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Saints Row: The Third Review

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Saints Row: The Third redraws the line for sheer absurdity and violence in video games several times over, then proceeds to rub it out entirely with a giant purple dong.

There was a time when you could reasonably call Saints Row just another Grand Theft Auto clone. Specifically, it was around the time the first game popped up, when it was clear that developer Volition was essentially just aping whatever it had learned from Rockstar's open world crime simulator for the sake of its own nefarious means. If Saints Row was the awkward adolescent phase--the period spent emulating the things you think are awesome as opposed to doing anything particularly original or inventive--then Saints Row 2 was the franchise's college years, where Volition spent its time experimenting wildly and "finding itself," as it were. Hints of what was to come were certainly there, but it was still only half-explored, unsure of itself, and not quite ready for adulthood.

There will be dildos. Oh, yes. There will be dildos.

Saints Row: The Third finds the series all grown up. Not in sense of humor, mind you (very much the contrary there), but simply in confidence, wisdom, and overall comfort in being very much its own thing. Whatever similarities Saints Row: The Third might have to the GTA series at this point are purely mechanical. In truth, it has more in common with the imaginary game every obnoxious parent group, pandering state senator, and hack activist lawyer believed Grand Theft Auto was during those tumultuous San Andreas years. It's Grand Theft Auto filtered through the mind of a fucking lunatic, pushed to boundaries of ludicrousness that make things like giant dildo clubs and man-launching cannons seem altogether reasonable compared with much of the other batshit nonsense going on in here. In a sense, Volition has succeeded in making the mayhem and murder simulator that Rockstar never even tried to make in the first place, and it's hard to argue that we, the video gaming public, aren't better off for it.

Whereas Saints Row 2 had a bit of trouble marrying its plot to the previous edition of the game, Saints Row: The Third defeats that problem by simply refusing to care. Yes, there is a story involving your gang (the titular Saints) and an encroaching United Nations of gang violence from a nearby town called Steelport. Headed up by a Karl Lagerfeld-esque Belgian dandy and a pair of twin sisters in turtlenecks (at least one of whom is voiced by former porn actress and now sort-of real actress Sasha Grey), the Saints are delivered an ultimatum: turn over 66% of their profits to the evil Syndicate, or get smoked. Unsurprisingly, Johnny Gat, Shaundi, and your own nameless "boss" character aren't having that, leading to an insane gunfight inside of a cargo plane flying over Steelport that results in multiple bouts of shooting while parachuting, at least one sequence involving crashing through the windshield of the aforementioned plane just to shoot one dude, and a few pleasantly racist Belgian jokes.

All of that, plus a delightfully in-jokey bank robbery sequence inside of the opening 30 minutes. There is plot explained in there somewhere, but most of it is lost amid the genuinely funny throwaway one-liners and endless gobs of insane action thrown directly at your eye sockets. And if you have any intention of playing through all of Saints Row's various story and side missions, you've got about 16 more hours of that kind of crazy coming your way, multiplied by several orders of magnitude.

I'm not trying to dismiss Saints Row's story out of hand--it just isn't important in the grand scheme of things. It's very funny, with some strong voice acting from its cast, which also includes the likes of Hulk Hogan, Daniel Dae Kim, and Burt Reynolds as himself. There's a number of good parodies of annoying video game tropes over the last few years (the modern war on terror, and zombies, just to name a couple), not to mention a few older ones (it's best if you discover those for yourself). But understanding of the plot isn't a requirement toward enjoying Saints Row: The Third. It doesn't matter if you've ever played one of these games before. All that matters is that you enjoy unadulterated chaos--specifically, causing lots of it.

Saints Row: The Third is generally at its best when you're blowing up, shooting, or delivering running clotheslines to just about anything. As an open world, Steelport is probably the worst place you could possibly live in America, what with the preponderance of purple-clad assholes running around dropkicking you in the back of the head and beating your skull in with depressingly over-sized dildos. The sheer variety of stupid, stupid weaponry Volition has laid at your feet in this game is nothing short of a gift for destruction junkies everywhere. Ever wanted to explode a bad guy into a cloud of bloody vapor with a single blast of a sonic boom? Ever had the itch to incinerate random citizens with a futuristic laser/flamethrower shot from a goddamn future jet? Ever said to yourself, "Man, beating people with my fists is awesome, but wouldn't it be so much more awesome if they exploded for absolutely no reason when I did it?" Then friends, does Volition ever have a video game for you.

