In a season of very serious, very deep games comes a title from Volition that brings out the inner 13-year-old in all of us. Saints Row: The Third, from publisher THQ, is crass, offensive, derogatory, and violent in the best possible way. For everything the studio sought to accomplish, including an engaging story, extremely varied gameplay, and down-right old-fashioned fun, there are moments of true bliss. But, that's not without a thin coating of predictability and a sense of been-there, done-that feeling as the game progresses. Still, this is quite possibly the most dumb-fun we've had in a long time, and we all need a chance to beat up police officers with giant purple dildos once in a while. Just remember, this is definitely a mature rated game.
From the opening set of action sequences to the great assortment of activities scattered throughout the game, Saints Row: The Third strikes a near perfect balance of exciting story missions, insane customization, and sheer enjoyment. As is the case with just about any third installment in a series, the game picks up after the events of Saints Row 2 and sees the Saints now in Steelport. There are new gangs to fight, new weapons to use, and a worthy assortment of vehicles to keep you thoroughly inundated with a desire to see more and get more in this new city. The enemy, the Syndicate, is a threat to the Saints gang, but all it takes is some firepower and flame to keep up the gang's reputation. There is variety in how you approach the story, and best of all, it's compelling enough to give you that one-more-mission addiction.
This is one of the few games you'll laugh with, not at. The dialogue is sharp, although occasionally weans as some characters (looking at you voice-box pimp) get a bit stale. But above all, the game will make you laugh, and not just for the absurd missions, like driving in a convertible with a tiger or riding a Tron-inspired bike. Yes, the Saints know how to have a good time, they know how to throw a good party, they know how to keep you on your toes, and they know how to make you laugh.
Steelport is an absolute playground for mayhem. We're not talking about just mowing down a few pedestrians or going postal in a bank heist - we're talking airstrikes, blowing up bridges and buildings, and looking damn good in the process. Saints Row: The Third is character customization on crack, where you can create a topless sexy school girl, or a giant blue dude who speaks like a zombie. Personalize your taunts and celebrations, your wardrobe and your gangs gear, trick-out your ride, and feel free to go for extremes because there's nothing holding you back.
The game's customization extends into almost RPG-like elements. As you build reputation and earn money, you can purchase and customize weapons, your crib, and clothing. For example, you can give your grenades a pretty massive boost, which we found quite useful as missions typically involve massive waves of enemies. All of this customization looks surprisingly natural in the game. While that topless cheerleader may look out of place as the gang leader, she acts the part like a true protagonist. Creating your character is a big part of the fun, and the level of detail is truly inspiring for a Western release.
The overall presentation is held together by a strong soundtrack that will suit just about any tastes. There's a great classical music channel that makes the violence even more enjoyable. As a whole, the presentation is simply a joy.
Now that you've created your character and made it through that exciting intro mission that welcomes you to the new city, it's time embark on some fun. If you've never played a Saints game, it's easy to call it a Grand Theft Auto clone, because, quite frankly, it looks and plays just like that classic Rockstar series. But the good news is that Saints Row: The Third has truly found its own identity. Most of the early missions simply introduce you to the game's many activities, and some of the best have you toss your body into oncoming traffic to collect insurance money, or huff grenades through the city to cause as much damage as possible. These activities are simply a blast and never serious, which feels like a relief these days.
The more narrative-driven missions are pretty large, as you may expect, and held together in brief, well-made cutscenes. These missions generally involve massive gun battles, which play well to the game's terrific selection of weapons. Selecting your weapons is a bit cumbersome and finicky, but it'll likely just take newcomers a bit to get used to. The amount of enemies you'll face at one time is simply overwhelming, so it's great you'll have partners along the way—you can even play through the campaign in co-op. Your enemies essentially come in three or four varieties, so it's a bit repetitive after a while. This is a third-person shooter without cover, and while it makes sense not to utilize a stick-to-cover system, it would have come in handy considering your foes have some sort of auto-aim. To make matters more difficult, your A.I. controlled allies like to die a lot and don't do a great job of hunting enemies on their own.
Saints Row: The Third is a sandbox that occasionally feels lifeless. One of the most exhilarating things to do in the game is jump off your penthouse helipad, free fall for a few seconds, open your parachute, land, and start wrecking havoc in the city below. The problem here is that crazy-over-the-top violence isn't all that exciting after a while because the city feels thin on the ground. The city is gorgeous from above, but on ground you'll see a pretty small draw distance for pedestrians and vehicles. Still, this is a super minor complaint and the overall Steelport presentation is done extremely well. The engine is just as crazy as the rest of the game. Bodies fly around when punched, and watching enemies disintegrate from a grenade explosion is a new guilty pleasure.
The game is pretty massive outside the main story. You have Whored Mode, which puts you and a partner, if you choose, against waves of baddies. You'll get some pretty crazy weapons, as you'd expect, to deal with the enemies, as the bloodshed never felt so good.
Saints Row: The third is like a guilty pleasure considering how many serious games are on the market. The level of obscure violence, the great presentation, hilarious dialogue, and terrific variety in activities is more than enough to warrant a high recommendation. Beyond that, the story is a breath of fresh air, and the depth in the gameplay is enough to keep you coming back for more.
A copy of Saints Row: The Third was provided by THQ for the purposes of this review.
-The Final Word-
An interesting story, varied and over-the-top gameplay, and entertaining weapons helps drive the sandbox genre to new heights.