Saints Row: The Third – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Singleplayer: Yes 
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: Cooperative only.
PEGI: 18+

(Thanks to THQ for providing a copy of this game for review.)

Saints Row: The Third is perhaps the perfect game to use in my argument against a growing trend in the industry; the shift toward realism. In many regards the industries desire to make games more realistic, darker and more mature is an admirable one, but at times it feels like it’s compromising the fundamental reason why I play games; for fun. This is a game that is determined to deliver bucket-loads of fun. Whether it’s the numerous insane moments in the game or the often rude but hilarious humour, Saints Row is here to make you laugh out loud. So lets take a look at it.

Being a third-person action/adventure title with a free-roaming city environment, gunplay and carjacking, comparisons between this title and the Grant Theft Auto series are about as inevitable as the government screwing things up for everyone else. But I’m not going to compare it to GTA V, as that’s rather unfair; the latest Grand Theft Auto title stands guilty of going down the realism route, and by doing so it lost much of its fun factor that the series had been known for. Instead a comparison to GTA: San Andreas would be more accurate, as that game embraced the concept of fun and simply gave the player plenty of tools to have it. Vice City would also be an apt comparison to make. Yes, that’s a rather bold statement to make, and while Saints Row: The Third doesn’t quite hit the heights of GTA: San Andreas, it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a while.

On the subject of storyline, there is indeed one; the Third Street Saints have been ditched in a brand new city, stripped of their wealth and power the simple goal is to get revenge on the bastard responsible, get back the money, power and fame, and take over the city of Steelport. In all truthfulness the storyline here is basically complete nonsense, but then its real goal is to allow for plenty of insane moments, plenty of bonkers characters and some of the funniest situations and dialogue in quite some time. Despite the fact that the Saints are cold-hearted murderers, it’s impossible not to like these crude anti-heroes. Through some terrific voice acting and great writing, the Saint’s are an incredibly likable bunch whose sense of humour is, at best, rude, crass and completely lacking in subtlety.. Hardly a moment goes by without some joke being made at the expense of the gaming industry, a pop-reference or some completely random moment, such as Pierce, a member of the Saints, trying to hide a giant purple dildo behind his back, or rescuing Zimos, a rather odd pimp with a voicebox on a stick, from a life of bondage and servitude in a mission that culminates in a chase through the streets in carriages pulled with gimps. Then there’s Kinzi, a cute computer geek girl with some odd habits, and Oleg, a massive mountain of a man whose clones you’ll hae to fight quite a few times during the game. The villains are just as entertaining, from the badass Killbane – a Luchadore wrestle – to the cyber-geek whom you’ll meet in battle as a dragon/demon thing, they’re an absurd but brilliant ensemble of nutters, all of which are almost instantly memorable.Few games have made me laugh this hard, and while the humour may be too crass, too rude and to over-the-top for some, it’s next to impossible not to crack a smile at the insanity of it all. Words simply don’t do it justice. And did I mention Burt Reynolds is in it? Burt Reynolds is in it. Win.

Volition, the games creator, continues the idea of fun over all else in the many missions that you’ll take on over the games seven or eight-hour storyline, not counting side-missions. Within the first hour you’ll have robbed a bank wearing huge masks, fought off waves of police while hanging from a vault being held by a helicopter, shot out the window of a plane and skydived through the middle of it, raided a military base, used Reaper (read: Predator) missiles, taken over a skyscraper to be your HQ and gone on a tank rampage through the streets. Those missions alone would be enough to fill most games quota of set-pieces and insanity, but Saints Row just keeps throwing more at you. Other fantastic mission designs include improving your courage by driving as fast as you can with a tiger in the passenger seat, fighting off killer hoes and a cyber-space battle where you get through a firewall by playing an odd school text adventure that likes to kill you with tiles at every turn. There are absolutely tons of other amazing missions, like flying VTOL aircraft, taking part in a wrestling show and even a mission involving a naked drugged-up rampage through a brothel that I could mention, but there’s just so much that this entire review would simply end up as a description of the game’s many ludicrous moments. Whoever came up with these missions was smoking some good shit. However, there is one terribly designed zombie later in the game that may just have you throwing your controller through the window thanks to walking undead that can lock you down in a series of never-ending blows, annoy you by forcing you into quick-time-events or just spontaneously combust, leaving your virtual avatar running in circles as he burns. Zombies might be cool, but in Saints Row: The Third they’re responsible for the single weakest section of the game.

