Review: Saints Row: The Third
Saints Row 2 was a very under-appreciated game in my opinion. Perhaps this was due to it living in the shadow of the giant GTA series. However, I believe it to be the best game of its kind. It focused all it could on giving the player the most fun experience, compromising as much realism and unnecessary hindrance it could to achieve that. Now, the third game in the series is here, and it boasts being bigger, badder and better than ever. Does Saints Row: The Third have what it takes to stand at the top?
- Worth The Time?Definitely if you're looking for a fun game that doesn't take itself too seriously, and doesn't require you to take it seriously
- Things LovedThe exciting variety, the story, the soundtrack, everything loved in Saints Row 2 is here and better, the wide variety of customization available to tailor the game to your liking, co-op, the obscene humour and laughable but very unique set pieces, the improvements to the Respect system, the character customiser, the way the game understands the players' need to have fun, the ease of the playing experience and many ways in which you can enjoy it, the way the game has found its own unique identity, the weaponry
- Things HatedThere are still the same issues from Saints Row 2, enemies can at times get annoyingly stuck in walls, some missions can get repetitive with you having to repeatedly fight large waves of enemies, there is only one melee fighting style available which is a bit of a letdown, you can often get surrounded and overwhelmed by enemies, you can get attacked while performing finishers or interrogating people
- RecommendationIf you just want to kick back and have fun, then Saints Row: The Third is the right game for you. Some may prefer Saints Row 2's shaky grip on reality as opposed to this game's demented defilement of realism, but if you enjoyed the previous game you will no doubt love this one.
- Name: Saints Row: The Third
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online Co-op, LAN
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Volition, Inc
- Publisher: THQ
- Price: R329 (PC), R469-499 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
The Saints Row series has always given players one amazing thing: the opportunity to be the crazy they really want to be in the world. I don’t suppose a “see what I did there?” comment would be wholly appropriate at this moment. But honestly, Saints Row: The Third has realised this concept in a highly crackpotted fashion. Previously, comparisons were always made with the Saints Row series and the world famous Grand Theft Auto franchise, and in all honesty they did bare similarities even though I personally feel Saints Row 2 was the best game of its kind, but right now it’s clearly obvious that both franchises have moved in completely opposite directions. Rockstar’s game opts for a more grounded realistic experience while Saints Row puts on a party hat and goes bonkers. I guess now the comparisons can finally end. However, it must be said that some may prefer Saints Row 2’s somewhat shaky grip on reality as opposed to The Third’s demented defilement of realism, but if you enjoyed the previous game you will no doubt love this one. The Saints are back, and it’s a glorious return.
After having defeated all of their rivals at the end of Saints Row 2, the Third Street Saints are now icons, having turned their street gang into a media empire. With no one to stand against them, they’ve grown cocky and complacent, and Johnny Gat resents the fact that with all the endorsements and sell outs to the media, they’ve strayed from their roots. But when the mighty Saints attempt to rob a bank, their everyday routine takes a crazy turn when the bank tellers fight back, and suddenly they’re caught in a huge battle. Circumstances that follow lead to the dethroning of the Saints, forcing them out of Stilwater, the iconic setting of the previous games, and putting them into the new city of Steelport. There are three local gangs already settled in at this new place, but the Saints don’t settle for anything but first place. The plot then follows the traditional formula of the series, which is to chaotically take over the city, rebuild your gang into its glorified empire, and wipe out all of your fierce rivals.
Once the introduction is over, you’ll get to customise your character as per usual, except this time the customisation options have gone over-the-top. Giving the players a wide variety of customization available to tailor the game to their liking has always been a staple of the series, but now it has received quite an expansion. No two characters will look the same, and whether you want to create some freak that resembles the Fantastic Four’s Silver Surfer, or some alien-looking female with mutant over-sized assets, you’re free to run wild. With a long list of apparel (woops, too much Skyrim there), taunts and approvals to choose from as well, coupled together with your personality choice and even a slider bar for sex appeal of all things, there’s definitely no restriction in who you want your character to be, or what you want your character to look like, whether male or female. It’s just easy to fall in love with a game that lets you decide what your boundaries are rather than having them pre-determined.
Saints Row: The Third has evolved in many ways compared to its predecessor, but at the heart it still plays similarly. However, the developers have gone out of their way to make things easily accessible, convenient and simplified, so as to make the playing experience the most enjoyable. The game’s mission structure is controlled through the use of your cell phone, which gives you access to the map, your allies and your upgrades, and also to all missions including side missions, with the exception of the game’s sandbox activities like the mini games from Saints Row 2, and even to the transfer of your hourly income. Yes, there’s no driving all the way to the other side of the map just to activate a mission, as wherever you are, you just whip out your phone and choose which one you want to do. And there are no annoying visits to banks to collect cash (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed), as all it takes is a simple menu option. The reason I’m going on about this is to express both The Third’s strength as well as its shortcomings – its convenience unfortunately gets dragged down by some inconvenience.
