Saints Row: The Third Review
Saints Row: The Third is bonkers. There. That should cover it. …no? Am I really forced to explain? Well, okay. Prepare for some comedy, as “GTA’s GTA” grabs you right out of the gate, throttles the hell out of you, and laughs maniacally as it does so. You’ll enjoy being throttled, too, because the premise and gameplay is so twisted and sadistic, you’ll start feeling a little like a hedonist and a masochist at the exact same time. It isn’t perfect but what it does well, it does really well.
The graphics are the low point, as they’re not exquisitely refined and there’s plenty of pop-up as you progress through the sprawling, colorful city of Steelport. There isn’t anything eye-popping or breathtaking about the visual presentation, and I think more could’ve been done with the special effects. However, it has a certain charisma that is distinctly Saints Row and nobody will deny the effectiveness of the atmosphere. The metropolis is appropriately large and diverse, many of the environments in which you wage war with authorities or civilians (just for the fun of it) are engaging, and overall, it’s the perfect setting.
The sound is a little better, thanks to a decent soundtrack, a bevy of resounding effects that accompany your havoc wreaking, and some solid voice performances. Again, nothing is truly outstanding from a technical standpoint, but Volition does enough to keep us involved with the various audio. The effects often override the music – and in this case, there’s nothing wrong with that – and some of the voice actors are just plain hilarious. Not a lot to write home about, but still…it fits.
As I said above, this game is bonkers. In the first few hours of play, you’ll skydive into a rival gang’s HQ, participate in a ridiculous bank heist, and gain access to all sorts of completely wacky hardware. And even though the primary appeal of the game involves freedom and running around doing whatever you want, the main narrative isn’t bad at all. In fact, it has a couple different endings and there’s plenty of replay value, especially due to the size and scope of the map.
The missions get a little repetitive but they’re always fun. The best part is that you continually unlock new weapons, equipment, and even property that you always want to test out. All I could think of whenever I unlocked something new is the famous line from “Batman,” you know? “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” I can imagine my rivals saying exactly that when I call in an airstrike or wander into their domain with the kind of heavy artillery you only see in war documentaries. Yeah, your foes are stupid, but so what? More fun to kill!
Let’s not get caught up in crappy AI, a sort of ho-hum graphical palette, and a few glitches common to open-world sandbox experiences (pop-in, action items not triggering correctly, etc.). Seriously, if you’re going to get all anal about the little stuff, don’t bother. This game isn’t about strategy or depth or a story-driven cinematic adventure. It’s about blowing sh** up. Now, that may sound too simple to receive a lot of attention or critical acclaim, but you’ve never blown stuff up like this.
The game never takes itself seriously, not for one second. And that’s the beauty of it. Some of the missions are a little too absurd in my eyes but really, what’s “too absurd” when it comes to Saints Row? What other game lets you customize your character so you’re almost not human? Want to make a transvestite? Well, you can try. The key to this game’s addictiveness and overall success is actually the same as the key to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim: no limitations.
Although both games are obviously completely different, both give you complete access to the entire environment right off the bat, and you’re not a weakling. Almost immediately, you’ll have multiple vehicles, plenty of challenges to face, and a small arsenal in The Third. This is perhaps the biggest difference in comparison to past Saints Row entries, because previously, you really had to work at unlocking all the cool stuff. It was, of course, a lot like Grand Theft Auto. But Volition does a fantastic job of separating their franchise from Rockstar’s.
Upgrading your character is enjoyable and you get experience for almost any action. The weapons, vehicles, and items are all fun, effective, and just plain goofy at times. Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax is a reality show that makes the Roman Coliseum look like Chuck E Cheese. In one play session of only three or four hours, you’ll gain access to all sorts of deadly equipment. And above all else, there is always something to do and even if it doesn’t involve an actual mission, this world is your oyster.
If you grow tired of running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you can try the co-op feature with a buddy. It’s great; you can both do just about whatever you wish, because the developers maintain most of the same freedom you find when playing by yourself. You can coordinate outrageous attacks or just compete to see who can cause more damage. In this way, it’s actually a fun party game. Even though only two people can play at once, the rest of the room can just eat popcorn and go, “oh, damn!” every two minutes. No, not a movie, chaos.
There’s also Whored Mode (yeah, you read that right), which forces you and your friend to fight off waves of enemies. It sounds pretty straightforward – and it is – but Volition shakes things up by giving you a chainsaw one minute and a purple dildo the next. Maybe they could’ve set up more in the way of defined modes for co-op play, but I think the aimlessness reflects the goal of the entire production. You’re supposed to experiment, you’re supposed to think outside the box, and you’re supposed to be completely amoral.
Unfortunately, no matter how much fun I had, it really is difficult to ignore the obvious flaws, which keep it from entering the realm of the 9+ elite titles. It’s really close, but I can’t in good conscience dismiss the issues I’ve mentioned, including the somewhat disappointing graphics, the totally lamebrain AI, and the story really didn’t pique my interest at all. It made me laugh a lot and I love the style and flair, but it almost started to feel as if the narrative got in the way. I just wanted to go crazy.
Saints Row: The Third is a bona fide blast. It’s shameless, vice-ridden, and insanely violent, but because there’s nothing gritty about the production, it somehow feels almost lighthearted. You just have to take things with a grain of salt. Some of the control isn’t perfect, although I liked the vehicle handling, the AI is dense and the game won’t win any visual awards. But given what you can do, given the inviting environment that just begs you to enjoy every nook and cranny, it’s well worth the price of admission.
Just don’t play it in front of horrified family members. It may not be cartoony enough; they might think your hysterical laughter is grounds for committing you to the nearest sanitarium.
The Good: Big, involving world with tons to do. Good control. Unique style and flair. Fantastic freedom right from the start. Over-the-top missions and weaponry are extreme. Fast upgrading and unlocking. Co-op is awesome fun.
The Bad: Graphics aren’t great. AI is almost nonexistent. Story and characters don’t really matter. A few annoying glitches.
The Ugly: “If what you do isn’t ugly, you’re not playing this game correctly.”
11/12/2011 Ben Dutka