You may take over the city, but make no mistake: In Saints Row: The Third, it's chaos that reigns.

One of the best things about Saints Row: The Third is that it actually manages to fuse the incoherent violence into its story remarkably well. Story missions, as well as many of the various side ventures, actually require you to lay waste to all that stands before you, only this time it's with a purpose, and not just for morbid giggles. Mayhem missions, insurance fraud (where you essentially turn yourself into the human version of the Showtime mode from Burnout Paradise), and helicopter assaults all play directly into your takeover of Steelport while also being completely bonkers.

Story missions obviously have a bit more structure to them, but are no less insane for it. The writers at Volition have done a great job beefing up Steelport's rival gangs into ridiculous, out-sized caricatures that not only deserve the hot blasts of dildo-oriented death coming their way, but also lend themselves to particularly great boss fights and specialized levels that range from TRON-esque cyberspace battles to a straight-up pay-per-view wrestling match that's...well, again, it's better if you discover it for yourself.

Even outside of missions, every piece of terrible destruction you rain down on the citizens of Steelport contributes to your respect meter, which is more or less your earned experience throughout the game. Leveling up unlocks new bonuses that range from simple ability upgrades, to gang-oriented bonuses that earn you more cash and/or respect. Cash lets you upgrade additional things, like your various strongholds around the city, as well as your weaponry. You'll definitely want to, as the upgraded guns are far more fun than the base-level ones. You ain't lived until you've juggled a lifeless corpse in upwards of 30 seconds with your level four dual-wielded silver pistols.

Volition touts Saints Row: The Third as its most ambitious game, both technically and from a gameplay perspective, and in truth, the end product shows exactly that. Without getting too tech-speaky about it, The Third is easily the best-feeling Saints Row game yet, and arguably one of the best-feeling open world games I've ever played. The combat is remarkably tight, both in gunplay and in melee combat. I often find melee combat in games like this a terrible afterthought, but here it's actually a delight. Vehicles also feel pretty great, mixing absurd physics with a relatively tight handling that makes driving around Steelport a joy, rather than an abject chore.

That said, not everything on the technical side works quite as it should. Saints Row: The Third is not devoid of bugs, even after installing an early patch on consoles. Crash bugs during loading screens I experienced effectively stopped after the patch, but glitches during missions continued to pop up, especially during side missions after restarting them. On a few occasions, enemy/compatriot AI would simply cease to function, allowing me to just kill a bunch of dudes without even trying. Elsewhere, I ran into a pair of weird instances where the game's world streaming simply ceased, and I found my character dropping through roads into some kind of abyssal void where world textures and nothingness combined into a kind of modernist hodgepodge of crashy craziness. The good news is that Saints Row: The Third autosaves often, so you rarely lose much progress when stuff like this occurs. And hey, if you're the sort that finds these kinds of glitches the video game equivalent of performance art, you're in for a treat.

No words. None.

I haven't even gotten into the multiplayer aspects of Saints Row: The Third yet, largely because they're the least-compelling facets of the game. Competitive multiplayer is pretty much out altogether, and in its place comes the Whored Mode. Awful, awful title aside, this is essentially the Horde mode from Gears of War, with waves of zombies, luchadores, sexy nuns, weaponized furries, and whatever the hell else coming at you in various rounds of combat. It's a perfectly fine distraction that can be played online or locally with friends, but it's not really the sort of thing you'll keep coming back to long after the campaign is complete. Instead, you might opt to go back and play through the campaign again in co-op. This works functionally as it did in SR2, and despite the fact that the story never really acknowledges that there are now two players instead of one, it's still great to blow things up alongside a friend.

With all of these things in mind, I respect that Saints Row: The Third might not be a game for everyone. Specifically, those who do not find joy in the act of inflicting terrible, fiery, dildo-y pain on whatever innocent polygonal creature happens to wander too close to their personal blast zone will probably not get much out of Saints Row's unrelenting dedication to preposterous anarchy. It is a game specifically designed for annihilation junkies, those who can embrace the idea of an infantile playground of seemingly infinite obliterative pleasures. For those who prefer their games a tad less absurdly--perhaps needlessly--violent, any number of other games this fall will likely suit your fancy just fine.