These barmy missions all take place within the free-roaming city of Steelport, where you’re free to go where you want and do what you want. Outside of the main storyline missions the city is populated by a variety of different little side-missions, unlocked by completing the main missions, such as going on tank rampages, guarding homies while flying high in a chopper and crashing into cars whilst riding a flaming quadbike that explodes. You can also take on assassination contracts, carjacking challenges, missions that simply challenge you cause as much damage as you possible can and even try your hand at insurance fraud by throwing yourself off high places, into oncoming cars and more..  These missions are entertaining little diversions and are well worth the time to complete. But if these little missions aren’t your cup of tea then buying property and becoming a virtual version of the Monopoly man might be a little more your style. Take a drive around the city and you’ll spot plenty of buildings that can be purchase with your hard-earned, or stolen, cash, each of which will then provide you with an hourly income. Other than buying them, though, there’s nothing else you can do with your property, which is a shame. And of course there’s some collectibles strewn around the city for you to lay your grubby mitts on, such as sex-dolls. Yes, sex-dolls. Look, don’t question this stuff, all right?

And that’s not even mentioning Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, which is a rather odd gameshow that revels in mayhem, death and blood. This strange show, which would make a great Saturday night program, throws you in an arena full of enemies, electrical death-fences and traps that try to burn you alive, but hey, it’s all in the name of earning the big bucks by killing everything in sight. And they say games are violent.

A city wouldn’t be a city without freaking loads of cars merrily driving along, causing traffic jams and generally being noisy. Every one of these mechanical steeds can be stolen at your leisure, either by a simple but often brutal carjacking or by holding down the sprint button and tapping Y to initiate a stylish move where you leap feet-first through the windscreen of your chosen ride, ejecting the poor driver out of the door in the process and making the Dukes of Hazard proud. There’s a decent selection of rides to choose from, and each of them can be taken to a store and then customised with some new bodywork, paintjobs and rims, as well as performance upgrades. While the level of car customisation is hardly going to be making the likes of Midnight Club or the older Need for Speed games quake in their boots, it’s still rather fun to make your own neon green horror show on wheels. When it comes to actual driving your machine, things start to go downhill a little. The handling in Saints Row: The Third is a pretty twitchy affair, especially on bikes and in some of the supercars, and definitely favours arcade style driving over all else. There’s a handy drift button so that you can get your slide on and show off, but other than that there’s really little that can be said about the handling; it suffices, but that’s it. It never amazes and doesn’t excite. But hey, mowing down pedestrians never gets old. Poor sods.

Cars aren’t the only thing that you can commander in the name of the Third Street Saints; tanks, helicopters, VTOL jets, normal jets, hover-bikes and water-based transportation vehicles ( that’s boats to you) are all at your disposal. Blasting through the air in a S.T.A.G. VTOL aircraft is damn good fun, as is using its laser and rockets to obliterate entire streets of cars and screaming pedestrians. But nothing quite beats grabbing a tank, or a cyber tank, for that matter, and going on a rampage through town, squashing cars and generally blowing shizz up. There are cops in the city of Steelport that will respond to your one-man terror inducing crime sprees, yet they rarely put up any real fight in an effort to stop you. No, your true worry is the multitude of other gangs that roam the street as they often don’t take kindly to your childish antics, especially if you happen to punch them in the nuts using one of the many melee moves; of which practically all involve hitting the target in the groin. Unlike the police their response to your stupidity is usually rather more violent, though they still don’t put up as much of a fight as they should.

