Saints Row: The Third Review

By Adam Ma on November 22, 2011

Some sandbox games are well respected for their realism. After all, it takes a lot to create a city, populate it, give players a chance to live in a virtual parody of reality, and at the same time do so in a way that draws players in an makes them feel they truly are in an enclosed living breathing world. Well grounded characters have to blend together with a physics engine that makes sense, because players are always going to be searching for that one thing that feels too inconsistent with what we know about the world today. So it's fairly impressive how well Saints Row: The Third draws in players considering that every ounce of realism is tossed right out the door within the first ten minutes, giving players an amazingly wild ride that features some of the most memorable (and believable) characters you'll ever have the pleasure of playing with in a sandbox game.

Don't get fooled by the fact that this is the third game in the series; even though the plot picks off right where the other games left off players are treated to a nice summary of the Saints' accomplishments prior to this installment. Having reached the height of their fame and popularity the local gang has become a bit full of themselves. They're now robbing banks with masks that look like their faces, cutting movie deals, and just generally getting used to the good life. This complacency eventually gets them into quite a bit of trouble, and soon the Saints find themselves in a new, unfamiliar city having to work their way back from the ground up.

Apart from the main story being a little predictable, it's a fantastic ride through and through. Part of this has to do with how over-the-top the action is in just about every situation. Stealing UAV bombing drones, skydiving from helicopters to crash parties and freefalling from an airplane while shooting through falling debris to kill rival gang members in mid air. These all set the tone at an early point in the game that the action is going to be consistently over the top and the player will get the experience all the best parts of it. With the mind already suspending a lot of belief that any of these things could ever happen it's easy to believe that the storyline is just background fluff for the experience, but the character interactions are so genuine that it's hard not to really feel for the Saints' cause.

There's absolutely no time wasted in any of the dialogue, no fillers with useless information, no string of swearing just for the need to be edgy, and in a world where players can dress up like vampire hookers driving a ice cream truck, while avoiding mutant hulks that throw people at you, being able to be to really connect with these characters so effortlessly is incredibly valuable.

But thankfully the character design isn't the only solid thing in Saints Row: The Third. Combat naturally plays a large role in attempting to carve out a gang empire and that's exactly where the game becomes additively satisfying. Guns are just about everywhere and take up the usual role in any third person shooter. There are sniper rifles, rocket launchers, pistols, machine guns, and all of them are simple as pointing and clicking away. Then, of course, you have weapons like the laser guided precision airstrike gun that summons up sharks, or mind-controlling squid gun (which naturally shoots out a squid which takes over any potentially hostile NPC). The sheer wackiness of some of the weapons that players get access to is both shocking and hilarious, and it's clear that only some sort of genius could ever come up with the vast array of weaponry featured in this game.Melee weapons offer a little bit more versatility this time around, as some attacks can be used indefinitely, while others have limited use but offer special attacks like an explosive knockback. Melee itself plays another huge role in the game, and is arguably the most defining feature of the franchise.

Fluid, over the top, and a lot of fun, melee moves mix up the typical shooting elements of the game to great effect. Drop kicking one enemy only to run over and take another as a hostage, all without changing weapons or being forced to handle different mechanics, makes tackling a large group of foes very easy. This is good, because players only ever seem to fight a small horde enemies every time.

Naturally with weapons, cars, and gangsters come customization features, of which Saints Row 3 isn't remotely short of. Players are able to level up weapons, increasing both individual features and aesthetic looks over time. Vehicles on the other hand have just as many customization options as the player character does, and all of it is incredibly easy to control. Grabbing a car and tossing on a unique paint job is incredibly easy, and using cash earned in-game you can choose to tweak the frame of individual vehicles with little to no effort. Even those who are typically disinterested in visually tweaking cars should find that the quick and painless options offered make the process fairly fun.

Character customization on the other hand is a completely different beast altogether. Outside of editing a characters general face, height, gender, voice and all the other usual suspects players are allowed to dress their characters to an amazing extent. Visiting clothing stores throughout the city will grant players the option of shopping from that particular style and anything from business attire, street clothing, bondage gear, or just plain strange costumes. The selection is fairly large, made better only by the fact that players will generally find these stores by bumping into them mid-exploration rather than simply searching them out by necessity.

Another fantastic point of customization in Saints Row: The Third is how players are allowed to manage their in-game finances, with an offering of more than just customized weapons and crazy looking hats. Players can also purchase property all over the city that generates revenue every hour, or serves as alternative safe houses where players can store vehicles, weapons, or clothing. It's one of many different rewards for exploration that doesn't come in the form of finding hidden items.

Graphically there's not too much to be dissatisfied with when it comes to Saints Row: The Third, as it's an open world title that does everything it can to absolutely minimize any loading times. Naturally entering a special vehicle segments or a special indoor building will trigger a bit of loading, but for the most part players should find the entire experience relatively seamless. The soundtrack is also well done, being a great blend of scripted talk show radio work, satirical commercials, and real music. Special missions will often come along with a predetermined soundtrack, which sets the tone fairly well as long as you're in the mood to Kanye West or some other rap/rock artist.

Final Thoughts

Saints Row: The Third is, simply put, absolutely insanity at its best. While some sandbox titles strive for realism, or destructive scale, Saints Row: The Third instead takes a combination of all the features that have defined sandbox games as of late (driving, shooting, wandering large setpiece cities) alongside a blend of everything that defines how memorably wacky a game can be. There's very little in this title that wont satisfy most gamers, and that the entire game can be run through with co-op just adds to the fun. Getting every property, finding each hidden item, wiping out every gang and finishing every mission will naturally take a bit of time but the best part about Saints Row: The Third isn't about the hours you intentionally invest, it's finding out how much time you've lost having fun without ever realizing it.

Despite being crazy, the story is very coherent.
Tons of customisation options.
It's off the wall crazy, and we love it.
Eats your time.
May be too silly for the more serious gamer.
Some custom elements may take some time to acquire.
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