19th November 2011 - Saints Row originally started as an open-world crime-sim not too dissimilar of the popular (and genre-defining) Grand Theft Auto series. With the first entry in the Saints Row franchise sticking fairly close to its GTA influence (although with its own unique flare), it was with Saints Row 2 that the series really stepped away from GTA 4's more realistic and gritty tone, creating a dedicated fan base of its own. Saints Row 3 has taken that step even further, with the entire game being almost completely redesigned from scratch. The driving mechanics, character and environment design, as well as the campaign and storytelling elements all feel more refined yet unmistakably Saints, but is it fun?
Saints Row 3 sees you once again step into the shoes of the leader of the Third Street Saints, the most notorious (and now beloved) gang in Stillwater. Since merging with the Ultor media group, the Saints have gone from an organised gang to a city widespread phenomenon. Their exploits are legendary, with energy drinks, clothing and even a movie in the works.
The game opens with the Saints attempting to rob the largest bank in Stillwater. Everything goes according to plan until Josh Burke (a method actor researching his part for a Saints Row movie) sets off an alarm, putting an end to the bungled heist as the Saints are incarcerated. The Saints are released from jail by Philippe Loren, the leader of an international crime ring known as the Syndicate. He then offers the Saints an ultimatum: Join the Syndicate, and offer 66% percent of their ongoing profits as tribute, or die. This causes the Saints' leader and right hand man Johnny Gat to offer less-than-friendly responses to decline the offer, and a gunfight breaks out.
Being a Saints Row fan from the first game, I felt like I was able to predict the gameplay following the introductory cut scene. I was not. Being unarmed, I engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Loren's guards. The melee combat has seen a significant improvement since SR2, with grappling and QuickTime events (QTE) now present, making melee more intense, but also infinitely more fun. Throwing a guard over my shoulder with the left analogue stick, and then roundhouse kicking him to the head with the right trigger, not only felt more visceral, but also more engaging. There is a sick sense of satisfaction when you kick a man's legs out from under him, and then landing blow after blow with the trigger buttons. I won't go into too much detail with the first mission, so as to avoid any spoilers, but I will say that Saints Row 3's introductory and first missions are more fun than any other in the series' history, and easily some of the most fun I've had in any game lately. The Saints then take the fight to Steelport, a city wholly under the control of the Syndicate, and completely theirs for the taking.
The open-world format remains largely the same from the last titles, with the Respect meter opening up missions for the player to undertake, and rewarding the player with more money and respect. Respect acts as a form of experience points, with rewards and perks able to be unlocked and bought the more that the player progresses. This replaces the previous games' mechanics of unlocking bonuses and perks at the completion of difficult activities. Classic activities like Insurance Fraud make a welcome return, and some, like Mayhem, have been tweaked. Mayhem can now take place with the player in control of a tank, as opposed to just running around on foot. This makes Mayhem more fun and also adds the new challenge of avoiding the authorities. New activities include Gang Operations, where one of the various gangs in Steelport has control of a building or site integral to a criminal operation, and the player kills all the opposing gang's present members to destroy said operation, cutting off profits and/or supplies. Another new activity is Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, a televised competitive sport which tasks the player with running through a gauntlet-like course, shooting at bonus targets and mascots and avoiding traps and shooting pandas. It feels like a less serious version of Sega's "The Club", and is a lot of fun.
The driving mechanics have been seriously reworked and now manage to challenge the player in high-speed chases (much like in GTA 4) whilst still retaining that over-the-top arcade feel from previous SR games. All in all the driving is a lot more fun this time round, with every car I drove feeling different to each other. The shooting has also received some much needed attention, with Volition now adding several new weapons, such as the predator drone (yes, just like in Call of Duty) and the airstrike. With the saints growing into a major corporation it only makes sense that they would eventually gain access to things such as electric grenades, hover bikes and miniguns. Enemies also react to getting shot and attempt to dodge bullets more realistically now, vaulting over low fences and spinning behind scenery in gunfights. New "Brute" enemies also appear, adding for a much needed sense of strategy as they can quickly incapacitate the player (or his/her teammates) and take one hell of a beating. I attempted to escape my first brute encounter by stealing a car and trying to speed away, only to have the brute stop my car with his foot and flip it over. There are so many new elements to the gameplay that will enthral anyone who plays Saints Row: The Third, whether they're a newbie or a seasoned veteran. During the course of the campaign in Saints Row: The Third, players will engage in a gunfight in free fall, 30,000 feet above the ground. They will infiltrate a virtual reality world (much like Tron) and take down a gang of hackers. They will get a sex change, and steal hover bikes. The best thing about Saints Row: The Third is that it's absurd and perverse fun.
