Author: Lydia Sung
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Friday, November 11th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/saints_row_the_third/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
If Saints Row could be summarized in one word, it’d be “absurd.” Then again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When the series kicked off back in 2006, many wrote it off as another Grand Theft Auto clone destined for obscurity, and yet here we are five years later, absolutely smitten with Saints Row: The Third, with a fourth installment already on the way.
Saints Row still uses many of the same key components coined by GTA, but THQ’s take on sandbox crime wars has since carved a place for itself in this niche genre. Now that Rockstar is moving away from the realm of San Andreas in favor of realism and heavier tones, Saints Row finds itself in a unique and advantageous position to fill the void that’s left, which it does wholeheartedly.
The Third Street Saints have come a long way since Saints Row 2. Over time, the gang turned their name into a successful line of branded merchandise, from clothing to energy drinks, and pull random crime sprees as publicity stunts. They had become a shadow of their former selves, but the Saints were living the good life. Well, up until the day they decided to pull a heist on the wrong bank.
A harrowing opening mission gets players acquainted with the control scheme and sets the tone for the rest of the game. After the botched robbery and a less-than-courteous introduction to the Syndicate, the Saints wind up far from home in the hostile city of Steelport, where the Saints name is worth less than dirt. Fortunately, the gang knows an opportunity when they see one, and after a quick shopping spree at the nearest military base, embark on a mission to make life a living hell for every gang in the Syndicate. Let the good times roll.
As head of the Third Streets Saints, referred to simply as “Boss,” you’ve got an image to keep. Man or woman, thin or fat, ugly or gorgeous – completely your call. Saints Row cleverly sneaks in the character creation as a booking process, letting players pick a starting outfit and mold their face and body while the cops are snapping mug shots. The creation process is surprisingly detailed, covering basics like gender and ethnicity, as well as intricacies like ear shapes and facial markings. Fan of pockmarks? Sure, whatever floats your boat.
Of course, you can play around with your Saint at any time during the game just by hitting up a plastic surgeon. Clinics going by the name “Image as Designed” are found all over Steelport, and for a fee, they’ll perform magic with a knife and scalpel. The tattoo parlors in town offer a limited assortment of ink work, and the clothing stores boast a generous selection of business attire, casual wear, naughty outfits, costumes, and matching accessories. Once you’ve purchased something, that item will be permanently added to your Wardrobe.
Driving is obviously a big part of the game, so it makes sense that cars have to look nice too, or at least suit the driver’s tastes. Garages serve this purpose, though you don’t actually have to head over to a mechanic just to pimp your ride. Like clothing, vehicles can be customized from any Saints base. Change the color of the car, tack on a few body mods, or bump up the performance in any number of ways – reinforced parts for greater durability, even retractable tire blades. Cars driven back to base are stored in your collection, and gang-specific vehicles will be added over time as the story progresses. Planes and water vehicles are also an option, though if your "Cribs" have the proper facilities like a helipad or dock, and they don’t feature the same customization options cars have.
So you look good, but how will you fare in a fight? Probably not too well at first, but that’s easily fixed. Every level gained unlocks a ton of perks in the Upgrade store, and they cover a wide range of gangbanging needs. Provided you have the cash, your Saint can be upgraded to sprint longer, hit harder, and soak up different types of damage. The same goes for weapons, whether you’re looking to dual wield or increase ammo capacity, and upgradable strongholds give useful bonuses. Your gang – the rest of the Saints – can also be outfitted with better weapons and more health.
Just about everything you do in the game awards money and Respect, the Saints’ version of XP. Aside from the story missions, the city is brimming with collectibles and activities, just waiting to be discovered. Some activities are pretty simple, like humoring a Saints fan or pulling stunts with conveniently placed ramps, but others might have you escort an ally around town to make deals or lay siege to a city block in a tank or chopper. Assassinations, Vehicle Thefts, and citywide challenges can be accessed via the Saintsbook app and offer additional means of revenue and respect. Your gang and anonymous callers will also periodically dial in requesting aid or dropping useful tips on a nearby event, usually a survival mission.
