while i loathe the idea that since “GTA did it” no other game should try tackling this type of open world game without being called a “clone”, SR1 (and in certain aspects SR2) were still a direct response to GTA’s popularity - but also the parts where it actually kinda sucked. SR1 was already in development when San Andreas came out, it was released the year when the last title belonging in the “3D unverse” era of GTA was also released (Vice City Stories) and it either sought to improve or “fix” aspects of Rockstar’s work.
in 2006 SR1 brought in things like the GPS, saving your vehicles and being able to access them all over the city, being able to instantly retry a mission, excellent character and vehicle customisation that SA had only given a small taste of previously, etc., etc. - and a big interesting city you could explore all you want right from the start, no storms or bridge work keeping you away from a big chunk of content. SR1 was basically a direct response to perceived technical issues and flaws of the 3D universe era GTA games. some of the issues were also brought up by other games that fell under the “GTA clone” title, and there’s no doubt they were all influencing each other, but i’m focusing on SR and GTA because of how much of V’s work seems like a direct response to R*’s.
by SR2′s release the new “HD universe” era of GTA had already started with GTA IV, and SR2 shifted from attempting to purely improve upon the technical groundwork laid by R* to focusing on creating an alternative to the more realistic and grim tone and gameplay direction the GTA series went with Niko Bellic. when it came to technical issues they instead focused in their own earlier work, like making Stilwater more open and easier to navigate, adding check points to missions and massively improving and diversifying their character customisation system. a lot of the good work they did i think was shadowed by their awful marketing much of which was focused on deriding GTA IV on its less loved aspects, like the dreaded npc phonecalls and interaction.
the 3D universe of GTA, from GTA III in 2001 to Vice City Stories in 2006, is the nostalgic era that made me love crime sims, but Saints Row 1 and 2 as a whole are to me personally the absolute crown jewel of open world crime games. saying SR is a “clone” makes it sound like the series just tried to replicate GTA’s success by copying exactly what Rockstar did, when what we actually got was an alternative that came from a position of respect and appreciation towards R*s work while also trying to mend aspects of it, whether it was pure gameplay mechanics or the tone.