New Island, New Life
The third instalment of the Stilwater Saints returns replete with new characters and gangs as well as a new playground, Steelport. We see the Saints resting on their laurels as champions of Stilwater and starting to become more corporate than most gangs would. After a quick kidnapping, the Saints realize they have to return to their roots and do what they do best - kick some ass.
With every iteration of Saint’s Row (SR), you always have the option to customize ‘The Boss’, the protagonist for the past games. This means that there isn’t much inherent continuity but you can always make roughly the same character if that’s how you want to play and create a rough timeline for your character. The voices and actions are all roughly the same, with the British Male voice always being the go-to for me.
The very first thing that hits you when you land in Steelport is the fact that there is an actual Upgrade system in the game. In the previous game, you didn’t have the ability to upgrade your character or your weapons to the extent you can in this game. In SR2 you had the ability to pimp out your crib and strongholds, increasing cash flow and customizing your gang members. The Third improves on this system by allowing immense choices to your player as well as your gang and allows for non-linear progression as you decide what aspect of gameplay you want to focus on, be it the gang members or yourself.
However, there are a few drawbacks on these systems. There are a ton of upgrades that you unlock, but a lot of them feel inferior to the obvious choices such as health regeneration or dual-wielding SMGs, but there are some ambiguous choices such as the Homie call-ins, whereby you call in gang members and in some situations they simply won’t answer and you aren’t really given reasons as to why they aren’t allowed to come, so there are some invisible restrictions on certain upgrades that may leave the player confused or somewhat cheated especially if the upgrade was expensive.
Another feature of SR3 is how they’ve tweaked mission progression and activities. In the second Saint’s Row, the player was forced to do activities to gain ‘Respect’ to advance and unlock new story missions. This time you are allowed to progress the story whenever you want, but most of the missions end up being activities themselves! There is a point in the plot where the story splits into 4 or so side stories, each sort of focusing on a gang, but almost all of them were an activity and I’d have to do all the missions before focusing on the main story again. It felt very unusual as the activities were tied into getting the attention of the gangs or disturbing their turf, but out of context, in the open world, they feel very awkward and tacked on.
The activities in SR3 are mainly all carried over from the previous game, with a few exceptions: Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax (S.E.R.C.) is probably the best addition to the series and my favorite activity throughout the Saint’s Row franchise. The amount of personality and charisma thrown into this activity, along with the actual activity is extremely fun and enjoyable. The premise is basically a over the top Japanese-style gameshow whereby the protagonist is thrown into an arena filled with mascots and the occasional Brute, and you have to shoot the mascots, dodge traps and hit targets to score combos and multiply your score. If you do well enough, you earn ‘presents’, which allow you to use more weapons in your arsenal, as you only start off with your pistol. The actual activity wasn’t that challenging but I quickly found myself searching for more and more of these activities and I quickly completed all 6 as soon as I unlocked them. The Saint’s Row 2 counterpart, Fist Fight, was much less enjoyable as the melee combat in that game was quite poor and not that interesting.
Other activities such as the Tron-style Trail Blazing was a welcome change to the usual Burning man challenge, where I found myself getting lost rather than being challenged by the activity. Both Mayhem and Tank Mayhem double-up on explosions and both are quite fun but do get a bit tiring after a while especially after a certain rhythm is established and one is only trying to reach the score limit. It would be nice for certain events to allow you to continue past the time limit to try and reach a high score, but that is a small gripe.
The way gangs are handled in SR3 compared to SR2 is rather disappointing as they are all intertwined in some way and not separate. This would be a unique twist except for the fact that the way you deal with most of the ‘bosses’ in the game are severely underwhelming. There are some nice set pieces but the cut scenes leave something to be desired compared to the brutal executions of the previous game. However, a lot of the personas in this game are quite nice and the Deckers especially have some nice aesthetics and have a unique weapon. Your own gang members are also quite interesting this go around, with new additions Kinzie Kensington, Angel De la Muerte, Oleg and finally auto-tuned Zimos all providing funny gags and their own spin as they work with you to take down the Syndicate.
The weapons and vehicles that you grab along the way in this Saint’s Row are definitely stepped up from the previous iteration. Some of the weapons, such as the McManus and Krukov make it back, but the new weapons are the most exciting, with the well marketed ‘Penetrator’, or the strap-on on a bat, as well as the laser rifles and of course the Predator drones. The vehicles though, are fantastic, with the range of motorcycles, cars, tanks, jets and the like all taking on different shapes and sizes and a fantastic addition to this game is the way the garage is handled. In this game, when you ‘earn’ a vehicle, or you store a vehicle in your garage, not only can you customize that car from any crib, but it’s essentially there forever. You can take it out for a spin, and crash it or leave it anywhere in the world, and there will be an identical copy waiting for you in any crib you choose. This becomes especially useful for aircraft or highly customized cars, where you painted that rim just right, and you spent a ton of money on it. You can go and wreck it or lose it and it will still be there. It breaks reality a tiny bit, but it’s Saint’s Row, you expect some reality distortion from this game.
There is a multiplayer aspect of this game that I haven’t touched yet, but it’s solely 2 player co-op. There are two modes: the drop-in/drop-out style of play whereby you host a game and someone drops into your instance of your game and can do story missions or activities with you and help you out as if they were your companion. I’m not entirely sure whether or not they get hourly cash income or can upgrade their weapons/vehicles/crib and that could be an issue for that person’s enjoyment of co-op. The other mode is ‘Whored Mode’, which is basically the Horde mode commonly seen in Gears of War or Call of Duty but with specific restrictions on gameplay, such as giving you only fists or only ‘The Penetrator’.
Overall, this game has some flaws, more than I’d like to admit. But the core gameplay is still there and it’s still Saint’s Row. They’ve upped the ante on the amount of craziness they can cram into the game and there were some magnificent sequences in this game that probably haven’t been done in any other game. I really want to love this game, but as much as I try, there are too many gripes I have with it that could have been solved that weren’t.