Game Reviews

Review: Saints Row: The Third (Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

The Saints Are Back and This Time, It’s Just Ridiculous

Videogames are the ultimate form of escapism. They allow us to forget about our mundane lives and go off into the digital realm and either do something we never could, or rather, never would in the real world. It’s perhaps the defining aspect of games – the level of interactivty that they offer and, more importantly, what these games actually allow us to do, albeit in pretend form, is what sets them apart from any form of media.

It’s this particular notion that Saints Row: The Third captures so perfectly. In brief, this game is best defined as being absolutely nuts. The amount of crazy ideas pumped into it, whether it’s driving a car with a tiger as a passenger or four gangsters taking out a military-grade aircraft carrier, is simply insane. It’s easy to see that the developers, Volition, Inc., went all out to wow its audience with a game that focuses on providing one of the best modern gameplay experiences that money can buy. From a technical point of view, Saints Row: The Third isn’t perfect, namely because it’s a story-driven game with a story that acts as a bit of a hindrance at times. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an over-the-top, insane action-sandbox game this holiday season, then Saints Row: The Third is a must-buy title.

Welcome to Steelport

The level of customisation is astonishing.

Saints Row: The Third’s storyline is quite a departure from Saints Row 2, which itself was pretty crazy. After defeating the Ultor Corporation last time round, the Saints grew into a worldwide phenonemon, becoming pop culture icons for their criminal antics. The end result of this is a gang that’s more focused on advertising and media deals than the devious acts that helped it garner such notoriety. However, a spanner is quickly thrown in the works when the gang are targeted by a wealthy businessman and his organisation, The Syndicate, a collaborative effort between three other major gangs. With things going terribly pear-shaped, the Saints end up in Steelport, rather than their usual stomping ground of Stilwater. With the gang deprived of some – but not all – of its luxuries and scattered all over the place, it’s up to you to reclaim your status and take Steelport for your own.

Unfortunately, the story is a tad confusing at times and it never really gets the chance to build up momentum. One minute you’re in the middle of World War III, the next you’re doing something less exciting and the story takes the backseat. While this doesn’t detract enough from the game to ruin it, it just isn’t as strong as the previous game. Some characters, such as Shaundi, have undergone drastic changes (for the worse), whereas the main emphasis of the story has moved away perhaps a bit too much from gang warfare, and more into actual warfare against a new military opponent known as STAG (the Special Tactical Anti-Gang Unit) that lacks personality. Thankfully, the developers were keen to shy away from making you build your way back up to the top from the very bottom, which means that there’s a lot more action early on in this game than its predecessor.

You are also asked to make key choices throughout the story about to what to do next. These are, in fact, a lot less important than they’re initially made out to be and, unfortunately, have no real effect on the story, except for the final one. It’s essentially a case of choosing which perks you want.  The game is still incredibly humorous and this new storyline direction does allow for some jaw-dropping moments (meeting Steelport’s mayor, for example, is one of greatest moments you’ll ever experience in a videogame). However, it just isn’t executed particularly well from start to finish, with the ending(s) leaving a bit of a sour taste.

Playing With Fire(power)

While Saints Row: The Third may falter somewhat with its storyline, the actual gameplay is both fun and fleshed out. This is, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable games of the year. The action is full-on almost the entire way through, with the pacing only being a bit off near the beginning. This is mainly because you have to complete a series of the game’s side missions and jobs before you can progress with the actual story, and these don’t carry the same level of excitement that story missions do. However, about halfway through, things really pick up, with Steelport practically turning into a warzone. The amount of units, vehicles and firepower you’ll see on the screen at any one time is breathtaking. Volition, Inc. were looking to deliver a high-octane experience and, in this regard, they most certainly succeeded.

The Luchadores are, unfortunately, not as memorable as other Saints Row gangs

What really sets Saints Row: The Third apart from its competitors, such as Grand Theft Auto, is just how utterly absurd it is. This game is not intended for the easily offended. It’s plain stupid, but you’ll absolutely love it. Whether it’s skydiving out of a plane naked, deliberately jumping in front of cars for insurance money or fighting off zombie hordes, it’s all such ridiculously good and varied fun that you won’t want to stop playing. There’re also some great homages to other media too, such as Tron. It’s near impossible to play through this game and not laugh at something. And the best part is that you can do all of this with a friend in the online cooperative mode.

There’s also Saints Row’s own take on Horde Mode included in the game, suitably known as “Whored Mode”. Here, you have three maps, and up to thirty waves of enemies to fight your way through. Much like the campaign mode, this is fully playable in coop. Saints Row: The Third does a great job of taking this game type to a whole new level. No longer are you a generic space marine or military man fighting off tons of aliens; here, you’re delivering pain to sex slaves (do they enjoy that sort of thing?) with traditional weaponry, such as the infamous giant purple dildo bat. Yes, I’m being deadly serious.