These activities vary in appeal, but the game never forces any of them on you. Completing side content has its rewards and helps the Saints gain control of Steelport bit by bit, so there is some incentive to play through these optional distractions. Still, players aren’t punished for doing what they like, and that’s something very few games allow. If you’re like me and just not a fan of Guardian Angel missions, then by all means, skip them and hit up the nearest instance of Tank Mayhem. Hell, you could just fly around in a VTOL and troll for gang operations to take out; Steelport is your oyster.
The story, though straightforward and linear, does work in a few player choices. Midway through the story, quite a few missions will begin offering different choices, allowing the player to pick between two different outcomes. The game thoughtfully shows the reward for each option too, so you’ll never be forced to make blind picks and wind up regretting them later. Earning the good ending – there are two total – is relatively easy, at least, though not everyone might appreciate the absurdity of it. The alternative is the bad ending, considerably less strange but also rather depressing.
Despite its simplicity, the story packs quite a punch thanks to a surprisingly varied cast of characters and progressively outrageous situations. Most of the characters are walking clichés mingled with ridiculous quirks to make them more memorable, like Zimos the Pimp singing all his dialogue in an auto-tuned voice, or Oleg the Russian behemoth, whose hulking exterior hides a sharp, academic mind. Not everyone has a particularly admirable personality, but interactions between these walking caricatures are absolutely priceless. I’ve laughed until I cried over certain conversations.
The situations your Saint winds up in tend to be equally hilarious in their randomness. I couldn’t help but crack up when on mission dropped me in a convertible next to an ornery tiger, and I was tasked with driving as fast as possible to keep the large cat happy, while animal activists chased after us in their vans. Toward the latter half of the story, I was stuck in a Tron-inspired world, bouncing along as a toilet with an arm-cannon not unlike Megaman’s weapon of choice.
The juvenile silliness of dildo bats and gimp outfits is all well and good, but for me, that novelty ran dry after just a few seconds. Instead, the true appeal lay in how much of a badass I felt running around as a Saint dressed like a super secret agent, mowing down competition with double SMGs, and firing rockets at a cluster of STAG APCs. No rules of engagement, no mandatory stealth sequences – play who you want and have as much fun doing it as possible.
On its own, most of the content is too random to be laugh-out-loud funny, not to mention crass and potentially offensive in some cases. Saints Row’s secret lies in its delivery, and context is everything. The game makes no attempt to justify its strangeness, and the characters seem remarkably self-aware, as evidenced by their constant quips and genuine surprise at all the unbelievable goings-on around Steelport.
Saints Row: The Third definitely isn’t lacking in content. The story alone should probably take anywhere between ten to fifteen hours to complete, and completionists can stick another ten hours to that figure, spent running around town mopping up the side missions and activities. The seamless drop-in/drop-out co-op has returned, so if you happen to have a buddy interested in the game, that aspect may be worth exploring. Keep in mind that while free exploration might be more enjoyable with a friend, most of the missions feel closer to a single-player experience.
The new Whored Mode, a Saintly take on horde modes found in most multiplayer-centric games, provides a decent distraction from the campaign, should you ever find yourself craving such a thing. The premise of this mode, as its name suggests, is fighting waves of prostitutes, gimps, and other such characters. It’s a major step up from the half-arsed multiplayer that was squeezed into the previous Saint Row games, but The Third would fare just as well without it.
One issue that’s worth mentioning is the pop-in textures and overall mediocre visuals. That’s not to say the game looks bad, but the console versions do suffer from these graphical imperfections, which become more noticeable during the cutscenes when there isn’t any action to keep you distracted. The PC version, from what I hear, doesn’t suffer any of these problems.
Admittedly, Saints Row: The Third won’t be winning any awards for being the best looking game or having a provocative narrative, but it was never about any of that. Really, the game only wants you to have as much fun as humanly possible, and everything about it was designed for this sole purpose. Saints Row is an honest game, completely unpretentious, and makes a worthy addition to this year’s must-plays. Assuming you don’t take offense to giant dildos and playing chauffeur to escorts.
Please do not redistribute or use this article in whole, or in part, for commercial purposes.