Saints Row: The Third – Review
If you’re the kind of reader that skips right ahead to the score then you already know how this review is going to go. But think about why people do that – skipping ahead to the score before they read the text – it’s because they want everything right now with the minimum of fuss and fucking about. If you that’s you and you’re still on this page, maybe you’ll understand the acclaim I’m about to drop on this game.
First, a little context. I’ve never been a fan of sandbox games. Aside from memorable dalliances with Oblivion, Mercenaries and, if we’re pushing the definition of the genre, Freelancer, invariably sandbox games make me fucking sick. There’s a whole article’s worth of reasons for that but mainly I see sandbox games as an excuse to ignore pacing and level design. If you want a good game, it generally has to be linear otherwise you’re on a horse trotting towards Mexico for the next hour looking at nothing but trees. Add to that the whole ‘gangster’ element that you get with the most games in the genre (GTA, Godfather, Mafia and indeed the earlier Saints Row games) and you’ve got a recipe for something truly mediocre.
Volition, however, have some good form when it comes to making this work. Saints Row was a cumbersome experiment of a game that failed to win over the GTA crowd, lost as it was in amongst all the other pretenders that came and failed to take Rockstar’s crown, but it was a good foundation for what came next. Saints Row 2 was an explosive shot in the arm for the genre with arcadey driving physics, a vibrant city to explore, plenty to see and do, with humourous plot points and easter eggs all over the place. An incredibly enjoyable game, Saints Row 2 was all about the fun but fell victim to such genre trappings as repetitive gameplay, too much travelling and more collectables than a branch of Games Workshop, and just as many cocksuckers inside it ruining the multiplayer for everyone else. Also, it’s no understatement to say that your character in the game was an absolute dick.
Saints Row 3 throws you into the action almost immediately. Your gang, the Third Street Saints, have evolved from wannabe gangsters to a feared and respected crime syndicate, and now become a full-on media sensation. With worldwide merchandising and influence, the Saints are now much more than gangsters but the game’s opening set-piece sees you robbing a bank, wearing caricature masks of themselves. A few wrong moves later and the heist becomes a war, with some of the most ridiculous action you’ve seen in ages with a story that makes Die Hard 4 look utterly believable, Volition leave common sense at the door and bring fist-fulls of glorious fun to the party.
After the breathless first mission, Saints Row 3′s intentions are clear. This game is going to be ridiculous. Ultra-violence mixed with bellylaugh comedy and, just as you are catching your breath, the game’s second mission and major set-piece ramps things up even further. If the game hasn’t captured you completely at this point, you’re missing the point of games. This is momentous stuff – as exciting as it is ridiculous.
Eventually you hit street level and it’s time to build your empire in the fictional city of Steelport, a typical mix of business, industrial and residential districts controlled by three distinct gangs. The Morning Star, a crew of arms dealing business men from Europe, the hi-tech, utterly ridiculous hacking group The Deckers and The Luchadors who, as the name kind of suggests, are easily identified by their wrestling masks.
At this point the game settles into familiar territory, offering story missions and side activities which increase your control of the entire city and your cashflow. After the two glorious set-pieces that open the game, the rest of the story has its work cut out for it but Saints Row 3 keeps the pace going with some truly exceptional, creative story missions. The sheer amount of destruction required for them is truly outstanding but also the humour keeps you interested throughout. I’ve never really been one for laughing at games, with even the supposedly-hilarious Tim Schafer games only raising a half-smile at best from me, but Saints Row 3 is full-on, laugh-out-loud funny. The missions are a real treat and to spoil them in a review would be to steal the experiences from you, but if your jaw doesn’t drop at some of them, you need to be ‘capped’ in the ‘grill’.
The story itself is relatively compact. You can make very decent progress within a couple of days and could finish the game with a week’s worth of play but that’s not the end of the story. As with Saints Row 2, the game world is littered with things to do, and things to destroy. There are several types of activities available from old favourites such as Insurance Fraud (where you fling yourself at moving traffic for money) to new ones such as the brilliant Dr Genki missions (a more fun take on The Club) to a very hilarious road trip with a tiger. Again, these are for you to discover but what I can say, having completed them all, they are as enjoyable as before, if a little easier.
Aside from the activities, there are small pockets of gang members to wipe out, a myriad of vehicles to enjoy (most of which offer a far more enjoyable ride than GTA4′s did) and the opportunity for chaos whenever you want to create it. Some people (cretins) have complained that the city doesn’t offer enough to do. Sure, that’s true if you’re an attention-deficient idiot who isn’t capable of concentrating for more than five seconds on one thing but you people with fully-functioning brains will find them suitably stimulated throughout.
Other improvements – the simplified leveling system, the fully removed adversarial multiplayer component, the perk that reveals all the collectables on your map and a less twattish character to play as – all help to cement the impression that Volition have actually listened to the criticisms of the previous game and have tried to refine what they had but Saints Row 3′s utterly over the top story missions and cast of memorable characters make the game special, more so than any supposed triple-A title I can remember from the last few years (Skyrim aside).
When it comes down to it though, gaming has only really ever been about two things. Stuff to do and stuff to see. Every great arcade game and every great console title works on that premise. You do a lot of fun stuff and then you get rewarded with something special to see. That’s exactly what Saints Row 3 does. The action never really slows down and you’re never that far from something that either makes you laugh up a lung or drops your jaw. And even if you try to say ‘well it’s just Saints Row 2 all over again’ or ‘just another sandbox game’, Saints Row 3 will throw in something so ludicrous that you’ll just fall in love with it that much more. Unlike other, lesser games in the genre, Saints Row 3′s vision isn’t mired in a believable world but rather one that is based in a sugar-frenzy world of possibilities.
What would you rather do? Go out for a game of darts with your cousin or shoot psychotic killers that are dressed up in mascot costumes for cash in a bizarre mix of The Running Man and the Teletubbies? Yeah, me too. All day.Pros
- Imagine the summer UK riots but with everyone dosed up on strong cough medicine, cocaine and too many cans of Red Bull. That's the plot. An embarrassment of riches when it comes to glorious setpieces and tasteless humour.
- A city that is large enough to contain dozens of opportunities for over the top violence but isn't so large that end up in miles of fuck all like most sandbox games.
- A brilliant selection of vehicles including some near-future gems such as vertical take off and landing fighter jets, some insane tanks and fully-customisable and upgradable cars, bikes, trucks and er... golf carts.
- Co-op larks for those of you that understand that even the maddest action is better when someone else sees it.
- Streamlined cash and ability management with a lot less messing around than the previous game.
- A great collection of weapons - both ordinary and extraordinary - to play with.
- Has a real sense that this was designed by gamers who are making the sort of game they want to play. This is the anti-GTA4 and it knows it.
- Four player co-op would have been nice. Especially for the 'Whored' mode.
- Can occasionally get a little glitchy in terms of graphics and achievement unlocks. Not overly so but in a world with so much to do and slightly exaggerated physics, these things can happen. Especially in the first few weeks of release.
- Likely to be flooded with DLC.
- Demands that you suspend your disbelief almost entirely but will reward you with outlandish missions. If you prefer your gaming to be more sensible and sedate then this may not be for you. For the record, I don't want to know you.
And so to the score. A ten. A big, fat ten. Does that mean it's perfect? That you can't improve on it? No. That's unattainable but this is a ten point scoring system and if you're going to deduct a point here and there for minor niggles, then you'd better start from twelve because Saints Row 3 gives you more action and more full on larks than you get from other games. This is pure fun distilled, bottled, swigged and then thrown up all over your gimp suit. And yes, you can wear a gimp suit. Both in the game and while you are playing it if you choose.
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