Y'all know me, I'm a real OG - Saints Row, B**ch!
The Stilwater-based Third Street Saints gang have certainly come along away since their arrival in 2006. What was originally a fairly grounded, but still ridiculous, street-gang, out to eradicate other equally ridiculous, but still somewhat believable, street gangs have evolved into Volition's latest open-world epic bonanza of pure, thick, almost physically manifested insanity that is Saints Row The Third.
After the events during Saints Row 2 and The Saints acquired all of Ultor's (a massive evil corporation of delectable evilness) assets by essentially murdering everyone, their power and scope of reach has expanded world-wide. But they're not dominating the world or anything, or at least not literally anyway. Now, The Third Streets Saints are world-wide celebrities, complete with a multitude of branding be it clothing, cars, comics and even ''ass tasting'' energy drinks. The funny thing is that hasn't halted their criminal activities any; they're still (mostly) the same gang-banging bunch of thieving, murdering, bollock socking psychopaths. Only now they're also being trailed by method actors to research roles for The Saints upcoming movie deal.
A great example for showcasing this simultaneous, contrasting mix of emotions the world has for The Saints is in the very first mission. You, Johnny Gat, Shaundi and Josh Birk, the aforementioned method actor, are robbing a Stilwater Bank... dressed as caricatures of Johnny Gat - even Johnny himself is wearing the outfit. Once the heist goes sour, because it's a heist, and the SWAT are arriving, there's such brilliant quotes as ''Please autograph and put down your gun''. You'll even get to actually sign an autograph for a fan whilst you are in the middle of mindlessly murdering people in the bank. It's simply fantastic and it introduces a great entry point to show just what kind of madness awaits you.
The overall design for Saints Row The Third has been altered to some small degrees. The game still primarily revolves around the two main focuses of shooting and driving, both of which have been significantly improved over their predecessors allowing a much more snappier and smoother play-style. What differs is how previous entries forced upon you to complete the multitude of Activities and Diversions littered all across the city to gain Respect, which would then open up the story missions. This time around you're free to play through the main story completely ignoring everything else the game features if you so dsire. Respect is still featured, though, but now it more or less acts as a form of experience points. And you'll still earn Respect the old fashioned way: by doing virtually anything. Completing story missions, completing the activities, to just simply driving unto oncoming traffic, nailing headshots, doing a powerslide, running people over, shooting down helicopters, booting someone in the testicles - you name it. Anything that you can do in this game that even marginally looks awesome will no doubt reward you that little bit of spice. And that spice is invested to help unlock a huge series of goodies, very reminiscent of a lot of the unlockables Saints Row 2 gifted for completing a whole section of activities.
These include a staggering number, spread across a large list of predictable categories like increasing your health, increasing your resistance to damage, upgrading how much ammunition you can carry, upgrading your gangs attributes and so forth. As you go up the ranks, more and more of those same abilities reach ludicrous heights, essentially allowing you by Rank 50 to become impervious to all damage and have infinite ammo for everything. Of course you still need money to purchase all of that blood lust fuel, which is easily administered by, like previous iterations, taking over shops for hourly income, and completing story missions and activities for some quick, upfront dosh.
Oh yeah, you'll still find yourself yet again buying an entire city's worth of lots because The Saints have now found themselves in a new city: Steelport. After that Heist I mentioned earlier busts, The Boss, Shaundi and Gat are taken prisoner but then quickly released, only to be scraped up by Phillipe Loren. Head of a massive crime syndicate based in Steelport called... The Syndicate, Phillipe is planning on expanding his organisations operations into Stilwater and is offering to spare the Saints lives for 66% of the city. Naturally The Saints aren't going to just roll over and instead enact war; because they're flying high above Steelport, however, when they escape, they find themselves essentially stranded in yet another crime-ridden, colour-coded-gang polluted urban city.
