November 21, 2011
Watching the Saints Row franchise grow over the years has been an interesting and fascinating series of events, somewhat akin to watching Gary Busey evolve from competent actor with a bright future to mad-as-a-hatter crazy-ass-motherfucker. Ironic he should appear in Saints Row 2’s promotional material then! While the original Saints Row was Volition’s first attempt at a sandbox GTA clone and a promising one at that, the sequel took a slightly more wacky approach with faeces-spewing waste disposal trucks and pimp cane shotguns. Saints Row: The Third – because 3 doesn’t say crazy like “The Third” does – amps that level of crazy up to the next level with toilet outfits, purple dildo baseball bats and man cannons, but it’s still falls short of that killer-app moniker that THQ and Volition are desperately looking to nail down, yet it’s another fine attempt.
Saints Row: The Third picks up after the events of Saints Row 2, with the Saints now global celebrities, selling their name for wads of cash and pimping their bodies out more often than a Z-list celebrity would. After pushing their luck too far, they finally mess with the wrong people, another huge corporation known only as The Syndicate. The Third follows the antics of the Saints as they look to establish themselves in the new city of Steelport as the big chiefs in town, getting themselves into some rather hairy situations in the process.
Thankfully, the new city of Steelport gives Saints Row: The Third something that Saints Row 2 didn’t have: the feeling that it’s a sequel rather than an add-on. It’s amazing how much a new city can make it feel like an all-new experience. However, that said, Steelport does seem to be a little smaller than Stillwater and definitely suffers from a lack of diversity in its different districts; it just doesn’t capture that vibe of a living-breathing city that other sandbox games – no names mentioned – have been able to deliver in recent years. It’s a little no-frills if you ask us.
Throughout your time with the main story campaign you’ll find yourself getting involved in a bank job, tackling a zombie outbreak, framing wrestlers for heinous acts, hitting cyberspace, freeing “hos” from shipping crates, stealing a wide array of hi-tech machinery from Steelport’s militant faction and more. In fact, it’s these unique and varied missions that succeed in keeping monotony from setting in. Outside of those missions, the game does tend to suffer from buckets of repetition, with the same head-here, head-there, fetch-this, fetch that, shoot-all-these-gangsters-in-this-warehouse, etc. making up the crux of the action.
The pacing is a little off in the game’s main story too, with it starting incredibly strong before petering out for a good 5 hours or so, before ending with a bang. The fact that they’ve shoehorned what Saints Rowers will class as side-missions into the main story only serves to cheaply artificially extend the experience at the cost of the enjoyment levels.
If we’re being perfectly honest though, you won’t be playing Saints Row: The Third for its story or for its set pieces, but for its freedom and its ability to lark around with a friend. Yes, while the multiplayer has been cut altogether, and it’s no less of a game because of it, the co-op still runs through the game’s veins and thanks to a whole host of new toys, including tanks, jets, crazy weapons, outrageous wrestling moves and side-missions galore, you’ll never be short of things to experiment with. In terms of side-missions though, aside from the odd new addition, it’s more of the same, which is equally satisfying and disappointing.
Saints Row: The Third’s ability to raise a smile is one of its shining lights and this is in no small thanks to its especially over-the-top nature. Running around the streets as a toilet, taking control of an NPC’s car with an RC remote controller, calling in an airstrike, throwing farts in a jar and beating down gangsters with a huge purple dildo are all true indicators of what your time will be like on the streets of Steelport. Its delightfully written script, which never takes itself too seriously and manages to poke fun at many of video game’s biggest clichés, is superbly written and in keeping with the game’s light tone.
All the character customisation and more can be found at Saints Row’s heart, with the Initiation Station offering an in-depth character customisation editor that precedes your adventure, as well as the ability to customise cars – both aesthetically and performance wise. Perhaps one of the best additions are the RPG elements that come in the form of the character progression and weapon upgrades that add another element to the series, although the crib customisation seems to have taken a backwards step.
The music seems to have taken a backwards step from Saints Row 2 as well, with there being only a handful of iconic tracks throughout. Volition does a great job of using certain tracks throughout to add another element of tension and emotion to the events on screen though, whether that’s gatecrashing a party to Kanye West’s ‘Power’ or the use of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Hero’ in the game’s closing moments; they’re truly iconic moments and are a great example of how to use licensed music in a game such as this. The ability to create your own ‘mix-tape’ of songs from within the game is a fine addition too and an innovation that a certain star of the rocking type should take note of for their next auto theft game.
On a similar note though, while the visuals haven’t taken a step back as such, they aren’t that much of an advancement over the second iteration, although there are plenty of fresh new animations on offer. It’s very much a case of sequelitis in this regard, something that actually rings true for most of the game.
The achievements - once again may I add - are the most disappointing aspect of Voliton’s sandbox game. Complete this side-mission, complete that side-mission, complete this story-mission, complete that story-mission… yawn. For a company that created a huge purple dildo baseball bat, a jet that can switch between hovering and flying breakneck speeds at the touch of a button and has a fart in a jar as a stun grenade, this lack of ingenuity is frankly rather disappointing, especially considering it did exactly the same in Saints Row 2. It’s all very mundane and clear that Volition doesn’t really care about achievements, which is a damn shame.
That’s generally Saints Row: The Third’s problem as well though – that there aren’t really enough advancements over Saints Row 2 and they suffer from the same mistakes. Sure, it’s a brand new city and that wins the game extra kudos points but with an odd pacing of its main story, some really repetitive missions and samey gameplay, it kind of overshadows everything that Volition actually gets right: like the wacky sandbox tools of the trade, the sheer abundance of creativity and its suitably epic sense of humour. Saints Row: The Third isn't quite as crazy as THQ makes out, but it’s a game worthy of your time and appreciation.
Not enough iconic tracks in the game’s licensed music, but the usage of the very few iconic tracks during key story missions is a great idea. The voice acting is tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top, and for the most part, well delivered.
Saints Row: The Third’s neon-soaked metropolis, Steelport, is more of the same in terms of visuals, which is both great, but a bit of a disappointment too. Some great new animations though.
A perfectly impressive game from a control standpoint, with the on-foot navigation, combat and driving mechanics all being perfectly easy-to-pick-up-and-play and a joy to behold.
The mission structure of the game’s campaign ranges from varied and unique to repetitive and monotonous. It has a really odd pacing as well, with the franchise’s trademark side-missions shoehorned into the main story, which breaks things up all too much. There’s plenty to do in Steelport though in terms of side-missions, but most of them are carbon copies of missions from the previous two games.
Considering that Volition has the imagination to create some of the most insane sandbox toys, it’s disappointing to see an achievement list so devoid of creativity. Again.
Volition gets many things right in Saints Row: The Third in what is no doubt a fine sequel, but it’s very much a case of sequelitis for the THQ franchise. The zany and over-the-top nature, well-written script and whole host of sandbox toys are held back ever so slightly by the oddly paced and repetitive proceedings of the game’s main story.