So… Saints Row IV.
The worst spoiler in gaming history wasn’t even perpetrated by gamers, or some reviewer, it was a deliberate, official choice on the part of some assbutt actually involved with the game. I assume said assbutt was in marketing, but hey–I could be wrong. Regardless, the decision to tell us ahead of time that Johnny Gat was returning was, in my opinion, not only a ginormous mistake of epically epic proportions, it robbed every Saints Row fan of what could have been an amazing experience.
I assume that the decision was an attempt to get more people to preorder the game. I get the impulse, really, I do. Everybody loves Johnny Gat (yes, you do. YES, YOU DO!!!) and knowing that he would be returning may very well have increased sales.
Here, love you some Gat.
Before I go any further, I should probably give you some backstory. My own history with Saints Row is kind of… stupid. When Saints Row originally came out, everyone kept comparing it to GTA. Being the diehard GTA fan that I am, I immediately turned up my nose at the wannabe and ignored it. Then I ignored Saints Row 2. Then I ignored Saints Row the Third… until I got really bored one day, and it happened to come up on a Steam sale.
Starting the series at 3 is a weird experience. I enjoyed the game thoroughly, but I had too many unanswered questions and too little information about the characters. So I went looking for the earlier games, and realized that while I could get Saints Row 2 on PC, I’d have to hop over to the Xbox for the first game. I said screw it, picked up 2, and played it. That helped quite a bit… except for all of the new unanswered questions I was stuck with. So I found 1 & 2 bundled together for Xbox, and finally played the series from the beginning.
By the time Saints Row IV came out, I’d officially become obsessed and had clocked hundreds of hours on the first three games between the PC and Xbox (I repurchased 3 on Xbox, just… just because). Ignoring the series was a mistake that I wish I could take back. If I happened across a magic lamp tomorrow, though, I’d wish for the chance to helm a Saints Row television series (preferably someplace like HBO or Starz, where we can really rough it up), because I’ve spent more time than I’m going to admit plotting it out in my head.
*Spoilers for basically all of Saints Row, to some degree*
Over the course of the series, your character has transitioned from Player to Boss to President. Then along comes Zinyak, who blows it all to hell (literally, as we later learn), imprisons the Boss & most of the gang, and basically tears you down to nothing. We learn that Zinyak has a thing for kidnapping people and imprisoning them in simulations, a la The Matrix (though it appears that everyone gets their own, personalized fake world, rather than sharing one fake world.) After Kinzie rescues you from your own special version of simulation hell, you have to break the rest of your crew out so that you can take on Zinyak together.
But let’s backtrack, for a moment, to Saints Row the Third. At the beginning of 3, you’re thrown in jail after Josh Birk birks up a bank robbery, and end up on a plane with new-baddie Phillipe Loren, leader of an organization known as the Syndicate. Loren wants your shit. You refuse to give him your shit. Johnny Gat saves the day, and stays behind to hold off the bad guys while the Boss and Shaundi head to the back of the plane, where they will parachute to safety. When Shaundi uses the comm system to let Johnny know you’re about to jump, he answers, is cut off by gunfire… and then there’s silence. Bottom line: as far as the Boss and the Saints are concerned, Johnny Gat is dead. According to the events of 4, his body was never recovered.
So, back to 4. When Kinzie finds what appears to be another virtual prison occupied by a Saint, here’s what happens:
Remember–we already know Gat is returning in 4, because the motherfuckingadvertising for the game told us so. Kinzie tells the Boss that this prison appears to be a plane, and the Boss immediately jumps to the conclusion that it’s Gat. We know Gat is coming back (because the motherfuckingadvertising for the game told us so), so we’re like, “Yay! Now we get Gat!” The other characters point out that Gat is, like, dead (duh), and this is probably Shaundi’s prison. When it turns out that yes, this is actually Shaundi’s prison, it’s a bit of a letdown, but we know Gat is returning (because the motherfuckingadvertising for the game told us so) so we’re not all that bummed. You knew there had to be a trick in there somewhere, and there it was. Later, when Kinzie tells us she’s actually found Gat, we’re like, “Yay, now we get Gat!” Because we know Gat’s returning. Because the motherfuckingadvertising for the game told us so.
Granted, the moment when you’re reunited with Gat is a pretty awesome one… but it’s nowhere near as awesome as it could have been. Not even close. It could have been an entirely different experience, and frankly, I feel like we were all robbed.
Johnny Gat’s return should have been the best-kept secret in gaming history. They should have done everything in their power to keep that under lock and key. Used NDAs. Threatened bodily harm. Hidden any and every single thing that might have led people to speculate that he was returning. Because here’s how that could have played out:
Kinzie tells the Boss that she’s found another prison, and it’s a plane. The Boss immediately jumps to the conclusion that it’s Gat, despite the fact that a) Gat is dead and b) it makes far more sense that Shaundi would be obsessed with a plane.