Since this is a game of vengeance, gangs and stone-cold killers you’re going to spend a lot of your time shooting fools in the face with all manner of bang-sticks, or any of the games other tools of destruction. Aside from the usual selection of pistols, shotguns, SMG’s and assault rifles, there’s also a selection of more entertaining weapons such as Predator missiles, airstrikes, sniper rifles that blow people apart, a shiny controller that can take control of people’s vehicles, a cyber blaster or even a massive purple dildo. Hell, there’s even a pair of fists that will, quite literally, make people explode when you punch them. But this arsenal of destructions doesn’t hide the fact that The Third’s gunplay is rather lightweight. Combat is a pretty simplistic affair, requiring basic run and gun tactics – a style which suits the game, especially as you can take a fair chunk of damage without fear, but does leave it feeling lacking. The enemy AI won’t really put up much of a fight, either, only really ever posing a threat when it large groups, although they do have a damn fine talent for running you over with cars, the bastards. They can also soak up plenty of damage, acting like some sort of bullet-sponge that fights back and can drive cars.

Like your customised pimp-mobile, with enough cash you can upgrade your death-dealing weapons at your local gun shop. Ever wanted pistols that fire explosive bullets? A triple-barreled shotgun with incendiary rounds? Or just wanted to upgrade your assault rifle to a beast of a machine gun? Just pay the kind man behind the counter and they’re all yours to play with as you see fit. It’s not a deep mechanic, but it is most certainly a fun one, especially when you finish upgrading your rocket launcher into a weapon of mass destruction.

If that’s not enough then you can head into the upgrades menu located in your handy phone -which also acts as a map, a way to call in back-up, a tank ordering system and the way to get storyline missions. In this menu you can find a host of upgrades such as being able to dual-wield SMG’s and Pistols, as well as health upgrades, melee damage increases and upgrades for your gang members who you can get to follow you around. There’s a surprising amount of choices to spend your hard-earned cash on, and it does add a nice touch of customisation to the game.

Speaking of which, Volition have gone to great lengths to design a truly ludicrous  character creation/editing suite that easily rivals almost everything else on the market. Every aspect of your characters body and face can be tweaked to an insane degree, allowing you to craft your dream hero or a complete twat, depending on your mood. There’s even the rather interesting ‘sex appeal’ slider *ahem*. Complimenting that is a vast selection of clothes to choose from, ranging from the more traditional to the outright odd, so whether you want a realistic killer or an Incredible Hulk dressed as a clown, there’s something here for you. And of course your physical looks as well as your appearance can be changed at any point on the game by a quick visit to the appropriate shops, and the handing over of even more cash. Bloody shops, always wanting your coins.

When it comes to the presentation, Saints Row: The Third isn’t really sitting high and mighty, but rather languishing in the realms of ‘decent enough’. Cruising around the city, presumably in pink car with gold rims and shooting at random strangers, quickly reveals rather bland textures and a lack of detail in the game-world. The city itself is a colorful place lit by neon signs, yet lacks any real character that inspires exploration of its nooks and crannies, nor does it feel particularly alive with the hussle and bussle of life. Take to the air and even at low heights cars will fail to show up on the road and buildings will pop-up in the distance. The whole game feels rather underwhelming, never really managing to rise above the level of average, which is rather a shame as it’s nice to see a game with some color, something which Saints Row: The Third has a considerable amount of.

Luckily the game’s soundtrack doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the graphics.  Volition have a fine talent of combining missions with just the right music to get you pumped up for the task at, from stepping out of a helicopter, parachuting down to clear out a skyscraper with Kanye West’s Power thundering in the background to the final mission that makes stunning use of Bonnie Tyler’s I Need a Hero, there are some fantastically placed tracks that compliment the missions perfectly. Other than the music used for the main missions there’s also several radio stations to flick through while you’re cruising around, offering a decent selection of music for your listening pleasure, although it is a little more limited than would be liked. The voice acting throughout is also pretty good affair, with a few different voices being available for your main character to use during the game. There’s an edge of over-the-topness to the acting , but that’s fine as it suits the rest of the game well, reinforcing the personalities of these outrageous characters.. However, both cars and weapons sound rather weak, generally failing to deliver any sort of meaty growl or satisfying bang and some of the games other sound effects are equally lackluster.

