and straightforward; however, we’ve known and loved Saints Row for its whacky antics and quirky writing.
For this reason, I’m giving Saints Row a solid B for the number of laughs I got off while playing the game.
World Design (Winner: Grand Theft Auto)
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto has become the standard of what open-world games should look like, primarily thanks to Rockstar’s understanding of what an open-world game is. Even in older entries in the series, gamers know Grand Theft Auto for being one of the most intricately designed open-world sandbox games.
With the number of details spanning from every corner of the street down to the small things such as NPC behavior, there’s no denying that Grand Theft Auto truly is a fantastic game. This aspect is why fans and even new gamers anticipate the next Grand Theft Auto game; to know how much more Rockstar can further revolutionize the series.
I thought that when Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto IV, there wouldn’t be any game that could be more detailed than that. Alas, Rockstar gave us Grand Theft Auto V and even the more impressive cousin of the series, Red Dead Redemption 2.
All in all, world design-wise, Rockstar gets an A+.
For Saints Row, the world design didn’t provide a “wow factor,” at least for me. I highly think that it’s one of the most lifeless open-world experiences ever. The city and the pedestrians feel dull in general; it’s like you’re playing in a generic world filled with NPCs roaming around. Not to mention that some of the NPCs have some weird behavior, especially when driving.
Most of the time, you’ll find yourself crawling towards the mission marker because of how similar most of the city looks and feels. Even worse about this is how lazy the developers got when they thought of reskinning Saints Row 3’s town and gave it an extraterrestrial badge and ships, then calling it Saints Row 4.
For the world design, I’d give Saints Row a C-.
Audio and Score (Winner: Grand Theft Auto)
Grand Theft Auto
Audio and score genuinely change the experience of an open-world game if done correctly. With that said, Grand Theft Auto V has some of the best sound effects and radio stations in open-world games. Except for whacky commercials, skits, and ridiculous stories, radio stations feel like their real-life counterparts.
This aspect of an actual radio station makes your journey to various game areas more enjoyable and less tedious. What if you’re not in a vehicle and just walking around the streets? How would that compare in terms of audio? Great news for you, especially in Grand Theft Auto V; the streets feel so alive with NPCs that have random dialogues and react accordingly to your actions, increasing the player’s immersion.
Because of how well Rockstar produced the audio and sound for their Grand Theft Auto games, this gets a solid A+ for me.
While Grand Theft Auto offers one of the best experiences when it comes to audio and sound, Saints Row, on the other hand, offers at least a decent one. This opinion is not a knock on Saints Row in general; however, we are comparing it against a game that pioneered open-world games. Saints Row has a less spectacular sound design than Grand Theft Auto V.
One of the most notable trait of Saints Row’s sound design is that some of the sound effects, like car crashes, melee combat, etc., feel and hit a lot more heavy which feels great and more satisfying to the ear. The radio station has some great songs and a few quirky ads. I also have to commend the voice lines of the protagonists in Saints Row; they’re well-executed, at least in my opinion.
Saints Row has a decent performance in the audio and sounds area; hence Saints Row gets a B+ for me.
Mission Design (Winner: Draw)
Grand Theft Auto
Since both Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row have almost the same premise of grabbing a mission from an NPC, I feel it’s fair to compare them in this aspect. Grand Theft Auto has a decent mission design, although some side-missions do not feel rewarding, other than getting that illustrious 100% completion for each game.
Other than that, most rewards do not help you be “more powerful” in the game but instead reward you with some narrative progression, may it be related to the game’s main story or not.
I’ll be giving Grand Theft Auto a grade of A.
In this aspect, I feel that Saints Row does their mission designs better, specifically on the side-missions. If you’ll be doing side-missions in the Saints Row grants you some cool stuff. The game’s whacky narrative also helps create another leverage for Saints Row, which is much more ridiculous main story missions.
I honestly had a blast while playing through missions in Saints Row because of how wild things can get during your playthrough, especially on later installments where the protagonist now has superpowers.
Much like Grand Theft Auto’s mission design, I’ll be giving this a solid A.
Visual Fidelity (Winner: Grand Theft Auto V)
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto started as a pixelated game when Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto I. As years progressed, we witnessed the evolution of Grand Theft Auto games which now aims to look as realistic as possible. Not to mention the amount of modding support that helps elevate Grand Theft Auto V to the next generation in terms of graphics.
We may have seen Grand Theft Auto V show its age; however, let’s look at the cousin of the Grand Theft Auto series, which is Red Dead Redemption 2. The sheer amount of visual details in Red Dead Redemption 2 is enormous; we can expect the next installment of Grand Theft Auto to have the same or even more amount of graphical fidelity.
Saints Row already began in a 3D space which is a step up on Grand Theft Auto’s first installment. The art direction of Saints Row heavily deviates from Grand Theft Auto’s; Grand Theft Auto goes for a realistic graphical approach, while Saints Row goes for a cartoony vibe which they portray in a great way.
The cartoony vibe compliments Saints Row’s goofy and whacky gameplay elements, such as the story, characters, and gameplay. However, we can see this cartoony-vibe change once the reboot of Saints Row comes out.
The reboot of Saints Row will come with a much more grounded graphical fidelity, going back to somewhat being realistic, similar to State of Decay 1 and 2. Upon viewing the trailers and gameplay footage of the new Saints Row game, I still prefer Grand Theft Auto’s direction in terms of realism.
