After two games of taking over Stillwater, the Saints have become cultural icons and now control a sizable media empire. Due to their meteoric growth, they have garnered the attention of those outside the confines of Stillwater. The Syndicate, a large group of gangs who control parts of the Saint’s new “business” venture, Steelport, want the Saints out of the picture. This, of course, gives players a chance at a new city with a whole new slew of guns, vehicles, and gangs.
Many see the Saints Row series as simply a GTA knock-off. But is it really? Does Saints Row: The Third live up to its zany predecessor? Do you really play as a toilet? Find out all this and more after the break.
So there is one thing players have to remember when playing Saints Row: it should not be taken seriously. The game itself is a kind of parody of not only GTA and the sandbox genre in general, but also of other pop culture icons. The game riffs on everything from obvious sex jokes to TRON to Half-Life 2, to zombies, to having predator drones rain down missiles a la the Modern Warfare series. What makes all the riffing work is that the game treats all of this as normal. The game very rarely breaks the fourth-wall, but when it does, it does so with comical style.
Visually, Saints Row: The Third is no GTA, but their style works – not shooting for realism but also not shooting for obviously cartoony. The game has a decent draw distance and doesn’t suffer from texture popping. The cut scenes are rather nice looking and transition well into gameplay. The graphics might have used just a bit more polish, but even though they don’t look like Skyrim, the level of detail and consistency outweigh any of the more obvious shortcomings.
The sound, however, has to be the best part of the game. The voice actors nail their parts and don’t come off as being merely an afterthought in production. The soundtrack is great, but the perfection of the soundtrack comes from how it was implemented. The musical choice for the missions is always spot on and completely encapsulates the action when the player is going through a mission.
When you get right down to it, Saints Row: The Third isn’t much different from the previous titles in terms of gameplay. The game still has a wealth of character creation options, hidden collectibles and challenges, and requires players to drive/fly/crotch-punch their way around the city to complete missions and bring Steelport under the watchful bling of the Saints. The customization options this time around are definitely more plentiful and allow players to make characters ranging from a stereotypical gangster, to a pants-less metallic green superhero.
Story-wise, Saints Row: The Third has a fairly typical take-over the city storyline with plenty of humor and a few twists. Though the story is generic, the game starts out with one of the most fun and over-the-top sequences I have seen – players rob a bank while dressed up as members from the gang when all hell breaks loose. The opening sequence is a perfect intro to new players while giving veterans the ability to jump straight into the fast-paced action.
The main addition to the story is that the game now offers choices during missions. For instance, after defeating one of the gang leaders, players can choose whether or not to go ahead and blow up the building. Not blowing it up allows players to keep it for the Saints’ new HQ. The individual choices may not seem big at the time, but there are several branching missions in the game where the player’s choice makes a difference. Overall, the story is fun and doesn’t seem to drag. The only caveat is that some of the missions are painfully hard if players have not chosen to upgrade their character (which i will talk about later).
Of course, being a sandbox game means there’s more to do than just storyline missions. The activities return with fan favorites like mayhem, escort, and insurance fraud. Sadly though, some of the gems like septic avenger have not returned. Not being able to spray poo on buildings left a void within me, but it was quickly filled with new side missions like Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax. P.G.S.E.R.C. is a game show that players can participate in – it requires going through an obstacle course while having to kill foam mascots who are also out to murder the player. Even though there are only six levels of each activity, players can replay them for extra cash.
Activities and missions both contribute to taking over areas of Steelport but the requirement to take over gang areas is no longer present to proceed in the game. This gives players a chance to always have some enemies when playing even when players are very far into the story and have knocked-off two of the three gangs. It also allows players more freedom in how to take Steelport over. If a player wants to hit all the activities before doing the missions, then he or she can.
The game has also revamped its upgrade system. Players can now buy character upgrades like reduced bullet damage or homies who bring VTOLs into combat. The system is built around unlocking different abilities based on the player’s respect level (which increases with missions and activities completed) and then paying for them with cash hustled from Steelport. What is nice about the system is that it does not lock players into any particular path and allows players a bit more freedom in what abilities they want/need to succeed. Weapons now can also be upgraded to add things like explosive rounds or laser sights.
Competitive multiplayer is gone, but to replace it, Volition improved the co-op experience and added “Whored Mode.” Co-op is now fully drop-in/drop-out, and anything done in single-player directly carries over to co-op and vice-versa. Activities and missions can both be done in co-op, though some of the activities are not really designed for co-op, which can make the experience boring for the player who has no control in the activity. Despite the improved co-op, the game lacks any activities that are built specifically for it, which is sad because that’s part of what made Saints Row 2 fun – throwing your friends off a skyscraper for money.
“Whored Mode” is just as it sounds. Waves of enemies, normally some kind of ho armed with an assortment of weapons, are thrown at players and each wave contains different weapons and vehicles to use to dispatch enemies. This mode can be extremely fun, since each wave is over-the-top with things like tanks and zombie hos, and allows players to compete for most hos slaughtered in the name of protecting Steelport.
Okay, enough saying “ho” and on to what I didn’t like about the game. My main gripe has to be that Steelport just feels and looks so tiny. The city is so condensed that it is easy to get turned around or completely miss something when driving by. Also, there is just less space to tool around while in a car, so the game tends to devolve into trying to navigate around all the AI cars with virtually no space to do it. Players can easily get bogged down by cars and then suddenly get stuck with police notoriety for running over people just to get to an objective.
The city also looks rather bland. Whereas Stillwater had a variety of areas from industrial to suburbs, Steelport is mostly downtown and slums. Everything just begins to look the same after a while and that doesn’t help player navigation either. True, there is a map, but it would be nice not having to rely upon it entirely just to get to your destination. I also would have liked to see more co-op features like there were in Saints Row 2. Many of the activities are fun in co-op, but they do not feel like playing them in co-op adds any worth to the activity.
Overall, I really can’t really knock the game too badly, as it turns out to be much greater than the sum of its individual parts. Gameplay is solid, visuals are good, soundtrack is great, a character only speaks using Auto Tune, and you can run around and beat zombies to death with a dildo bat. Yes. I just said that. The game does features zombies. The game does have a large purple phallus as a melee weapon. After reading that, I think you no longer have a reason to wait to purchase the game. It’s probably the most pure fun you’ll have this holiday season.
Saints Row: The Third was released on November 15th, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.