Summary: Saints Row is one of most unique series of games to build upon the open-world action template forged by Grand Theft Auto, and has met with plenty of critical and commercial success since it began on consoles back in 2006. This latest iteration, titled Saints Row: The Third promises the most outlandish fun and freedom of customization of them all, and in a much more PC-friendly package than its predecessor. Does it live up to those expectations and, more importantly, is it worth the price of admission? Find out in Will's latest review!
If the open-world action game genre were to celebrate Thanksgiving, there’s no doubt who would be seated at the head of the table: Grand Theft Auto, the grand-daddy of them all. To either side would be all of his offspring -- some successful and others lost in the shadow of their elder -- but off in the background, you’d find Saints Row, playing with the kids and knocking things over. First released as an Xbox 360 exclusive in 2006, the original Saints Row was a great success, despite being considered a straight-up GTA clone. But as GTA aged, it became more mature, more story-driven, and much more serious. At the same time, Saints Row has understood its rather different role in the universe and wholly embraced it. The Third is the result – a rebellious game that refuses to act normal and does everything in its power to make you giggle gleefully like a child.
My first experience with Saints Row began with the PC port of SR2. It was one of the worst ports I’ve ever played, including atrocious controls, terrible performance, mediocre graphics, and a collection of bugs that would make any entomologist faint… And I loved every second of it. The game not only epitomized the concept of fun but had some of the most hilarious and likable characters in gaming. The city of Stilwater was an awesome setting, with much to see and tons to do. The game was just oozing in content and replayability.
After that, Volition, Inc. created another game that elevated the concept of nonstop fun: Red Faction: Guerilla. The entire point of the game was to indiscriminately destroy everything and lead a rebellion on Mars by conquering territory in an open-world setting. It was easily one of the most fun games I’ve ever played because I could do anything I wanted and unleash my repressed insanity. Saints Row: The Third takes this idea, rolls it up and uses it to snort a few kilos of cocaine, then massacres boardroom logic in favor of giving you, the player, the ability to beat the bejesus out of pedestrians with a giant dildo.
The story missions in the Saints Row series have always been campy and bordering on parody of anything and everything. They resemble Hong Kong action films with Hollywood one-liners and will satiate every old-school action flick fan’s heart. The Third is no exception to this. You will find yourself jumping out of cargo jets, blowing up city blocks with a tank, and just so much more that I don’t want to spoil. In short, the game is less about being a gangster and doing hood rat stuff, and more about being the country’s most-wanted terrorist and deriving joy in being this post-9/11 world’s worst nightmare – without ever giving it so much as a second thought.
”Steelport is like Bangkok’s abusive father.”
Eventually, the Special Tactical Anti-Gang unit, or STAG, will swoop in with a humongous aircraft carrier, laser weaponry, transformer VTOLs, and state-of-the-art tanks to put a stop to your shenanigans. It’s at this point that the game takes a very sharp turn from urban, ghetto warfare to pure sci-fi, and I absolutely love it. The futuristic and fantastical weapons open so many new avenues of gameplay, from a Sonic Blaster that behaves a lot like Half-Life 2’s gravity gun on the push setting to UAV airstrikes, SR3 never ceases to give you an endless variety of toys to kill things.
And then you have some weapons that are just downright ridiculous. The “Penetrator” is a long purple dildo on a stick that you whack people with, and the “Fart in a Jar” is basically a stun grenade. You can even remotely control NPC vehicles and make them wreak havoc on your behalf. My favorite, though, is a bazooka that launches mind-controlling squids that will turn foes into friends before exploding and killing them. These little creatures are absurdly cute and will apologize to your enemies for what they’re doing or give off a little Pillsbury Doughboy-like laugh.
Scattered throughout the SR3 game world are optional activities for you to take part in, ranging from causing as much monetary expense to the city in a tank in the allotted time to fighting through a Japanese game show death arena (“Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax”). There are also challenges and achievements to complete or unlock, such as surviving wave after wave of enemy forces, streaking and shocking people with your nudity, surfing on top of cars, and a seemingly endless array of vehicular stunts to attempt.
Compared to other sandbox games, Saints Row: The Third is very smooth and responsive, with such accurate and deadly gunplay that it’s practically bordering on third-person shooter territory. Unfortunately, there is still some overbearing auto-aiming to deal with, and the game isn’t quite as fast when it comes to moving the camera as a full-blown shooter, but it’s certainly the best of any GTA derivative. The AI is semi-intelligent – they will duck out of your way, hide behind cover, rush you, or flank you -- but like most games in the genre, they won’t be impressing anyone. Consequently, your “homies” or friendly NPCs are pretty useless, serving only to die endlessly and pester you for revives.