Running through the streets naked, backed up by your ninja gang members, and hitting homeless people with a purple dildo is pretty good fun, but it doesn’t hold a candle to both you and your mate running naked through the streets beating the crap out of each other with purple dildos. In case that subtle hint didn’t quite clue you in, there is indeed a two-player co-op mode for Saints Row: The Third, allowing you and a mate to join forces and terrify the world by performing wrestling moves on innocent NPCs or going on a rampage while dressed as wolves. Happy times. You and your friend are also at perfect liberty to split up and go your separate ways, should you so choose, but its far more fun to take on any of the side missions or main story missions together. Sadly, though, the inclusion of a second player and the extra carnage he or she brings does tend to put some strain on the game’s engine, often causing some wonky physics or some graphical issues. But who cares when you can take part in Cat and Mouse, which has one player driving a car like an idiot while the other player tries to blow them up with a helicopter. That’s what friendship is really about. But it is a shame that you can’t replay previously completed main missions with your friends, because some of them are just so nuts that you’re going to want to show them off, as trying to use words to describe them is bloody hard.

Should that not be your thing then you, and a friend, if you wish, can take on the Saint’s version of Horde mode. Happily titled Whored mode, it, predictably, has you taking on waves of enemies, but in true Saints style; one wave has you wielding a chainsaw against hordes of zombies while the next might have you aiming down the sights of a sniper rifle as you blast cupids into little bits. The AI is arguably even dumber in Whored mode, but it’s still entertaining stuff.

It’s far from a glitch free game, though. You might call up some of your homies for backup only to have them fail to turn up, leading to your bullet ridden corpse being fished out of a river. At other times NPCs will get stuck in random bits of scenery, physics will go out the window, literally, and your GPS will sometimes fail to direct you to your location, instead electing to ignore your swearing. There are also a few other little problems to be found in the game, but none of the glitches will ever spoil your fun.

But then, Saints Row: The Third is more than the sum of its parts. Take each element of the game separately and you’ve got a game that clearly needs some spit and polish; combat is pretty weak, vehicle handling gets the job done but little else, the graphics need work and there are quite a few glitches to be found. But add all of these parts together, and then throw in the crass, crude, rude humour along with the brilliant characters and the insane mission designs, and you’ve got a game that’s all about having fun, that’s all about giving you more and more toys to play with, that’s all about going on rampages through the town dressed as a mascot on a hover-bike. The style of humour and the completely over-the-top nature of the game means it really isn’t for everyone and sure, its got a lot of problems, but it’s also one of the most purely fun games in a long time, and isn’t that what really counts?

The Good:
+ Mayhem!!!!
+ It’s just mad.
+ Very funny.

The Bad:
– Combat feels weak.
– Humour won’t suit everyone.
– A general lack of polish.

The Score:

Graphics: 7
Some solid art-design helps save what is otherwise a visually unimpressive game.

Sound: 8.5
The sound effects suffice, but the use of music during missions is fantastic, the voice acting is good and the radio stations are decently varied.

Story: 8
As stories go, it’s a weak tale of vengeance. But it’s incredibly funny, full of brilliant characters and the insanity more than makes it worth it, even if it doesn’t always make any sense.

Gameplay: 8.5
What it lacks in polish it makes up for in enthusiasm.

Lifespan: 7
Around 7-8 hours for the main missions, with an extra few hours for the side-missions. Whored mode and Co-op might last you a while, though.

The Verdict: 8.5
Scrutinize each aspect of the game on its own and Saints Rowe: The Third wouldn’t do well, but put it all together and it becomes more than the sum of its parts; a hilarious, mayhem-filled sandbox game that demands you have fun, or else.

Categories: Reviews

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