Chronic Review: Saints Row the Third
Having grown up with video games I have found myself in the center of every craze and trend of the industry since Nintendo first saved it from ultimate doom. One of those crazes that is still sweeping through gaming is the sand-box mission based design that Grand Theft Auto III made so popular back in 2001. I will fully admit that I am one of the only three people in the world that has never cared for Grand Theft Auto as a 3D series; to me most of its games come off as taking themselves too seriously, leading to a paradox where the characters and story are played upon as if they were Oscar worthy while unintentionally coming off as comical instead. The more serious GTA gets, the funnier it is for all the wrong reasons. It is that one series I could never get into and so many years later now the formula has been so vastly improved upon that I doubt I could ever go back: game series like inFamous and Assassin’s Creed take the open-sandbox mission based design of GTA and create incredible games that are worth playing for more than needless violence. So when I held Saints Row the Third in my hands for the first time, I was not really sure whether it would finally make me love the endless string of gangster themed games in the genre or if it would be the exact same thing that I had come to distance myself from as a gamer. So where exactly did this all lead to? Read on and find out…
The first thing gamers will notice is the visuals, so let’s start with those here: Saints Row the Third has solid visuals that, although not pushing the power of each system to its respective limit, do carry some really great artistic design. While most games this generation have been increasingly focused on realism in every aspect, Saints Row the Third takes the opposite route and gives you a more cartoonish design that actually works wonders for the game. The reason being that Saints Row the Third contains a lot of humor and doesn’t really always get along with reality; it’s very fitting and cohesive to the overall package.
Gameplay wise, as mentioned, the game eschews the need to be ultra realistic in favor of something developers are forgetting: fun. Certain game series that shall remain nameless are shooting further and further to create realistic experiences in open-sandbox worlds, and while this is commendable in its own way, sometimes it can get tedious. The truth is that realism isn’t what developers of today should automatically be shooting for. In this sense, Saints Row the Third is a breath of fresh air, since the game focuses on incredibly whacky gameplay that has you assassinating people, using ridiculous weapons like a giant purple dildo to beat enemies down with, using vehicles like hover bikes, pixel tanks, a Tron-like motorcycle, doing missions that are incredibly entertaining, etc.
That last one is one of the places where Saints Row the Third just excels: the missions in the game can vary from not-so-good to absolutely fantastic, but when the missions are good, they are simply amazing. My absolute favorite is most definitely “Insurance Fraud,” in which your job is to run into oncoming traffic and activate your “rag doll mode” so it seems like you’ve been run down and then proceed to scam insurance companies out of their hard stolen money. Other great missions include a Tron-like computer race on a motorcycle, a mode where you basically cause as much damage to the nearby area while on a tank, a similar mode as the previous one but with the stipulation that you be on-foot (with unlimited ammo for many devastating weapons), a deadly Japanese game show/obstacle course where your job is to kill enemies dressed in mascot costumes, etc. The game just has incredible variety.
The level of character customization is another great bit that Saints Row the Third brings to the table; the character creator at the beginning of the game is probably right up there with the character creator of City of Heroes as being one of the absolute best in modern gaming. There are so many options as to what you can change about your character’s appearance that it can become a tad overwhelming, but ultimately it just shows that Saints Row the Third is a game that has been crafted with a lot of love from its development team. You can further customize your character by purchasing clothes at different stores and the options are, once again, vast. If you tire of the physical look of your character, you can also find a plastic surgeon and pay to recreate all of his or her details again. This is all compounded and made all the better because the game includes RPG elements that allow you to upgrade the abilities of your character and I would argue that the amount of options you have can even surpass those of certain modern RPGs.
The way it works is that the game has a money system and a respect system. The money system allows you to allot, obviously, money, which you can then spend to purchase/upgrade weapons (you’ll need to, I promise you), buy clothes, upgrade vehicles, and buy upgraded abilities for your character. The respect system allows you to earn respect for missions completed, story progression, and even things like driving against traffic without being hit. The respect system is what allows your character to level up and each new level tends to unlock the abilities you will need. These abilities range from faster reloads for your weapons, to being able to call helicopters to aid you in battle, to being able to lessen the damage you take from bullets, fires, and falls. True to its nature of being about fun, if you manage to get high enough in level and have enough money you can eventually reduce all damage you take to absolute zero and gain infinite ammo for your weapons. The game basically wants you to wreak as much havoc as possible and to enjoy your time in Steelport, rewarding you with better ways to be destructive.
Speaking of weapons, you’ll have an arsenal at your disposal. The great thing is that these weapons range from the conventional handgun to absolutely bizarre weapons like the already mentioned purple dildo/bat hybrid. My absolute favorite is the special weapon that allows you to call down an airstrike on enemies that are annoying you. Overkill? Sure, but it’s also satisfying. You’ll need a lot of money to upgrade your weapons to their full potential though, but you can make the money up by purchasing property that nets you an “hourly salary.” Before you know it, you’ll be making anywhere upwards of $40,000 an hour while you play. The missions also net you more money and with proper upgrades to your character you can get bonuses on all missions (e.g. +10% cash after each mission you beat).