As for the rest of us? Saints Row: The Third is practically catharsis on a disc. Go forth, and have a blast.

Alex Navarro on Google+
104 Comments
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Posted by barrbarr

Hmm this game seems better than I thought it would be. Can't wait to beat people with dildos now.

Posted by wumbo3000

haha love siants row

Posted by buzz_killington

Judging by the Bombcast, Ryan or Jeff would've given it 5 stars. However, this is Alex's review, which is no more or less valid. But I do really hope that this game sells well, or THQ might be taking yet another step towards bankruptcy.

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

PUT ON A FAKE DICK.

Posted by depecheload

I cannot wait to play this game. Seems totally batfuck nuts.

Posted by Winsord

Shame about the AI bugs and the like, but from what you've described here, from my enjoyment of Saints Row 2 and from the Quick Look, I think I'm going to like this a lot. Great review, as per usual.

Posted by Morningstar

With so many games coming out now I'll but it at half price early next year ^^

Posted by Crunchman

This looks so stupid. I want it. But I want Skyrim, which can also be stupid. Stupid by design or awesome stupidity. I have an appetite for both.

Edited by Spacetrucking

Good review Alex. Still a fan of your writing but I think the best representation of this game was not my the main GB staff, but the lowly interns:

Fair Warning: You might suffer a seizure if you're allergic to the word 'dildo'.

Posted by Jolt92

Now that's what I call a review. I'm super stoked about this game!

Posted by Kingloo

Hehe, "rub it out".

Posted by RoyCampbell

4 OUT OF 5?
 
OUTRAGE

Posted by sickman87

"...hot blasts of dildo-oriented death"

That pretty much says it all, I guess.

Posted by Gordo789

@Crunchman said:

This looks so stupid. I want it. But I want Skyrim, which can also be stupid. Stupid by design or awesome stupidity. I have an appetite for both.

my thoughts exactly. first i have to finish dark souls and deus ex though! maybe I should just quit my job or dump my girlfriend or both or something. AGH!

Posted by ApolloBob

No no no, you don't get to single out "Whored Mode" for disdain! Why can't you think of the whores?

Posted by kyrieee

Inb4 "Saint's Row is as good as Zelda" shitstorm

Edited by Gordo789

@kyrieee said:

Inb4 "Saint's Row is as good as Zelda" shitstorm

but it is. probably.

Posted by GorillaMoPena

You don't see enough games that require terms like "dildo-oriented" in the review.

Posted by IshimuraD

Never played a Saints Row game before or had any interest, but seeing the quick look, trailers and now this review makes me really want to get it. I was worried it wasn't going to turn out, now it's another game I have to get this season.

Posted by Liquidus

@ThePhantomnaut said:

PUT ON A FAKE DICK.

You mean strap it on?

Posted by Shuborno

Sounds awesome.

Had I more hours in the day...

Posted by 234r2we232

@buzz_killington said:

Judging by the Bombcast, Ryan or Jeff would've given it 5 stars. However, this is Alex's review, which is no more or less valid. But I do really hope that this game sells well, or THQ might be taking yet another step towards bankruptcy.

Judging by the review, it was the technical problems that hurt it more than anything. Which is a shame, but I was playing Saints Row 2 not too long ago and that game froze up on me quite a bit, often during missions. I can see how that would be annoying if it were to happen coughstillprobablynotasmuchasskyrimcough. But as it was pointed out, bugs can be beautiful in their own way too.

Reeeaaally looking forward to this, EU release dates are awful btw. Thanks for the review, Alex.

Posted by CosmicQueso

Gaming Hipsters be Damned... take your Catherines and your Dark Souls and Meaningful Mature Gaming Experiences and throw them in your fedora and light them on fire.

STRAP. IT. ON.

Posted by Yanngc33

Nice, happy to see this is great

Posted by CosmicQueso

@kyrieee said:

Inb4 "Saint's Row is as good as Zelda" shitstorm

Nah... save that for IGN and Gamespot.

Posted by Koobz

I can't wait for this beautifully stupid monster truck of a video game to smash my mind melon into a joyous pulp of quivering neurons.

Posted by Vorbis

Can't wait, sounds like it does exactly what I want it to do. Kinda got to expect the glitches and bugs with open world games, even Skyrim couldn't escape it so that's not a dealbreaker for me.