Steelport itself isn't really a particularly interesting place to roam around, however. Now it's not like Stilwater before it was a bustle of life and ingenuity, but Stilwater still had a fairly memorable style of its own, complete with some solid environmental variety stretching across graveyards, power-plants, a University Campus and a dozen of secret areas to uncover. Steelport mostly looks the exact same throughout its still fairly large landscape and has much more so been delegated as a playground, giving you no real attachment to the city itself. The civilians that populate this hell hole aren't as prominent nor even noticeable, either, (and unfortunately aren't all voiced by Nolan North like the Stilwater denizens) with a significant drop in random passerby phrases. But in the grand scheme, that shouldn't matter too much since Steelport is still perfectly suitable as a place for you to wreak havoc all throughout its streets.
The story is also presented a little differently this time around, too. Instead of clawing your way through each individual gang, until eventually reaching a penultimate Big Bad, Saints Row The Third's story plays out in a much more linear fashion. Because the three new gangs--Phillipe's own Morningstar, the TRON-inspired hacker gang The Deckers, and the Mexican Wrestling homage via The Luchadores--are all under the same Syndicate banner, you're essentially taking them on all at once. The beats are still more or less the same--you'll focus your attacks on one gang, then work on another and so forth--but things get a little more complicated once STAG (Special Tactical Anti Gang) arrive during the middle of it all. The story as a whole is entertaining, but for different reasons over Saints Row 2. Whilst Saints Row 2 delved into a surprising amount of character drama, Saints Row The Third's story is primarily concerned with handing you the context to go through some of the most equally absurd, creative, and entertaining story missions of this current generation of gaming. I sharn't even list any because they're simply that incredible and must be experienced first hand. Suffice to say, the story holds some simply astonishing surprises.
The story certainly isn't without it's flaws, however; as I abbreviated earlier, the story lacks the character drama and passion that pushed you forward during Saints Row 2. Saints Row The Third is essentially ''party on all the time'', with little room for any sort of emotion besides the joy of smashing someones face in with a monstrous purple dildo-bat. That's an entirely subjective preference of mine, though. What is entirely at the fault of the game, however, is the slow burn the story takes to really get going. It opens up with a couple of brilliant missions, including the Heist mission and another that's intentionally very reminiscent of the game's notorious CGI trailer. Besides that, a lot of the missions are tutorials that all should of been shuffled into one instead of being spread across half of the first act. Once you hit the second act, most of the missions available are actually just additional levels to the Activities. As soon as STAG hit the scene, that's when Saints Row The Third finally begins to prove to you why it's currently one of the most inventively outrageous games you can find.
Another notable gripe is with the handling of a certain character death that happens very early on, which isn't addressed in a manner you would of expected. It just sorta... happens, and while there's plenty of references, there's never any solid closure and it's left as a downright bizarre move for the story to take. Otherwise, the story is a riotous blast, featuring plenty of humour, variety and, oddly enough, a few decisions to make along the way.
Minus the story, there of course persist a myriad of optional activities and diversions to lose yourself in. Though this, too, has changed slightly. Activities, for example, no longer run you through a series of 5 increasingly tougher levels, and instead force you to go through one level and then invariably unlock more around the city. Since a great deal of all the unlocks one would expect from a Saints Row game have been shuffled within the new Respect system, Activities often don't reward you much besides the extra cash and Respect. It's always beneficial to receive a little more cash-in-pocket, but at the same time the Activities are almost made to be redundant to a point. The overall Activity variety has been skimmed down, too; no more Septic Shit-Truck missions, Fight Club, Destruction Derby, Street Races, Bodyguard missions and, most disappointingly of all, FUZZ! missions. Fortunately, most of the old-standbys including Insurance Fraud (where you use the ragdoll to wrack up a number of fraudulent insurance claims) and Mayhem (exactly what it says on the tin.) are still here, and some even have some variants, such as Tank Mayhem which... well, y'know.
The murderously mischievous mascot, Professor Genki, is given his dues across the game as well. There is of course the preorder bonus Genki themed items, as well as an Activity set within his very own show, which plays out like some twisted Gauntlet out of the mind of a Japanese Jigsaw. Genki himself can even occasionally be found wandering the streets, characteristically wreaking havoc upon all who stand in the way of his whiskers. And much like everyone else on the streets, he can be killed. But that mascot suit of his is tougher than it looks - a friendly warning for all Big Game Hunters.
