Saints Row: The Third Review
Outrageous humour, fun gameplay, and great customization make The Third the best game in the series
In a time when most games seem to take themselves very seriously, those that aspire to be satirical and humorous generally stand out from the crowd. This same logic applies to Saints Row: The Third, but to a much greater extent than with many other titles because this third game in this series so often passed off as a GTA clone has become a completely over-the-top beast of its own. Few games have gone as far as Saints Row: The Third when it comes to over the top, crude, blunt and potentially offensive humour. Few other games enable the player to such an extent to do whatever they please with whatever crazy weapons and mechanics the developers schemed up. This gonzo approach to humour, paired with Volition's extensive experience developing highly practical sandbox design, means that Saints Row: The Third is easily the best game in the series, and a sandbox game that should be seen as a shining role model for developers that aspire to make their games legitimately fun.
Just an ordinary day in Steelport
Once you get past the astounding introductory sequence of missions, things settle down into a structure that will be immediately familiar to anyone who played Saints Row 2. You still drive (or fly, or launch yourself) to mission locations and side activities while otherwise being free to cause mayhem in the substantial sandbox that is Steelport, the fictional city the game takes place in. The main difference in structure from Saints Row 2 is that you are no longer required to complete side activities in order to unlock further story missions. This is a step in the right direction, although you are still required to complete one each of the side activities in order to progress with the story, which serves to stutter the otherwise excellent pacing of the story missions.
Apart from this slow stretch of story missions that serve as tutorials for the generally fun side activities, the story levels are highly varied and always over the top. The plot of Saints Row: The Third is fairly cohesive, with the Third Street Saints now being celebrities in their home town of Stillwater, with a full line of clothing in their name, and a film in the works involving a famous actor based on their various escapades. At the beginning of the game, you end up in the new town of Steelport, and are forced to make your presence known and build up power amongst the local gangs and major crime figures. An assortment of awesome characters are introduced, with the gigantic but highly intelligent Oleg who needs to be transported in the bed of a pickup truck being the most interesting. Any of these characters who are part of your gang can be called to your aid at anytime, and they really hold their own during combat. Having to worry about looking after AI comrades is not as irritating as you might think, as they will usually follow you successfully; they even grab their own vehicle and trail you if you drive off without them.
Complementing the story of gaining a name for the Third Street Saints is a 'respect' system, where you gain respect for doing basically anything. As you gain respect levels, you also gain access to various upgrades to your character that can be purchased at any time. These upgrades range from basic improvements to total health, health regeneration speed, and sprint duration, to different gang abilities, to the ability to dual wield weapons. These upgrades tied to the respect system give you reason to stray from the story missions to take part in the many side activities, which range from ho-hum to hilarious and intense. If you are finding a specific story mission too difficult, you can stop at any time, do some side activities, and purchase upgrades to help curb the difficulty level.
Your comrade Oleg will treat enemies like footballs
Once you leave, or finish, the story missions, which will take about 10-12 hours to complete on their own, you will find a huge number of different side activities waiting for you. Activities range from reasonably conventional, such as one where you provide sniper cover, or another where you pilot a helicopter and provide fire support for a moving vehicle. Others are well north of crazy, including one where you drive around with a tiger in the passenger seat, and another where you throw yourself in front of cars for as part of an insurance fraud scheme. Each activity has a string of increasingly difficult challenges to complete, and you can simply ignore the ones you don't enjoy.
The sandbox distractions don't end there. Like with previous games, you are encouraged to take over territory across the city. You do this by completing side missions, purchasing property, and purging rival gang hideouts. Buying property will give you a fixed hourly income, and also give you discounts if you purchase retail outlets. On top of this, there are assassinations to complete, where you must go to a certain area and follow instructions to lure out your target. Of course, the simple act of driving and running around shooting and punching stuff can't be overlooked either. The cops and rival gangs have different heat levels, and they will fight each other as well, leading to some really crazy firefights. You can call in backup during any of these random stints of violence, and battles can rage for as long as you please. If you want to remove all heat, you simply have to duck into a store or Saint's safe house.
To round out the craziness of Saints Row: The Third, you are provided with a ridiculously powerful arsenal of weapons and vehicles from the very start. You get to carry the standard assortment of weapons such as shotguns, machine guns and the like, but you also get to choose a special weapons, such as a portable UAV air strike, and a melee weapon, which is usually something ridiculous such as well (I'll let you use your imagination on what the Apocafists are). Most weapons can be upgraded several times, generally turn into diabolical death-dealing uber-guns once all the upgrades are purchased.
Who says the Western is dead
Any vehicle you find on the street can be taken to a garage and upgraded and customized to your liking. With enough upgrades, a junky station wagon can be turned into a nearly-invincible doom wagon complete with tire spikes and nitrous boost. Whenever you use a vehicle in a mission, you are generally given unlimited access to it from your crib. These include attack helicopters, tanks, flying scooters with mini-guns, and jet-helicopter hybrids that fire a beam of heat. Vehicles handling is very responsive and very simple, with seemingly daunting vehicles such as helicopters and jets being handled with ease. Few games enable you to cause such wantless mayhem as Saints Row: The Third.
Vehicles aren't the only thing that be customized to a ridiculous degree. Early on you get to customize your character's appearance, voice, and a few choice actions. There is also a huge range of clothing shops where you can buy anything from three-piece suits to gimp suits and everything in between. If at any time in the game you decide you want to change your appearance, you can visit a plastic surgery store and have a complete makeover if you so desire. Customization is a large part of the fun in Saints Row: The Third, and the game stops at no boundaries when letting you decide what to (or not to) wear.
While Saint Row: The Third offers no competitive multiplayer, it does have some solid co-op options, including full support for two player co-op within the primary campaign. Things only get more ridiculous and hilarious when you play with a friend. There is also a survival type mode dubbed 'whored' mode, and while it's worth checking out for the absurd enemy types the game throws at you, it's not likely to be something you come back to once you have tried all of the maps.
Multiplayer offers up a unique set of ridiculous challenges
Saints Row 2 on the PC was plagued by a myriad of technical issues, the PC version of Saints Row The Third is as stable and technically proficient as you could hope for. The game looks sharp overall, and runs quite well, even when the action gets crazy. The one visual hiccup is the tendency of vehicles to pop in at close range, which can be a bit jarring at times. The audio is very solid across the board, with weapons packing an appropriate punch, and fast cars sounding powerful. The voice acting is very good overall, and the writing can be very clever at times. The game's licensed sound track also deserves attention, as it has some great music on it, including a great array of metal tracks of a calibre rarely seen in video games.
At a glance, the latest entry into the Saints Row series might seem like a GTA knock off, but it sets itself apart by a complete disregard for any grounding in reality. This game barrages you with over the top humour that will make you laugh on a consistent basis, but is also a lot of fun to play thanks to excellent mission design and very solid underlying gameplay mechanics. Any fan of sandbox gameplay that has the ability to embrace crude, over the top humour would do well to check out this game.