The story in the game isn’t to be ignored either. It’s very easy to get lost in this game doing all the side missions, getting achievements, trying different weapons on different people, stealing vehicles, etc. But following the main story line is actually worth it. Sure, the story has almost as many loopholes as a Twilight novel, but it’s all incredibly entertaining. You’ll encounter ridiculous situations with ridiculous characters that will make you laugh, all definitely made better by fantastic voice acting. This is something that Saints Row the Third nails: the voice acting is superb and really sells its characters. It’s a testament to the actors doing the voices that, nonsensical as the overall plot may be, the characters come off as believable. Furthermore, the story is punctuated with excellent moments and awesome boss battles (one word – erm…one URL: ‘http://deckers.die’) and two possible endings that take the plot in completely different directions. Interestingly enough I found both endings of the game to be incredibly satisfying and worth checking out. Luckily, the game allows you to repeat the final mission once you beat it in order to get the other ending that you missed.
Ultimately, what makes Saints Row the Third such a joy to play is its humor. The game fully knows that it is a game and reacts as such. There was a moment when I left the game untended for a few seconds and before I returned to it the protagonist was yelling at me: “You know what’s fun? STANDING AROUND!” This kind of humor is found everywhere, from the sharply written dialogue, to the characters constantly breaking the fourth wall, to the ridiculous situations, weapons, vehicles, etc. See a lot of games in this genre tend to do one thing or another really well; some bring the elephants, some bring the jugglers, and some bring the clowns. But Saints Row the Third? It brings the entire circus and then some.
With plenty of hours of gameplay that are actually worth playing through, this game is definitely worth your money. By the time I beat the main story line I had already accumulated over 26 hours of game time and I had not even finished every mission possible (most of them, but not all) and had not even touched the multiplayer (Whored Mode), which is, in itself, a lot of fun to play. Don’t let the game’s gangster theme put you off if these types of games don’t tend to be to your liking: there is plenty here to keep even that pickiest of gamers (e.g. Me) entertained from start to finish.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t without flaws. Although the graphics are solid, they’re not quite on the level of today’s best games. They get the job done, but the engine doesn’t seem to be quite as sophisticated as its peers. This is by no means a deal breaker, but keep this in mind when playing the game. Speaking of the engine itself, although scarce, there are still a few glitches here and there. There was a moment while playing the game where the ground disappeared from the entirety of Steelport and my character literally fell through the ground into a blank void while the game proceeded to tell me that I should open my character’s parachute to avoid death. Other glitches included moments where the game refused to allow me to call my vehicle delivery service and moments where I would call and the vehicle would never actually show up. None of the glitches I encountered are game breaking, but they can be a bit of an annoyance even to the most patient players.
With all of that said about the visuals, presentation, and engine, the game also has certain gameplay flaws: although a lot of missions are incredibly fun and there is a lot of variety to be had, there are certain missions that are just a pain to play. For every “Insurance Fraud” there is one “Trafficking” mission, which more or less boils down to shooting waves and waves of enemies, which seem to be randomized; a situation that could go either way (sometimes you’ll encounter none of the bigger enemies and sometimes you’ll be swarmed by three of them at the same time, all with flamethrowers to boot.). This isn’t helped by the fact that while the friendly A.I. is generally capable, it sometimes gets stuck in different places or reacts very poorly. Other gameplay related problems include the weapon equipment system and the way driving vehicles is handled. Although the former is not bad by any means, it comes off as obtuse when compared to other games that have refined the weapon switching and equipment use for the industry. The latter is a little more complicated; the driving itself is strange because the lack of realism means that the vehicles you encounter won’t always control the way you expect them to. You will eventually adjust to the odd, floaty feel of each vehicle you drive, but the initial adjustment can be tough for those of us who have grown up with games that focus on “driving physics.”
While the voice acting is great, the list of songs you can listen to while driving is a bit limited. I understand how hard it is to get proper licescing from artists, especially if you’re not one of the absolute biggest development houses or publishers out there, but it has to be said that the variety here is somewhat lacking. This is a bit of a shame when you consider that variety is one of the main driving forces behind Saints Row the Third’s appeal. It’s also not a deal breaker, but when the music starts getting repetitive you might just look for the off button.
Ultimately, the majority of problems with Saints Row the Third stem less from bad gameplay design and more from a lack of polish. Hopefully, by the time the fourth installment hits, the developers will have enough money and manpower to give the series the shine it deserves.
You Might Like This Game If:
- If you want to have fun. *Cue Cyndi Lauper*
- If you enjoy being entertained by over-the-top characters and plots.
- If you just like blowing up sh*t.
- If you like your games to have a sense of humor.
You Might Not Like This Game If:
- If your idea of fun is being an accountant for Scrooge McDuck.
- If you have no soul.