Before getting into that nasty business, let me talk about the gameplay in all of its exciting elements. The core gameplay hasn’t changed, and that’s not a bad thing. There is a larger focus on human shields and a more brutal, QTE-styled creative melee combat system, but nothing majorly new. However, in truth I felt disappointed that there is only one combat style, whereas in Saints Row 2 you could unlock a rival gang’s fighting style each time you took them down, and equip these styles any time you felt for a change by visiting a plastic surgeon. But that aside, there’s a lot more content this time around. All guns are upgradable on multiple levels, there are plenty of upgrades to buy for your character, more customisation options for your gang and lots more to do in the world by means of side missions, purchasing property and fighting rival gangs. Just like Saints Row 2, you’ll still be beating up whoever gets in your way, earning Respect, pimping up your cars, which now handle much better, with nitros and kneecappers and taking over. Everything that you could have loved from Saints Row 2 is back here and its better. The missions are over the top, crazy and later on contain so many highlights that it’s hard to pick out the best one. Despite the game’s really whacked up, juvenile and strangely entertaining sense of humour, it still even manages to be serious at times when the need arises for it. And that’s an achievement, considering farts in a jar and giant dildo bats are actual weapons.
There was a mention of Respect above, and I bring this up because the system has actually received quite an overhaul. Previously, the Respect system was more of a hindrance to doing the main quest, as it required you to do the side missions to earn enough Respect points to continue on with the main story, regardless of whether you controlled half the city or not. Now, while the side missions were really fun, it wasn’t a logical system and it forced you to do these side activities repeatedly which eventually ended their appeal. However, in The Third, Respect is now basically your level, and the higher it is the more upgrades become available for you to purchase with cash at any time using your cell phone. Most of the side activities from Saints Row 2 have returned, with quite a few new ones added in, including some hilarious and memorable ones like a Japanese murder show, one that requires you to drive at high speeds with an enraged tiger in your passenger seat and one that was clearly inspired by Tron. They’re now weaved into the main story, and once you do them they become available to do in the game world as a means of earning cash and respect. There are many upgrades to buy, and the positive aspect is that they’re all things you want to get and they make the game a lot more enjoyable.
Perhaps the only criticism I can lay on the upgrades is that they don’t drastically change the way the game is played, in fact they hardly influence it at all. What they do, however, is make your life a lot easier, make you stronger and allow you to have more fun. The reason is that most of the upgrades simply do things like make you take longer to die, increase your ammo and combat effectiveness, make notoriety with police and rival gangs fade faster, and make your gang more useful in a fight. They don’t add new things to the gameplay. It’s admirable that there is so much of content in the game, and it really doesn’t take long to grind out cash to buy even the more expensive ugprades, which is a good thing. But it’s a bit of a letdown that gameplay remains largely unaffected, with nothing new being added. At least in Saints Row 2, aside from unlocking additional fighting styles, you could also reduce gang presence as you took over, and each melee weapon had their own finishing moves. Curiously, that isn’t the case here, but fortunately there is a great variety of entertaining weaponry and the upgrades you can get seriously make the game a lot more fun, which I guess is what counts. Plus, you’re constantly rewarded with cash and respect for just playing the game and doing what you want, which always shows fantastic game design, and it can become an addictive experience in itself.
Steelport really is your playground, and as always the game goes out of its way to make things a blast for you. There’s just so much to love in The Third, and the playing experience is just such a comfortable and entertaining one. Saints Row is just a game that truly understands its players’ need to have fun. Find yourself having a five-star notoriety count and you’re tired of getting chased down by persistent cops or gang leaders? Simply enter any building you own and all notoriety disappears, if you’re too impatient to wait for it to fade. Having trouble in the air because your helicopter or plane is about to blow? No problem, just bail and enjoy the skydiving mini game as your parachute automatically equips and is ready for you to use. Did you take a liking to that awesome car you just modded out with body kits, decals and nitros? Don’t worry, if it gets destroyed or if you lose it somewhere, you can simply go back to any mechanic shop or any safe house to retrieve it, as well as any other car you’ve stored in there. Are you annoyed at the fact that you’ve landed in the ocean with the shores being a million miles away? Just hit a button and you warp to shore in a matter of seconds. Saints Row just proves that it’s ever ready to sacrifice realism if it means the player can have the most fun, and I can’t stress this enough. Like any other gamer, I enjoy realistic games and simulators. But there’s a fine line, and I have a simple gaming equation to illustrate it. It goes like this: the more realism you put in, often the more fun you take out. And it works the other way as well. Obviously it’s not true in all cases.