”We traded our dicks in for pussies.”
Sadly, a lot of content from the previous games has been eliminated or greatly reduced in SR3. There are no more minigames, nor can you perform jobs as a taxi cab driver or ambulance EMT. There’s no more racing, no FUZZ (taking down criminals as a cop in the most brutal way possible), and no demolition derbies, among other activities and diversions. Furthermore, Steelport has a lot less variety than Stilwater in terms of geography. In Stilwater there were dozens of neighborhoods with different styles and atmosphere and was just incredibly varied. Steelport feels smaller and less interesting. There are less indoor areas, too: no mall, no underground city with sewage system, and no public transit, for example.
There are three rival gangs in Saints Row: The Third, all united under one Syndicate. Though each is different in their own way (cyberpunk teens, Mexican wrestlers, professional mobsters), complete with special lieutenants that have unique powers, they behave similarly enough to blend together into a generic bad guy soup. Lastly, the missions feel more disjointed and the cutscenes don’t transition very well. There are a lot of references to events that haven’t happened, making me believe a lot of content was cut, and though there are more missions they aren’t as varied as those found in SR2. In fact, many of these missions are just activities rather than something unique.
This is a bummer because the game starts out very strong. The first mission was highly scripted and well-voiced, with excellent pacing and action sequences. After that, most missions just end up being shootouts and nothing more. Also, a lot of great characters are underused and one of my favorites dies early on (which pissed me off to no end). Thankfully, some characters have returned from SR2 and provide excellent chemistry with yourself and each other. Other characters, not so much… like the incredibly annoying auto-tuned pimp. Yes, you read that right -- there’s a pimp whose cane is an auto-tuned microphone and he sings his dialogue. I thank the Almighty he’s never used after his brief story arc is over.
Most importantly, Saints Row: The Third feels a lot shorter. You can probably get through most of the story missions in about 10 hours, with another 10 to 20 spent on sandboxing. Perhaps it feels shorter because I had so much fun that time sped by, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi that SR2 had and is now missing. It might be the variety, which SR3 is lacking in comparison. At one point or another, you will feel like you’ve been everywhere and done everything and have no more reason to continue. With SR2 I always had something to go back to that always felt fresh and exciting.
”That’s just downright ethical!”
The driving in SR3 is only marginally better than previous titles. Almost everything you can get behind the wheel of responds either like a sports car or a golf cart, with nothing in between. The second you let off the accelerator you immediately stop, turns are way too sharp, you can go from 0 – 60 immediately, or the complete opposite of all the aforementioned. At least flying and boating is a lot better; it’s still pretty sluggish, but it won’t cause you to pull your hair out like in SR2.
The Third’s sound effects are pretty standard, nothing too interesting to hear there. The voice actors, on the other hand, are excellent. Many prominent Hollywood actors will play themselves or one of the characters you fight with. I won’t name any names because they make for hilarious surprises. Like in SR2, you can change the voice of your character. You have seven choices including a standard Caucasian male/female, a standard African-American male/female, a British male, a Russian female, and lastly a zombie. If you pick the zombie, your character will speak in incoherent gurgles and will do so for the entire game and in every cutscene. This makes for some of the most unintentionally hilarious moments I’ve ever experienced with a game, and I had to pause frequently to wipe tears from my eye.
For the story’s sake, I played as the baritone Brit and, like in SR2, I found him to be incredibly annoying… at least at first. It seems it took the voice actors a little while to get comfortable in their roles, so there is a discernible quality difference from when you first play the game to the later missions. In contrast to SR2, your voice selection also changes your personality and dialogue. Rather than the exact same dialogue spoken by different actors, each is tailored to create a much more unique take on the world and what’s happening.
Speaking of personality, the level of customization in Saints Row: The Third is insane. You can change every aspect of your character and make him/her look the way you want (they released this aspect as a free demo a few weeks before the game came out). You can personalize clothing and vehicles in the same way, or even your entire gang. Unfortunately, you cannot really customize your cribs like in SR2. Instead, you can only upgrade them, which merely changes the exterior and adds a few bonuses. There’s no interior designing or ability to manage bought properties other than you own the deed and get some cash flow and a discount.
|<% print_image("23"); %>||<% print_image("24"); %>|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|