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Please Rate This Review: "Saints Row: The Third"
Saints Row: The Third
High: An aerial assault on an enemy gang penthouse to the tune of Kanye West's 'Power'.
Low: I have no idea how or exactly why I'm sky-diving into this penthouse...
WTF: Zombie outbreaks, virtual reality, purple sextoys...a healthy dose of the entire game really.
Saints Row 2 carved out a niche in the open-world crime genre, standing apart from the more dramatic and realistic portrayal of urban crime that we got with Grand Theft Auto IV. Now itís time for the sequel and Volition have offered something packed to bursting point with sexually suggestive weapons, crude humour, and a button entirely dedicated to crotch punches. Itís the kind of game that actively encourages you to take off all of your clothes and prowl the street with a giant purple sex-toy; the kind of game that takes a self-aware delight in just how crazy and ridiculous it can be. Unfortunately this hyper-dose of the obscene also comes at the expense of cohesion, and the impressive spectacle that the game otherwise excels at is hampered at times by underwhelming writing and a very obvious lack of focus.
After a bank robbery gone wrong youíre dropped into the city of Steelport, another concrete jungle of twisting highways, docks, and sky-scrapers. Itís a new city in layout but not in tone, with nothing practically changing between the local in the last game. Steelport is nice enough, with your typical New York sandbox giving the player a few changes of urban scenery, but in all honesty Iím finding that the setting is getting old now. Steelport serves as a backdrop to all the madness in the game, but never does the setting feel anything other than incidental, feeling more like the playground than it is than the living city it should be.
ropped in this new city and with a rival organisation gunning to ruin The Saints new media empire, you have to start out from scratch and tear down all who oppose you. Itís essentially the same story from the last two game where youíre progress revolves around recruiting a cast of useful side-characters and then eroding the influence of the rival gangs.
Each mission is staged as a way to disrupt another gangs operations and this being Saints Row theyíre usually done in the most violently gratifying way possible. Throughout the games campaign youíll be put in control of fighter jets, given access to predator drones and air strikes, go into a Tron-inspired virtual reality showdown and base-jump into an enemy penthouse to the tune of Kanye Westís Power. I was constantly and pleasantly surprised by just how far the game goes to surprise you, and if youíre looking for absurdity then Saints Row: The Third will deliver in spades. This isnít without its drawbacks though.
The game can put you in a scenario thatís thrilling and absurd in equal measure, but they often suffer from a lack of context. The missions are a good length but feel far too compartmentalised. Youíre driving to a building, hit a checkpoint, and now youíre waking up in captivity with only the most cursory piece of exposition to link the two. Saints Row: The Third does often deliver on thrill, but its lack of inner-mission focus is reflected in the story as a whole. Reasons for performing these gloriously excessive tasks are often hard to come by and by around the half way mark I stopped really caring why I was doing any of this.
Take the gangs for instance. There are three who youíll have to vie with for control of Steelport, each one suitably unique, but they prove to be a wasted opportunity. Antagonists are introduced and barely expanded on before ducking out of the action and their individual mission lines feel stunted and inconsequential in the grand scheme. ďJust roll with itĒ seems to be the games excuse, and while I was willing to suspend disbelief and experience every separate shooting gallery as simple exercises in gameplay and spectacle, the Saints over the top antics would have been all the more gratifying for letting me see the necessity of them. Saints Row: The Third tells a stock story with a varied cast of fairly interesting characters, but fails in its deliverance.
While thereís weak storytelling and little cohesion to bind them, the missions are well paced from a gameplay perspective, if not from a narrative one. Saints Row: The Third controls adequately though not impeccably. A lack of a cover system means youíll have to manually manage your crouching and use scenery to your advantage, while whittling down the hordes of gang members. A few new control options raise the bar in other areas though. Sprinting while attempting to carjack sends your character fly-kicking through the windshield and into the driverís seat, while a running melee attack will activate a quick but satisfying takedown. A handful of QTE sequences enhances the visual spectacle, but at the expense of your control. Vehicles handle better, with a challenging and satisfying learning curve behind them which made driving from A to B a pleasure. Control never shines on its own merits, but altogether is sharp enough to get you through the missions and the various sandbox distractions without getting in your way.
Absurdity is the calling card of Saints Row: The Third and nothing helps reinforce this more than the amount of customisation. There are a pleasing number of body and clothing options, though the customisation has been slightly scaled back this time around. You can opt to have your character speak in zombie growls, pimp out a mega-mixer in classic Saints purple with gold trim or sprint around dressed as a Japanese cat mascot. All of the customisation options serve to underline the silliness that the game builds itself on. On one side-mission I had to find a golf buggy to draw out a target, so I phoned in my customised purple/gold cart with wheel spikes and nitro and tore up the city dressed like a deranged Willy Wonka. Scripted diversions including trail-blazing, insurance fraud and the bizarre Professor Genkiís Reality Climax offer some mild distractions, though the majority of them are lifted from Saints Row 2. They quickly get punishing but the reward of more money and respect actually has some meaning in this world.
Respect is used as a levelling system, rather than locking off sections of the story like in earlier games. You can use your cash to buy cosmetic items and ammo, but most of your mission bounty ends up being spent on upgrades, ensuring that to progress you need to invest yourself in some of the secondary activities. The economy toes the balance between having to grind to buy items and having the in-game currency completely meaningless. The upgrades start slow Ė 25% more sprint, fast damage recovery, more ammo capacity Ė but the later perks can make you partly invulnerable for a massive investment. Itís good to see that a sandbox incentivises itself and gives the player a reason and reward above and beyond the thrill of participation. Driving an enraged tiger around the city while trying to avoid traffic is fun, but becomes all the more worthwhile when you know youíll be able to upgrade your crib into a purple neon lit skyscraper with the reward.
Bottom Line: This is a game thatís here to make all your absurd dreams come true at once, and for that itís a fun and varied romp with lots of extras, and story missions that offer some brilliant set-pieces. While the games control and combat is nothing to particularly write home about itís the complete absence of pacing thatís the biggest detriment. The game obviously seems custom built to be a great big stupid playground for you to fuck around in, but too often does it retain that artificial feeling, never managing to make the leap to a cohesive world. A handful of frequent graphical glitches further undermines this. Saints Row: The Third is best described as a big, stupid, fun game. Itís certainly not got the intelligence or satirical edge of its contemporary, but the sheer number of unique toys that are eagerly pressed into your hands means there are plenty of unique, water-cooler moments to be had in Steelport. The writing might be pedestrian, the city samey and the pace non-existent but Saints Row: The Third is a game that lets you cruise the streets on a military hover bike, dressed as a cockney superhero, firing a gun that summon sharks, and for that I canít help but applaud it.
Final Score: 7.5 / 10
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the Xbox 360 Approximately 18 hours were spent on the single player mode, and around 5 hours in the games online co-op.
Parental Guidance: The game is stuffed full of violence, and drug and sexual references. This is deffinetely not a game suitable for children.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: All dialogue is subtitled and all important markers have a visual representation. You should be fine!