Despite the lessening of variety towards the side activities, the apparent trade-off is a much more fun game to play. As mentioned previously, Saints Row The Third's shooting and driving is vastly improved over the skittish, uncoordinated shooting and the sluggish, slow driving from Saints Row 2. You can now utilise a quick roll to use over and over (as long as you have some remaining stamina) to better escape whatever mess you may of caused for yourself, and with the addition of the ''Awesome Button''--which is literally just the sprint button--you can now perform a great deal more melee attacks unto any unlucky passerby's that find their way within your reach, do a drop-kick right into nearly every vehicle allowing you to hi-jack cars at a downright innovative haste, or quickly leap onto another equally unlucky passerby and use them as a shield. You can still do that without the Awesome Button in motion, but it's not as cool.
A massive variety of clothing options, vehicles, guns and gang customisation styles are yet again at your disposable as well. Most of which are given to you momentarily as you proceed through the story, adding more and more towards your exhaustive list of options for you to play with the exact character you wish to play as to a T. The character creator itself is just as expansive and incredibly addictive to mess around in as it's always been; 6 new voices (with the African-American Male Voice 2 returning from Saints Row 2 as the 7th) are also here to allow you to better distinguish your character a little. There includes a bevvy of talent, featuring the likes of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Robin Atkin Downes, and Steve Blum, impressively hiding his vocals behind the gargles and groans of the newly introduced ''Zombie Voice''.
Zombie Voice. Need any more be said?
The supporting cast are just as excellent, with Shaundi (despite at this point being an entirely different character) and your fellow Gang Lieutenants all carrying forth the same lively and colourful personalities that the series is known for. New cats such as Zimos, an aging pimp who talks entirely in auto-tune, make for highly memorable additions (though Kinzie was kind of annoying). The villains aren't quite as well developed this time around, but are at the very least expertly voiced by a number of recognisable talent.
Oh right, and by the way, Saints Row The Third is also hilarious, like the kind that will literally leave you laugh out loud'ing with your face cupped within your hands. The writing, the voice acting, the unpredictable story missions, some of the greatest usage of licensed music.. possibly ever... it all culminates to make for one of the most frantically funny and stand-out games of the year.
Jesus, right, so the cooperative play... Just like Saints Row 2 before, Saints Row The Third yet again allows two players to team up and contend against everything the game has to offer, and while the story isn't touched upon, certain side stuff is adjusted and adapted to fit in the second player. Trail Blazing (an activity where you ride on a quad-bike trying to destroy everything you can for more time) for example, rests the second player on the back with an infinite supply of molotovs to further assist with the explosive carnage. Because of how there's no compromise towards the overall experience, Saints Row The Third yet again offers up some of the greatest cooperative play this generation has seen. There is the crassly title cooperative ''Whored Mode'' available, too, that shifts you through a series of waves much like what you'd expect. How it sets itself apart is with every mission featuring some kind of quirk--be it you're forced to fend off a series of 12ft furries, or being handed a tank to mercilessly gun down a horde (or ''whored'' rather) of crazed strippers. Each mission also has itself a pretty funny title, often riffing off of other games, or pop-culture tropes within other games. It's a fun diversion, but because of the distinct lack of the character creator on hand, forcing you to choose from a small few presets, it loses out and removes one of the most defining features of the entire Saints Row series design.
OK, so... I am fully aware that this review has gone on for far too long already. But I believe that speaks just exactly to what this game is; it's something that has made some (well, a lot actually) sacrifices, to be sure, but ultimately came on top even still and stands as... something that most people need at least watch, if not play for themselves. Some of those later story missions--again, lips sealed--are so outlandish that they'd leave you to be entirely incredulous without seeing them with your own eyes. Saints Row The Third is now more than ever embracing it's goddamn destiny and giving unto the world something the world could do with a little more of.
Ladies and Gentlemen, would you kindly Strap It On.