Multiplayer/Online Aspect (Winner: Grand Theft Auto V)
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto Online is one of Rockstar’s most successful projects ever made. Up until this day, there are still over 80,000 active players, according to steamcharts. One of the aspects that Grand Theft Auto Online does best is the number of game modes available for players.
You and your friends will not run out of things to do in Grand Theft Auto Online, from heists to deathmatch to modded role-playing servers. Even until now, Rockstar has added additional multiplayer content, which further rewards players to keep their player base satisfied.
We’ve already seen glimpses of this since Grand Theft Auto San Andreas in the form of Grand Theft San Andreas Multiplayer mod (SAMP) and even an official version in Grand Theft Auto IV. Grand Theft Auto Online is the culmination of all of these ideas that lets you explore Los Santos’s entirety in a single server with other players.
Saints Row does not have an expansive multiplayer content as Grand Theft Auto has; however, it does have a multiplayer co-op that allows you to explore and continue the single-player story mode with your friend.
This feature is something that the Grand Theft Auto series has not yet done. According to Volition, it seems that they will not be trying to compete with Grand Theft Auto Online even with the newest Saint Row Reboot.
What Does Grand Theft Auto Do Better?
- Grand Theft Auto better portrays a more grounded and almost true-to-life story, details, and even graphical fidelity.
- Grand Theft Auto has more relatable characters and more coherent storytelling per game.
- The franchise has a better and more complex world.
- NPCs and pedestrians feel much more alive, especially in the latest iterations of the franchise.
- The Grand Theft Auto Online offers an incredible multiplayer experience while living a life of crime with your friends.
- There are so many things to do and discover per game.
- Grand Theft Auto is the pioneer and the primary standard of open-world video games.
- Grand Theft Auto has a detailed sound design, and what makes it stand out is the radio programs that they have which are always a delight to listen to while exploring the world.
What Does Saints Row do Better?
- Saints Row offers a more whacky and ridiculous experience that will keep you laughing at every instance.
- Most Saints Row games have better side missions or activities due to most of these activities being more rewarding.
- The combat hits heavier and feels better due to the emphasis on melee combat.
- Saints Row offers a multiplayer co-op while playing the campaign Grand Theft Auto does not currently offer.
Which is Better Overall and Why?
If we’ll be looking at aspects of a video game such as graphics, audio, world-building, story, content, etc., Grand Theft Auto does most things better than Saints Row. However, you should note that it mostly comes down to personal preference as these two open-world games have different approaches in the genre.
Whether you prefer Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row, there’s no denying that you can’t go wrong either way.
Other Alternatives to These Games
- Sleeping Dogs- An open-world game set in Hongkong.
- Watch Dogs Series- An open-world game that has technological hacking as its main mechanics.
- Red Dead Redemption Series- A Grand Theft Auto-like game set in the wild west.
- Yakuza Series- A semi-open-world game that revolves around mafias/yakuza in Japan.
- Mafia Series- An open-world game set in the 1930s that revolves around mafias in America.
- L.A. Noire- A semi-open-world game set in the 1940s that revolves around solving murders and other crimes.
- Just Cause Series- A much more action-oriented open-world game where the main selling point is the ridiculous mayhem that you can cause.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Which Do You Prefer: Grand Theft Auto V or Saints Row 4?
Answer: For this one, it depends highly on what I’m feeling. If I want more action and become Superman, I’d go with Saints Row 4. However, suppose I want to do fun heists and other multiplayer modes. In that case, I’d go for Grand Theft Auto V. I believe that Saints Row 4 is the game where the Saints Row highly distanced itself from the Grand Theft Auto series; however, with the reboot coming in a few months, we should see Saints Row going back to its roots.
Question: Does Saints Row Have A Multiplayer Feature Similar to Grand Theft Auto Online?
Answer: Saints Row does have an online co-op feature that allows you to partner up with your friends and tackle the campaign missions together. However, that’s how far you’ll get from getting full-pledged online gameplay compared to the vast open-ended options from Grand Theft Auto Online. Based on an interview with the developers of the Saints Row Reboot, you should be expecting to see the same co-op mode within the reboot. This co-op mode is a step up from Grand Theft Auto’s solo player campaign, but we may see that change once Rockstar announces Grand Theft Auto VI.
Question: Which Game Has A Better Weapon Choice? Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row?
Answer: Grand Theft Auto aims to have a relatively grounded approach when it comes to weapons; however, some weapons have a bit of wackiness in them. In contrast to that, Saints Row goes all out when it comes to ridiculousness, even when it comes to weapons, and this aspect translates into a better combat system than Grand Theft Auto games in general. This area of preference mainly comes down to the players themselves; whether they like a more robust and action-oriented combat system with lots of weapons to choose from or a somewhat realistic approach to combat, both games indeed have a lot to offer in this department.
Overall, many fans viewed the Saints Row series as a “Grand Theft Auto Clone,” I highly disagree with that. I highly think that gamers dubbed Saints Row as a clone because of Grand Theft Auto’s popularity during the time of the first Saints Row game.
Regardless, Saints Row found its identity during the later installments and stuck with it; hence I couldn’t recommend one over the other in terms of a subjective opinion because they both play differently. Grand Theft Auto wins in terms of in-game technicalities, such as our discussed aspects in this article.
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