Saints Row: The Third
Saints Row is about as far away from sensible as you can possibly get. It's ridiculous brand of gang violence and low-brow humour has slowly managed to endear the series to the gaming community over the course of the last few years. With GTA IV going all gritty Saints Row 2 really brought back the kind of humour to sandbox games that GTA San Andreas first introduced. Saints Row: The Third carries on the series' great tradition ludicrous dick-jokes and over-the-top action even trying to crank it up a notch.
It's been a while since the Third Street Saints rose to power in Stilwater and they are now so big they have their own clothing label, energy drink and even a big-budget movie deal. Their fame has spread all across the country and the gang's leaders are more big superstars than they are hardened criminals.
While executing a bank heist with the star of their film tagging along to get into the character, something goes wrong. The bank turns out to be controlled by a multi-national criminal organisation known as The Syndicate who are trying to muscle in on the Saints' territory in Stilwater. As the Saints' try to steal the vault they are ambushed and kidnapped by The Syndicate.
The game wakes up in a plane over the city of Steelport and are offered a deal by The Syndicate's leader makes them the kind of offer they can't refuse. Of course, they do and after a very ridiculous gunfight and the sad loss of Johnny Gat on the plane the gang end up escaping and getting stranded in Steelport with no money.
And so it begins again. The Saints' natural urge to dominate the city and get revenge swings into action and very soon you'll have killed a whole bunch of gangsters in order to steal their nifty penthouse and set up shop in town.
There are three obstacles to dominating Steelport and getting at The Syndicate, the Morning Stars - the world's most emo gang ever, the Luchadores - a bunch of nutters wearing Luchadore masks and the Deckers a very tech-oriented gang who seem to be obsessed with Blade Runner by the look of their outfits. All three have their own territories, unique gang heraldry and a rather fierce territorial nature and all three need to be defeated in order to get anywhere near The Syndicate's top brass.
Volition has thrown in a couple of new features to really broaden the complexity of Saints Row: The Third without actually making it any more complex to play. Firstly, the usual heat meter not only applies to the police but also to whatever gang is in control of the area. This makes for some interesting three way battles between the Saints, the cops and gangs. The gangs also have access to helicopter-based snipers and other specialised fighters like massive brutes and unique heavy weapons making prolonged combat with one faction a fairly challenging prospect.
The next mechanic is a nifty little levelling up device which allows you to use cash to buy upgrades for your character like faster health regeneration, larger ammo capacity, dual wielding on weapons and the ability to call in other crew members to help in a fire fight. The upgrades are unlocked as you gain respect from completing missions and challenges throughout Steelport.
You can also earn money and control over an area of the city by purchasing real estate. There is a myriad of residential, commercial and industrial properties for sale from a cola factory to an organ smuggling operation at the docks as well as all the different clothing and weaponry stores, plastic surgeons and car tuning workshops. Every property owned increases the amount of income you get every hour and helps you get that much closer to ruling Steelport. There is also the opportunity to go on the Professor Genki's Super-Ethical Reality Climax, an insane Japanese-themed reality gameshow where you kill mascots and dodge deadly traps to earn cash.
Saints Row: The Third is every bit as much fun as you would expect from the series. There's crazy weapons like The Penetrator, a cross between a baseball bat and a giant purple dildo, the opportunity to cross dress, and even streak, loads of base-jumping and skydiving opportunities and plenty of overly ostentatious ways to tick out your favourite cars.
Steelport itself feels very welcoming and has the comfortable homey feel of a GTA city rather than the slightly sterile feel that Stilwater had. There is a lot of comfort to be had in the controls which are a smooth refinement of the scheme that has worked well for the series thus far. Driving is simple and smooth and running and shooting work very nicely as well. Trying to do a drive-by shooting while driving is a bit of a pain but then again you are trying to do two rather complex actions at once. One really cool addition to the game is the beatdowns and rush melee attacks. As well as mapping each fist onto the appropriate shoulder button, sprinting at a random enemy and pressing the right shoulder button will perform and impressive wrestling inspired move that will see you ape some of the WWE's greatest superstars. Approaching an enemy an pressing the left shoulder button will engage a simple and short QTE enhanced beatdown with extra respect points earned for successfully following the on-screen prompts.
Visually there is a huge difference between this and Saints Row 2. The second installment in the series was a bit disappointing, visually as it was rendered at a sub-720p standard which made playing it feel a bit underwhelming. Saints Row: The Third, while not pushing the visual boundaries in the kind of way that Uncharted 2 did, is a very handsome game. The city views, especially from the Saints' penthouse crib are very pretty and the city flows round fast moving vehicles in a very fluid manner.
Saints Row: The Third throws a lot of nifty refinements at you and with the addition of things like Professor Genki it does add new layers of stupidity to an already ludicrous brand. You could quite easily spend the whole day cruising around Steelport looking for goofy things to do and not really notice the time go by. Still, it feels like now Volition has settled into a formula for the series and while it is still very entertaining there is not any real innovation here. Yes, it looks better and yes, it does more of the crazy nonsense you'd expect from Saints Row but it does feel like the imagination is starting to go a little bit. Nevertheless it provides just the right amount of murderous madness that is expected from the Saints Row series.