However, there are some puzzling issues with the game that makes it contradict itself in some areas. For a game that only wants players to have the most amount of fun, and tries so hard to make the playing experience frustration free and awesome, The Third surprisingly manages to make some very amateur mistakes that can lead to frustration and inconvenience. The worst part is that the flaws are all little irritations that could have easily been fixed, and they’re really not major. For examples, enemies can sometimes get stuck in walls, you can often get surrounded by small armies and attacked from everywhere, and you can still take damage while you’re doing a finishing move or interrogating someone, which is irritating. Then there is the fact that enemies can have hack accuracy and hit you from miles away, but fortunately you take really long to die and regenerate health quickly, and you can improve this as well as lessen damage taken with upgrades. Then there is the fact that fire causes your character to spaz out and flail uselessly around, which isn’t helpful when you’re trying to get to cover and some maniac with a flamethrower is harassing you. These are just little annoyances that inconvenience the sheer amount of fun you’re going to have, which is disappointing. Probably the only real big flaw with Saints Row: The Third is that because you’re often tasked with taking out so many enemies, missions can get repetitive, but fortunately you have plenty of activities to do, you can mess around and the game’s unique set pieces and story missions are a blast and will stick in your memory.
Despite these flaws, though, I couldn’t stop playing The Third. It’s truly a great and empowering experience, and it’s hellishly addictive. I am a massive fan of Saints Row 2, in fact it’s my favourite sandbox game and one of my all time favourite games, but you really don’t need to be a fan of this series to love this game. The Third just expertly continues the series’ trademark of making you feel like a real boss. Even when all chaos breaks loose and things go to hell, you’re still in control and no one keeps you down or messes with you. I will admit that I do miss the psychopathic villain you were in Saints Row 2 whose redeeming quality was his honour towards his gang, but The Third doesn’t disappoint in making your character downright crazy and unstoppable. In fact, all of the game’s characters are strangely likable, and the story is thoroughly entertaining throughout, even when it’s going nutty, blatantly ripping off something or even being generic. There are even some story choices to make in the main campaign that result in different rewards and plot outcomes, but it’s not significant so much as it is rewarding you in different ways, which is not a bad idea. But there are two endings, and you’ll get to see them both once you finish the game and load your save. The game’s uniqueness, great sense of humour and bizarre set pieces all make for an experience you’re unlikely to forget.
The main campaign will take you a very long time to complete if you don’t only chase after story missions, and it’s up to you how long you’re going to let this experience last. But one thing I admire about The Third is that the game never feels like a drag. It’s always exciting or it’s always fun, or both. You just know you’re going to be in for a good time when you start the game up. And once you’re done with the main campaign, you can play some multiplayer. You’ll need an online pass to access these features, but without one you can still play Whored mode single player. This mode sees you select a character and, armed with a giant purple dildo bat, take on the whores in a fight to the death, with you having to survive waves of these women after your brains on a platter. You can play it both online with buddies as well as LAN, so it’s easy to jump in and have fun. Then you’re able to play the campaign with online co-op, and there’s no need to explain to you how chaotic and fun that can be. It’s your call whether you decide that having a buddy around makes the campaign more entertaining, but luckily all rewards carry over to your single-player campaign which can make you a happy panda.
With its graphics, The Third may not be at the top, but it’s certainly a good-looking game that’s pleasant to the eyes. Steelport succeeds in being a fun playground and a visually pleasing world, but it’s not exactly a vibrant one brimming with life. You won’t feel that the city is so much alive as it is yours to jerk around in, and I suppose whether that’s a negative thing or not is up to you, the player. However, the game is complimented by its great visual style, themes and its fantastic soundtrack that often ends up making missions feel so epic – especially that final mission. Voice acting is top notch once again, and as always your own character will make the experience for you with his or her amazing voice work and mad personality. Unfortunately, I noticed a few pop-in issues that mostly occurred while driving speedily, and I had one or two instances of slow down at most, but it went away pretty quickly and there was honestly nothing that damaged the experience for me. In the end, The Third doesn’t disappoint or seriously impress you with its visuals, because they’re all-round solid, but it definitely will with its voice acting and soundtrack, which give this game and its story the flair it needs to keep you playing.
In conclusion, Saints Row: The Third is what it set out to be. That is, unrestricted, insane, over-the-top, hilarious fun. It admirably managed to achieve what it aimed to, and it gives players exactly what they want – a damn good time. It’s a game that doesn’t take itself or the player very seriously, and this ultimately ends up being its strength. In being entertaining, Saints Row: The Third is brilliant.