In previous Saints Row games where I found the story missions a tad tedious and lacking any real diversity, and the side missions and activities were more fun. With this Saints Row it feels quite the opposite, and that despite the new activities which I'm quite fond of, the older activities are beginning to feel a little stale, and don't even get me started about collectibles still being in an open-world game. It's a tough choice that Volition had to make: what to include and what to discard, what to tweak and what to completely rebuild. For the most part, their efforts have not been in vain, with the story being the best in the series, the dialogue (at times) being laugh-out-loud funny, and the driving and shooting feeling like a true step forward for Saints Row.
One thing immediately noticeable from even the title screen is the new art direction. The graphics and presentation in Saints Row: The Third deviate from previous games. The look is slightly more cartoonish, but without a doubt much, much more stylish. The characters have all been redesigned and when met with the outrageous missions, extensive character customisation, new environment and overall presentation (again, a whole lot more stylish) Saints Row: The Third manages to forge its own identity – a rare occurrence in the industry these days. The graphics are not amazing, in fact, they are quite lacking compared to other recent games, but at this stage in the current console cycle it is difficult to constantly improve on graphical quality sequel after sequel. The other thing I noticed while playing SR: The Third is some very jagged edges and jerky animations (especially on dead bodies, which seem to seizure on the odd occasion). Texture pop up was also frequent, but this seemed to tone down after I installed the game to my 360's HDD.
Saints Row: The Third's audio is competent, but that's about it. Guns don't sound too different to each other, and the same can be said about cars. One standout point, as usual, is the phenomenal soundtrack and radio commercials that Volition has put so much time into. During one mission Pierce went surfing the radio stations until he found the classics station, which was playing Sublime's "What I've got". I immediately thought nostalgic thoughts to myself, enjoying the song, when Pierce and The Saint's leader began discussing being in high school when this song was released. What followed next was a hilarious sing-along between the two characters, which had me laughing the whole time I was driving to the mission. I even pulled over up the road to hear them finish. Other notable artists included Run-DMC, Dethklok, The Butthole Surfers and Yellow card, among many others.
There is more value in this Saints Row then in both the other titles combined. I absolutely love the story, the bizarre and often nonsensical elements to the game, and the co-operative multiplayer. That being said, anyone looking to Saints Row: The Third for innovation, or an uplifting and compelling story, should probably look elsewhere. This is a fun game, first and foremost, and that means a lot of the time that other features such as graphical quality and rendering take a back seat. If you haven't played a Saints Row game before, now is a good time to start.
Saints Row: The Third may not be reinventing the wheel, but it isn't trying to either. All Volition promised was the most over-the-top absurd open world game to date, and they delivered. The Saints Row fan in me loves the new design and new gameplay elements, but also grows tired of the samey feel to some of the activities. Overall, Saints Row: The Third delivers 30+ hours of insanely fun campaign missions, plus whatever side missions and activities you choose to do. This is definitely a game to share with a friend, as the chaos only doubles in multiplayer. With Saints Row 4 being confirmed with the release of the Third, I can only look forward to the next game, especially if the story is on par with this one.
+ An insane amount of activities and perverse humour.
+ Character customisation is almost endless. No two characters will look the same.
+ New shooting and melee combat elements add strategy to a previously weak element in Saint's Row.
+ Story has more depth, and the dialogue is much more entertaining.
- Some activities feel a bit exhausted.
- Graphics are below average
- Some glitches and jaggy animations.
Reviewed and Written By Nick Getley