Over the Top
Saint Row: The Third is at once a breath of fresh air and a return to form for the open world/sandbox genre of games. The craziness of the open world genre fizzled out after the Hot Coffee incident, but it seems to have been rekindled with SR:TT. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, while a departure from the the previous games, was never as outrageous as SR:TT. But, that outrageousness is what makes this game unique and keeps the player coming back to find out what kind of crazy shit has yet to come.
The over-the-top story and presentation are a good fit in a genre that has become much more “mature” since the San Andreas/Hot Coffee incident that happened a few years ago. After that incident, it seemed like the genre, and the games industry in general, were at a place where they needed to justify their art. Saints Row: The Third is to Animal House or Porky's as GTA IV is to Citizen Kane. (Of course, this is for analogous purposes only.) It is really nice that we have gotten back to a place where games can be funny, referential, and clever without being crassly base like the latest Duke Nukem game.
Let me start by putting it out there that I never played the original games in the Saints Row series. I also haven't put much time into a GTA game since Vice City. I did play Red Dead Redemption, but that game, while open world, doesn't belong in this discussion because it doesn't take place in an urban environment. Traditionally, I have always been one of those players who approaches a GTA game like a sandbox. I played the original GTA for tens of hours while only clearing the first few missions. But, Saints Row: The Third's story grabbed me right off the bat...or maybe in Saints Row's case dildo.
The Star Wars crawl opening told those in the audience who believe that the holy trilogy is an important foundational piece of work for nerds everywhere that this is a game for us. The GTA games, as they became more mainstream, started to pull in much more of a dude/bro audience. Saints Row: The Third proclaimed to the nerds that they were welcome again. Additions such as Adult Swim radio, a furry store, a future helicopter, and many references to Tron make those of us who aren't dude/bros feel comfortable again. There is certainly humor that is aimed at all types of people, but there are equally as many instances of humor that might turn people off. (But, the crux of all humor, it is subjective; you either love it or hate it.)
The story missions of the game start out with such a bang. The Saints have become international celebrities. As they rob a bank dressed as themselves the vault blows and one of the hostages is so taken by their celebrity that he asks for an autograph. This is followed by a mission in an airplane where your nameless created character, one of the bosses of the gang, shoves Shaundi out of the plane only to jump out and save her midair. The opening of this game blew the doors off the opening sequence of any other game last year.
The create-a-character system is really well implemented. I was able to customize my character with a vast amount of options. The Saints Row website was also a welcome addition to the character creation because it made it easy to look through other peoples' creations and download their characters to your own game.
Sandwiched in the middle of the game are some really interesting and funny missions, but they aren't all stellar. It might have been because I was doing so many side missions or it might have just been because the middle missions weren't very good, but I got a little side tracked at about the 20 hour mark. But, I can't honestly say that I wasn't still having fun. I did finish the game; which in itself is a testament to the game's quality.
The missions at the end of the game though picked right back up and they were just as explosive as the beginning missions; especially the http://deckers.die mission was incredibly creative. And, the wrestling match at the end of the game was also pretty well implemented. I could have done with less QTEs, but overall it was really well paced and fun.
With all open world games there is 'open world jank,' and I experienced a fair amount of 'jank.' I got stuck in the environment numerous times, enemies got stuck inside the environment occasionally, and a couple of time the game locked up forcing me to manually reboot my Xbox. Luckily, these kinds of 'janky' events didn't happen very often.
I didn't play online the co-op mode or the 'Whored Mode.' There weren't any achievements related to those two modes, which I was happy about. Yet because there were no achievements, I didn't feel like these modes were necessary, at least for me.
I really enjoyed my time with Saints Row: The Third. It really had a lot of fun game elements and the story was out of the park. It is sad that glitches happen and we have come to expect them, but when they did occur they really didn't detract from my game experience. This game takes a hard look at game culture and laughs at it. I really hope that the next Saints Row game doesn't try to one-up itself, because I can see how this kind of humor could get stale. I hope that they stick with clever fresh ideas. Knowing your audience is really important. When properties step out of this comfort zone and try to appeal to everybody they start to lose what once made them great. I'm not sure what the next Saints Row will be like but this game has opened my eyes up to where Volition is heading and I am excited.