You Can Never Have Too Much of a Good Thing

Saints Row: The Third offers an impressive amount of customisation. Its character creation, like previous entries in the series, is especially thorough. Moreover, Steelport is an incredibly detailed place, with lots of hidden areas and points of interest for you to explore. Here, you’ll find strongholds to take over and turn into bases of operations (with a surprisingly detailed amount of customisation available), as well as properties to purchase that increase your hourly income. Occasionally, you’ll be driving around, only to come across a gang operation that needs breaking up or a side activity, such as the awesome reality TV show event, Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax (think bizarre Japanese game show meets The Running Man). These can earn you extra cash to buy guns and upgrades or to earn you respect (which essentially allows you to unlock these). Thankfully, respect levels don’t get in the way of story missions as they did in previous Saints Row titles, although you may want to upgrade your character as much as possible before undertaking the later missions in the game; it can get very tough near the end.

As stated above, the Third Street Saints have a new enemy, STAG. This military organisation is unlike any enemy seen before, using high-tech weaponry and vehicles to bring order to Steelport. Fighting against these guys really mixes things up; they’re incredibly hard to take down and it really does give you a sense of being outgunned and outmanned. It isn’t as mindless as some of the inter-gang battles can be, although new types of gang enemies also keep things fresh. One minor criticism would be that it seems all too easy to get your notoriety rating up very quickly, which doesn’t make missions harder per se; rather, it can just take a lot longer to simply get from A to B, as you have to fight your way through hordes of enemies.

The Professor Genki side game is just nuts.

The amount of guns and vehicles you can use is staggering. Weapons are now upgradeable, and you’ll need to make use of these. Everything from larger gun magazines to exploding bullets is available and you can really choose an upgrade path that suits your gameplay style. If you like to get up close and personal, you can opt for dual submachine guns, whereas those that like to take on their enemies at range can invest in a souped-up sniper rifle.

With regards to the game’s controls, they will largely be familiar to those that have either played a previous Saints Row game or, at least, something along the lines of Grand Theft Auto. Driving vehicles has never been simpler, and you’ll easily zip in between and around cars with the amount of intricate fine-tuning that Volition, Inc. has put in. Newer vehicles, such as the VTOL, incorporate two flight modes, hover and…well, fly. This makes it easy to engage in both combat and travel as you simply hover and focus on destroying your enemies. It’s a fairly intuitive upgrade that adds another level to vehicular warfare.

Stilwater Never Looked This Good

Graphically, Saints Row: The Third is a nice step up from its prequel. It isn’t the prettiest game in the world, yet the balance between visuals and on-screen intensity more than makes up for this. Everything looks a lot sharper and a lot more polished. Interior environments sport much more detail, not to mention a plethora of destructibles that catch plenty of fire throughout.

The game evokes a great cinematic feel that elevates the action. There’re plenty of new moves at your disposal, which can be performed with a single button press. These range from hilarious to downright silly, such as leapfrogging someone only to then slap them. The game’s camera typically turns this into an action shot of sorts, making it all the more entertaining.

Using the VTOL is simple thanks to intuitive controls

Better yet is the incredible level of attention to detail. Steelport feels more like a living, breathing world in comparison to its sister city. As the game progresses, numerous (and often, hilarious) news stories will play over the radio discussing your most recent antics, while the city itself goes through various stages of protest, military lockdown and even war.

There are fake radio stations for you to listen to as you drive and the music selection is pretty impressive. Otherwise, the sound is what you would expect, whizzing buttons, loud explosions and a heck of a lot of funny dialogue. The fact that your character can have the London accent that was present in the second is more or less a good enough reason on its own for Brits to buy this. Superbly voiced, taking native colloquialisms into account, you’ll really enjoy some of the cutscenes in this game.

The Final Verdict

Whereas Saints Row: The Third’s story takes something of a step back, its gameplay takes two nice big strides forward. The amount of fun activites at your disposal is staggering, while some of the story missions are huge in scale, making them all the more intense. When you combine this with the sharp controls, funny dialogue and the perfect balance of pretty visuals and on-screen action, it’s a bit of a no-brainer: Saints Row: The Third is hilariously good fun.

Unfortunately, the game is designed with a story-driven experience in mind and this is what prevents the cherry from being placed on top of the proverbial cake. The story is often confusing and your enemies are less interesting than the Brotherhood or the Ronin ever were. Moreover, the pace slows unnecessarily shortly after the first explosive part of the game, creating something of a real disconnect with what is actually going on.

Nevertheless, if you’re after a game that provides bucketloads of insane, ridiculous and hilariously offensive content, Saints Row: The Third is worth your time and money. Volition, Inc. has focused on the most important aspect, the gameplay, and, as a result, has delivered one of the best gaming experiences of the year.

Go buy Saints Row: The Third now, it’d be criminal not to.

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