For the sake of this review, let’s pretend there are a few types of people in this world: people who were disappointed by the departure of zaniness from the newest Grand Theft Auto title and people who were just fine with this thing called realism. Developer Volition has heard the former camp’s cries for all things stupid and borderline unnecessary and was felt it was time to cram all of it into their newest game Saints Row: The Third. Feeling like spreading its creative wings and finding the boundaries of taste, Saints Row: The Third finds a way to delightfully mash fun and insane humor with an vast, open world and ends up being such a raw, ridiculous experience because of it.
It’s all about the “gangster shit” here in The Third. After conquering Stilwater in the last game, the Saints have been humiliated by being captured and shoved down the social ladder in the process. They enter a new town, Steelport, with all new gangs and must find a way to jet straight to the top once again by bringing down the rival gangs. New opposing non-gangsters get thrown in the mix, causing even more problems for your team to solve to achieve your common goal.
Content-wise, the narrative is just average due to the lack of important surprises, but what really sells it is the pure ridiculousness of how it’s presented. Story missions seem bolted on to make cool ideas become reality, but here it actually works. How does skydiving in a damn tank accomplish anything? Well, I don’t know, but it was sure as hell was crazy enough to warrant a free pass and fits in this universe quite well.
I was genuinely surprised on how the characters were likable throughout the journey. The supporting cast has some pretty funny lines and they don’t come off as forced or just plain unfunny. Yes, they go for the easy dick joke from time to time, but they aren’t complete buffoons so it never comes off as eye-rollingly bad. In fact, I go as far as to say this game is well-written and funny through and through. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that this game could pull writing of the caliber and humor off.
Although the other Saints enjoyable company, the standout character to me was easily the auto-tuned pimp, Zimos. I loathe auto-tune on an almost unimaginable scale. If I had a choice, auto-tune would die by fire and be thrown in a volcano full of sharks and poisonous saw blades. That said, almost everything this character says is hilarious almost because of the vocalizer effect thrown on it. It’s such a creative added quirk that further sells the over-the-top nature of the game. For once I can say I’m thankful for auto-tune, although T-Pain can still fuck off.
You probably didn’t come to Saints Row for a story, but more to just be a complete asshole and destroy everything. Don’t fret, The Third covers all of your bases and then some. Empowerment is the order of the day, with damn near game breaking skills given to you by almost the start of the game. You basically begin as strong as the endgame in some other titles. Because of this, going on rampages actually feels good (and is encouraged) because you actually feel like you can survive long enough to do some damage. By about halfway through the game, you literally become invincible (if you buy the right upgrades) with infinite ammo, making you some sort of an unstoppable deity of Steelport.
To get that powerful, you’ll need to some of the activities (see: side missions) to level up and you have more than plenty to do. These lack any sort of story explanation, but somehow that’s completely okay. Activities range from calming a tiger in the backseat by driving quickly but safely to picking up fat, disease-ridden whores from their evil pimps to participating in a Japanese game show focused on murdering mascots chasing you with giant dildos and mostly benefit by being in the game. With a few exceptions (mostly the horrendous Helicopter Support missions types), these become more than distraction because of how fun they are and how they focus on just obliterating everything. A few mission types literally say “Fuck it, here’s an infinite rocket launcher or a tank so go nuts,” and are not only enjoyable and net you experience and cash, but they make you feel like you own Steelport.
Side missions, along with almost everything else in the game, are further incentivized by dispersing experience and money to the player. Experience, dubbed “Respect,” gives you opportunities to unlock new perks to buy with that money you’ve just earned. Either that, or you, like me, could drain it all into owning landmarks in the city all in the sake of investment. Doing this always leads to money pouring in at regular intervals, but you never feel too poor or too rich. It always feels just right and becomes a good carrot-on-a-stick to level up and get that one new toy or upgrade. I can’t imagine how hard it is balance an economy such as this, but Volition nailed it.
Yes the side missions are great fun, but the story missions really steal the show. Like I said earlier, it can be too easy to ask “How does this relate to anything?” but it can be hard to care once you start the actual doing part. Grand Theft Auto IV tended to throw you a crazy objective every few missions to spice it up, but Saints Row: The Third strips the fat and shows you crazy mission after crazy mission. When I was naked and escaping a mansion of sex slaves with a gimp-powered chariot chase, I knew things were going off the damn deep end.
But you know what? I loved it and congratulate this title on its inventive mission premises.
Shooting has always felt a little tacked on in open world games because the focus is based on scope, rather than refined gunplay. Oddly enough, the act of firing a gun in The Third is better than most dedicated third-person shooters. Aiming feels fluid and responsive, while retaining the swift movement speed needed to get around. Given the large array of armaments and superb shooting controls, gunfights are actually something to look forward to, rather than having them be bumps in the experience as a whole. I killed thousands of gangsters and felt good almost every second of it.
Yes, that’s right: almost every second. Far too many times you’ll ragdoll, get lit ablaze, or just be pushed around in the middle of a battle. Or one can lead right into another and into another. Stupid thing is, you lose control the entire time any of those things happen, leaving you open to attacks that you can’t avoid. I died more than a tolerable amount of times to this (read: more than once) and, given the shoddy checkpoints, makes this pretty infuriating at times. In a video game, controls are arguably the most important aspect, and once that is taken from me, the stench of bad game design reeks through. It happens frequently enough to warrant a mention, but not nearly enough to make the combat go completely flaccid.
Go ahead and think of some of the worst mission types. Just by chance, I bet you said something like escort and protection missions. I know I definitely hate them. Sadly, both pop up too often during The Third‘s long play time. Friendly AI is rather broken at times during the game, as these jerks can’t seem to follow you closely enough or just don’t know how to get into a damn car when the mission calls for it. I know they are stupid whores, but they don’t need to think like stupid whores, do they? It can feel like babysitting at times when you constantly have to revive their dumbasses or worse, fail because you accidentally killed them. In game filled with weapons of mass destruction, hitting them is way too easy and paying the consequences is almost unfair. Don’t even get started on having these assholes try and land a helicopter for you.
No one person on this team had an idea thrown out for being too crazy. If anything, ideas were only made more maniacal by hooking up a car battery to its nipples and handing it a giant dildo bat. It’s because of this, along with be so much pure fun to play, that Saints Row: The Third stands out so well. It has its share of niggling issues, but being just plain fun and ridiculous make those shortcomings easy to excuse. The Third may seem derivative from other titles but there really aren’t many games that can match it. Damn, it feels good to be a Saint.
+Smooth shooting controls and feel
+Absolutely absurd and hilarious in almost every facet
+Unique missions with unbelievable objectives
+Plenty of stuff to do that all feed into the addicting economy and upgrade system
+Gives player game-breaking (in a good way) sense of empowerment
-Escort and defensive missions can be tedious
-Lack of checkpoints in missions is frustrating
-Getting juggled around sucks
Final Score: 8.5/10
Platform Differences: When PS3 owners redeem the online pass found in every new copy, they also receive a free digital download copy of Saints Row 2.