Back in 3, Shaundi was emoting all over the place about Gat’s death. She was upset, she was pissed, and she was taking it out on everyone. She didn’t just want revenge, she wanted to be in on the kill. She lost her shit all over Pierce when he had the gall to throw a party shortly after Gat’s death. She was, in a word, devastated, and she blamed herself. Johnny told her to get the Boss out, but she knew damned well that the Boss wasn’t the one who needed protecting–she was. If it weren’t for her, she figured, Gat and the Boss would have gotten out together. It makes sense that Gat’s death, and the circumstances surrounding it, would make for a perfect hell, forcing her to relive it over and over again.
The Boss, on the other hand, was downright calm about Gat’s death, at least on the surface. He/she (from now on, I’m sticking with “he”) focused on revenge, end of story. There’s some brief reminiscing about Gat with Pierce, but there’s no grief on display–just cold, focused rage. We don’t need to be told how the Boss feels about losing Gat, because we’re the Boss, and we already know how we feel about it.
In my opinion, the two most powerfully emotional scenes in the series both took place in Saints Row 2. One was, beyond a doubt, the scene during Aisha’s funeral, when Gat went stone-cold killer all over Shogo. The other was Carlos’ death.
There was no doubt there–Carlos’ death messed the Boss up. But Gat meant more to the Boss, didn’t he? So why wasn’t the Boss more visibly messed up about that? You could speculate that he was internalizing it. The Boss is older. A lot of shit has happened. He is better at hiding his emotions. But you couldn’t really be sure. Was it that he and Gat were pros, and they expected to go out in a blaze of sudden, violent death? Was it only Carlos’ relative youth and inexperience that made it seem like more of a tragedy? Are the writers just letting us experience whatever emotions we choose, based on how we felt about Gat?
When the Boss jumped to the conclusion that Gat was the one on the simulated plane, logic be damned, that should have been a huge red flag. It would also, in retrospect, make the bust of Gat that was resting on the President’s desk all the more poignant. That was no mere tribute–it was symbolic of a huge, unresolved something lurking beneath the surface. The Boss was messed up over Gat’s death, and he’s still completely messed up over Gat’s death, years later–so much so that he ignores the obvious and grasps at a wild, unlikely hope. Everyone else looks at him like he’s lost it–because really, it kind of looks like he has. Gat’s dead, and the Boss clearly hasn’t dealt with it.
But since we don’t know that Gat’s going to return (because the motherfuckingadvertising hasn’t told us so), we wouldn’t be able to help feeling a bit of that hope ourselves. Maybe Gat didn’t die. Maybe he was plucked off that plane by Zinyak, for whocares what reasons, and he’s been stuck in a simulation ever since. Maybe we can get him back. Imagine how you’d feel during that mission if you didn’t know Gat was coming back. Hopeful? Afraid to hope, because we “know” Gat is dead, and there’s really no chance of saving him? Excited, worried, conflicted… something. You could feel a lot of something, because you don’t know Gat’s coming back.
Then imagine how you’d feel when it turned out to be Shaundi, after all. Yeah, you have to save Shaundi, obviously… but now you’re kind of disappointed that it was just her, and you might even feel guilty about being disappointed. You’d maybe have to deal with the idea that, given the chance, you’d be willing to trade Shaundi for Gat. (I’m sure that would be easier for some of us–I liked Old Shaundi better than New Shaundi, and I never really liked Old Shaundi all that much. Then again, there might be some twisted people out there who love Shaundi and couldn’t care less about Gat.) You’d probably have to deal with Gat’s death all over again, on some level. Come to terms with the fact that he’s not coming back. Dead is dead (clones and zombies aside). As for the Boss–what happens now? Would we finally get to see him deal–emotionally–with Gat’s death, once and for all? How messy would that get? Should we expect an apocalyptic meltdown of some kind?
And then, in what would now be a dizzying twist (because the motherfuckingadvertising hasn’t told us that Gat is coming back), Kinzie tells us that she thinks she actually has found Gat. Now you want to feel hopeful and excited all over again–but you’ve been down that road once already. Once bitten, twice shy. Now you’re even more conflicted… and that would probably lend more emotional weight to the confrontation that ensues when Kinzie and Matt make it clear that they think going after Gat would be stupid. And it would, naturally, make the moment when you actually see Gat in the flesh (all of it) twenty million times more satisfying.
So, yes, I’ve spent entirely too much time thinking about this. My point is–by telling us that Gat was coming back, every scene was diluted. We knew what was going to happen, if not exactly how it was going to happen, so we didn’t need to think about it much, let alone try to read what might be going on beneath the surface. We didn’t have to speculate, and we certainly didn’t need to get any complicated emotions involved.
If they hadn’t told us that Gat was coming back–if they had instead guarded that knowledge like it was the secret to end all secrets–I think that Saints Row IV, without a single change, could have had a much greater impact. Could have made us think, and feel, in ways that just weren’t possible when we already knew what was going to happen. Let’s face it–the news would have leaked the moment gamers got their hands on it, but at least some of us would have gotten to have that experience. It’s a hell of a lot easier to avoid spoilers than it is to avoid the motherfuckingadvertising for a game.
Now go love you some Mayhem Gat! (Note: “Joe Shitbag and his merry band of fuckwits” is my new favorite phrase.)