Car-nage (get it?)
Lets start with the aspect that most sets these games apart. Even though the basic principle of driving is the same in each game, the three take three different approaches to the actual driving. GTA (recently) has made a stab at trying to be more realistic. The driving has reflected that, with much more accurate portrayals of the way cars handle. Saints Row, on the other hand, has stuck with classic cartoonish drifting and sliding around on the road like the cars simply dont have brakes. And finally, APB just sucks.
If you havent played APB, driving in the game is one of the most frustrating gaming experiences from any triple A game ever made. The online aspect of APB creates a lot of opportunities for fun (like telling your brother-in-law to get online, then just spawn camping him), but lag in a precision game is a very big problem. Every time you turn your vehicle, the command is delayed by at least half a second. Sure, that might not sound like that much to those of you who arent currently on drugs and therefore at one with the moment, but a half a second delay can cause problems even when youre just trying to get out of the parking lot. In effect, the driving is ruined for a large number of players, by totally removing the fun and immersion of being able to lead your own friends on a high speed chase.
Grand Theft Auto, however, nails the immersion. Vehicular travel in GTA IV gained a measure of accuracy just short of a NASCAR game. Rather than screeching out of control and taking every corner at 100 kph, the driving in GTA IV required precision and control. Rather than flipping a million times and exploding every time someone dropped a penny on the street, the car physics were designed to simulate actual traffic, a goal which many feel GTA IV achieved. Good on them. But theres one problem with that. Driving realism in a game about a Russian immigrant who has friends that air drop jeeps and machine guns in the middle of the city just doesnt make sense. Sure, its cool to know they can do it, but GTA never really gets around to explaining why the only remotely realistic thing in the game is the driving. Its not as if beating people to death and taking their floating, then getting sentenced to 5 minutes in prison is all that accurate.
Saints Row takes a much older approach: make the physics as cartoonish as everything else in the game. The driving is on par with games like Road Rash or Carmageddon, where drivers spend most of their time with their foot either jammed on the gas or their white knuckled grip pulling back on the hand grip. Its a relic from a time when turning meant crashing into a building in a way that points you in the direction you wish to go, and pedestrians were worth points. Sure, it might not make all that much sense that cars explode upon the tiniest bump. And no, I dont feel as if I am reliving a highly realistic high speed chase when I ram through 1000 SWAT vans with my sewage truck. But damnit, this is America. And I deserve to feel like Ive escaped from that reality at least once in a while. Its my right as an American to pretend I dont live here.
APB: 1 Dead Civilian - to be honest, the civilian might even have a gun for self defense, so it's not even like you get joy out of it.
GTA: 2 Dead Civilians - realism has its place, but it seems out of place in this game
Saint's Row: 3 Dead Civilians - this is a world in which cars are more like ballistic missiles than vehicles. It's a world I approve of.