An impressive commitment to absurdity.
Saints Row was essentially the bastard-child of an era when GTA clones ruled store shelves, being among the monstrous list of terrible to mediocre copycats of RockStar’s gift to the industry. The original idea of Saints Row was living the super-thug fantasy. With RockStar implementing far more serious tones in their games, Volition went the complete opposite direction. Saints Row: The Third finds a true identity for the franchise, picking up the lunacy the second game started and running with it. Now, Saints Row resembles the movie Crank more than GTA.
Most videogames released this year were known quantities. Even this year’s top titles didn’t necessarily deliver the unexpected. Gears of War 3 was an amazing game I had a fantastic time with, but the experience followed a linear formula. Most games, even the great ones, revolve around repetitive elements to maintain momentum. Virtually every mission in Saints Row: The Third took an unexpected turn. I played as a toilet, experienced strong TRON references, and fell out of plane while inside a tank shooting other tanks during a five-minute fall.
From an outsider’s perspective, Saints Row: The Third might just seem like a cornucopia of everything a 12 year-old boy thinks is awesome. The game with the tagline “Strap it On” does offer weaponry such as a giant dildo, but the humor is surprisingly thoughtful despite some off-putting things you might see in a trailer. The game goes for crazy theatrics to keep things moving forward. An early mission had me parachuting from an Airplane to crash a party. For no real reason, Kanye West’s “Power” plays throughout the entire mission. This game is a real crowd-pleaser. It was very common for people to pass by my TV and after asking “What the hell is going on!?”, they typically stuck around for awhile to witness the off-the-rails sandbox.
Saints Row: The Third is one of the rare games were anything can happen. Several times throughout play, I made a few jokes asking if the game would bring specific events. “Oh wow, they made me fall from a plane in a tank! What’s next, a Mexican wrestling match?” In a lot of cases, Volition totally brought jokes I made about the game a reality. It’s that unpredictable. Weird enough, the adult theme park nature of the game contains a story that fuses all this anarchy in a meaningful fashion. There are contrived reasons for stealing a jet, but everything does tie to the ludicrous story I shockingly found myself interested in. The story boils down to the Saints having to prove themselves once again by taking down other gangs and foes, but has enough variables to keep things moving in an interesting way. It’s good that the story didn’t appear to just serve the purpose of a platform for the player to do whatever mission Volition thought was funny. Saints Row: The Third won’t win any awards for outstanding writing or acting, but there was an attention to detail in giving the story thought that I didn’t expect.
The game greatly caters to those that appreciate a lot of customization. The game’s protagonist, Boss, can be male or female and customized with virtually any body type and several different voices to include straight-up Zombie groans. The feature of multiple voice actors/actresses portraying the same character highlights the attention to detail Volition put into development. All result in the same personality of a straight man (or woman) in a crazy world. Mainly being on the same page as the player, questioning the over-the-top nature of what’s going on. Vehicles can be cosmetically tuned to your desire and the protagonist can be altered with different cloths and tattoos.
The most interesting customization element is the upgrade system. As you level up, more perks become available for purchase. These perks range from more health and resistance to bullets to eventually becoming invincible and calling in Helicopter support. The upgrades were fun enough to encourage going out of the way and finishing up side objectives, which were already fun on their own, but gives everything the game offers more purpose. Side missions don’t simply exist for the sake of being there, but also reward more money and opportunities to upgrade. The more upgraded you are, the more silly content available.
Saints Row: The Third is clearly Volition’s most ambitious title. The open world is well designed and packed with environmental pieces and events. I thought the last two Saints Row games felt clunky. This isn’t the case with this third iteration. Combat is tight and feels good and the vehicle driving is tight. I never noticed any offensive framerate drops. Considering the large open-world and the chaos that typically ensues, that’s a feat.
The biggest issue was the game actually crashing and general performance glitches. It was too often the game got stuck on a loading screen, and the issue seemed to get worse as I progressed through the game. On several occasions, I started a side-event then immediately the game would say I completed it, without actually making me do it. At times the AI simply stopped working or ceased to make any coherent sense. This clearly isn’t the most technically proficient game on the market, but non of these issues are bad enough to bog down entertainment value. But I could see less patient people getting annoyed by the various bugs.
From a distance, Saints Row: The Third may look like a juvenile game that can be very off-putting. But the humor is well executed and allots the player the opportunity to break the videogame mold of shooting dudes behind cover or shooting pre-teens on Xbox Live. Some studios like to have their game offer immersion and a realistic story line. Saints Row: The Third throws all of that out the window. The thought process behind this game’s development was clearly, “What would be awesome in a videogame? Ok, let’s do that!”. This game’s unrelenting dedication to totally anarchy is admirable. For the carnage junkies out there looking for a game with a good sense of humor, have at it.