Posted by RenMcKormack

THIS REVIEW DOES NOT ADDRESS THE KEY CONCEIT OF THE GAMEPLAY

when is something strapped on and WHAT is it? Is it a purple dildo!? Is that FUN!? Who will review the reviewers!

Additionally, good work Alex. So pumped to run up behind pedestrians and bulldog them into the street. I might even get Saints Row The Third. Makes a great Ying to the Dark Souls Yang I got going on.

Posted by dvorak

From what Jeff and Ryan have been saying about the game lately, I can guess they would have given it about 76.5 maple leaves out of 48.

Posted by SheBites

I love everything about this game. Great review glad to see that it's worth it :)

Posted by mrcraggle

@CosmicQueso: So are you saying you can't like those games and SR? Because Dark Souls is my fave game of the year so far (I have yet to play Skyrim, Zelda or Uncharted) yet I'm super pumped for SR.

Posted by jking47

I found the word dildo 6 times in this article, is that a record or something?

Posted by onan

I'm normally pretty considerate even in open world games when left to my own devices. I would avoid running over pedestrians in games just because, not due to fear of police response or anything. Mayhem in service to a plot though, I'm fine with, and this series is great if just for the sense of humor.

Very much looking forward to playing this new Saints Row.

Posted by Stubee

An Alex review.....ughh

Posted by Pie

After watching the quick look it looks like it still has the problem of being a sandbox with no sand and lots of toys. Not many vehicles or people on the streets and the ones that are just seem brain dead dumb which makes all the toys Volition throw at you a lot less fun than they should be. I much preferred messing about in GTA4 than SR2 because GTA had that "living city" feel. Knocking robotic AI idiots out with big dumb weapons isn't as fun as pissing the civilians in GTA4 off and then watching euphoria go to town when you push them over or get a car and do stuff. Sure, give me a bunch of dumb toys but give me some stuff that I can affect with it all.

Edited by ThePhantomnaut
@Liquidus said:

@ThePhantomnaut said:

PUT ON A FAKE DICK.

You mean strap it on?

NO I MEAN PUT ON A FAKE DICK.
Posted by ucankurbaga

Nice review but I wish you'd talk about multiplayer features more as I am eager to find out.

Posted by thellama042

Great review! Also, fucking hilarious review! Every time the word dildo came up in the review, my mind went back to the first picture in the review, or some close derivative of that image. There's something immensely entertaining about the thought of being able to run around beating people with what essentially amounts to a dildo sword.

Posted by Starfishhunter9

YES MY BODY IS READY!

Edited by ErikSchroder

But where's the first and second review?

Sorry. :P

Posted by bybeach

I'm real curious about the deeper game Jeff was talking about on the bombast... But I feel I am too old to find out. You college kids and all who I suspect it is aimed at, have a good time.

Good review Alex, always glad to read/hear of you.

Posted by AhmadMetallic

Funny how the website is supposed to be a little classy, so much that cursing in thread titles is forbidden, yet this front page review has a giant dildo in the picture and "giant purple dong" in the review's sub-title 

Posted by Ooame

I pre-ordered this on steam as soon as i found out that i could STRAP IT ON

Posted by MHumphreys89

Giant Dong, new name for the site.

Posted by CosmicQueso

@mrcraggle said:

@CosmicQueso: So are you saying you can't like those games and SR? Because Dark Souls is my fave game of the year so far (I have yet to play Skyrim, Zelda or Uncharted) yet I'm super pumped for SR.

Then you're not a gaming hipster! You can strap it on! YEAH!

Posted by Kingpk

I would pay for a 12 hour livestream of Alex playing this just to hear him giggle like a maniac the entire time as he goes to town.

Posted by OneKillWonder_

Great review. I really, really want to play this, but with Skyrim out, I'm not sure I would even have time until closer to Christmas unfortunately. Seems like an awesome game, though. Also, Whored Mode is a fantastic name.

Posted by Brackynews

@Humphreys said:

Giant Dong, new name for the site.

You haven't seen giantdong.cn have you?

Posted by Behonkiss

Even though this is 4 stars and not 5 because of the bugs and whatnot, I'm digging how positive this review was. Tuesday can't come soon enough!

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

"As for the rest of us? Saints Row: The Third is practically catharsis on a disc. Go forth, and have a blast."

Good old Saint's Row. One of my most anticipated games of the year for this very good reason alone.

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