Saints Row: The Third Review
Twenty hours spent as a golden, scarred, elfman thing with a tiny penis and a blonde pompadour. Twenty hours as a gigantic fat man in a cashmere sweater and pink wig (with matching lipstick). Twenty hours as his sister, with a proclivity for making a tosser hand signal at passers-by.
Twenty hours skydiving from a hover-bike, hitting pedestrians with flying clotheslines, trafficking ladies of the night with a pimp who uses a voicebox (with autotune always on) and making all of our cars as bright pink as they can be.
Twenty hours playing through pastiches of Tron, of GTA, of the WWE, of every Eighties action flick you can think of, of Red Faction, videogame tropes in general (“How long until the chopper gets here?” “Oh, about two waves of SWAT guys”) – even a pisstake of Saints Row.
If you were to ask us what we wanted to spend 20 hours doing while playing a game, we’d have to say a lot of these things would pop up on the list.
Saints Row: The Third shows Volition has gone into our very minds and extracted the dumbest, most puerile and silly elements of What We Want To See and cobbled them together in one of the most stupidly fun games of the year – even if it is all still a little rough around the edges.
Steelport is a city ripe for mayhem. But what will you do once you get there?
Laying out the point – the motivation – behind your actions in SR3 is a bit of a pointless exercise. On paper, at least. See, this weak skeleton backing up the whole game – you’re in a new city, with new enemies: go forth and do your Gang Stuff – is actually perfect for purpose.
Later in the game when you see the amount of ludicrous elements ladled liberally on top of this original, weak skeleton of a story: that’s when you see it’s fit for purpose.
When you see the Saints have their own line of energy drink, or people will ask you to pose for them in a photo just after you’ve slaughtered 50 rival gang members, or how the problem of gang violence is countered with an army – literally – that’s when you realise a weak backing tale is all SR3 ever needed. That, and Hulk Hogan, obviously.
At the same time, SR3 is very much your own story to tell. We don’t mean in the sense you have real power over the direction of the narrative – bar a handful of decisions your contribution is predetermined, so it’s not like that’s a very personal tale.
But it’s still a sandbox game, and it’s one where not only are you able to dick about – you’re actively rewarded for it – so it’s only natural that the small stories, made yourself, start to pop up all over the place.
From the simple ones where you were in a pitched battle with law enforcement only to see a Luchardores brute run in and head-butt an APC over a bunch of cars, to the more… wait, what? Yes, that did indeed happen. Skydiving from a hover-bike into a swimming pool, just because you can.
Taking out a group of unruly mascots, dressed as hot dogs, giant cuddly toys and Jonny Gat, using an attack chopper before making your escape on a half-wrecked scooter.
Just your average night out really.
Beating old women to death with a giant purple dildo – though we suppose that’s one of the main marketing points for the game, so it’s not like you won’t have thought of it. Basically there’s a lot you can do in the space between missions, side missions and activities.
Thanks to the Awesome Button™, the simple act of running about beating people up and jacking cars (don’t let a Daily Mail reader see that sentence) is approximately 1.2 billion times better.
We’ve talked about it before, but for those who aren’t aware: holding the sprint button makes it so activities you perform are faster and, well, more awesome.
Flying clotheslines, surfing on people’s backs, ignoring the whole ‘door’ thing and going straight through the windscreen of a car – it all just makes the experience both a lot faster and a lot funnier.
Sure, it gets to the point where you’re ignoring what’s actually going on, after being desensitised to all the dick punches in the world, but even when it’s lost the shock or comedy value it’s still a useful mechanic in the game. Speeding up the act of getting in a car: a Good Thing.
In case you’re still wondering, Saints Row: The Third is a sandbox game – the open world of Steelport is laid out in front of you to explore, blow up and hit people with massive purple dildos in.
Think GTA back when it had a sense of humour and you’re very much on the right tracks. But this is a game, unlike many other open-world titles, where the main story missions are actually the biggest draw.
You won’t see any ‘ferry this from A-to-B’ bits thrown in, and while at some points you will feel a bit bogged down with too many quick, throwaway side-mission tutorials masquerading as real tasks, generally speaking the main game is always interesting and inventive. And shooty. Very shooty.
Say hi to the pavement once you get there for me.
We obviously don’t want to ruin the experience for you, as part of SR3’s charm is the way it comes out with these things and just hits you in the face with a surprise, often leaving a stupid grin on your feckless maw.
If you’ve seen any of the plentiful trailers for the game you know what’s in it, but what’s still surprising is how much of it you do actually play – the Tron section, for example, has more different types of game in it than the vast majority of major releases these days.
Alright, so that’s an unfair comparison as these light cycle sections and other, miscellaneous bits we’re not going to directly mention, are only brief, but it’s an inventiveness and ‘anything goes’ attitude that endears the Saints and their murderous adventures to us like never before.
If it’s been in any other game, there’s probably an element of it in Saints Row: The Third: survival horror, racing, action, adventure, dancing – even going back to certain styles and genres we haven’t seen much of since the Eighties. In fact, this particular decade is one the game seems to want to go back to constantly – and that’s no bad thing.
It’s strangely refreshing to say, but SR3’s main draw is its story missions – and that’s something we don’t often see with large, sandbox games.
This does mean the secondary activities are quite throwaway and repetitive, but the fact the main game is such a draw and keeps ramping it up throughout means it matters little that the window dressing isn’t amazing.
In fact, we found the whole attitude of the game summed up in one cut-scene. Killbane, leader of the Luchadores wrestling gang, states in a matter-of-fact fashion: “We don’t do a run-in: we hit ’em with a Montreal Screwjob.”
Jumping the shark?
This shows a willingness to not only know about wrestling and still show your face in public, but a desire to put that reference – known around the world but still niche – into your game. It shows an attitude of ‘if we can put it in, put it in’ and this resonates through most of the main campaign.
We’d be lying if we said all of it, and there are a fair few missions – especially early on – that serve as little more than training for the plethora of side-quests.
But they are useful and mercifully short, and once they’re done with you can get into the real meat of the experience: dressing up like a complete idiot (with a tiny penis) and chauffeuring a tiger around the city.
Or causing numerous wrestlers to die in mysterious ‘accidents’. Or listening to Sasha Grey act in a way you’ve never heard her act before (probably best if you don’t Google her). Or laughing, laughing and laughing some more as you stab H, the dedicated dick punch button.
It’s not like the story really matters or that the campaign is gripping enough to change your life in any way, but it is entertaining, inventive and exciting – at least most of the time. You still won’t enjoy it if you’re expecting a perfectly polished piece of mature entertainment, mind.
Dozens of side missions are available to waste even more of your time on, unsurprisingly. If you’ve played Saints Row 2 then you have seen most of them – heli assault, snatch, that kind of thing – but if you haven’t played the last game they will at least draw your attention for a while.
This is brilliant.
None seem as maddeningly addictive as Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, though, where the trap-laden shooting gallery reminds us somewhat of The Club – a bit of a cult classic combo-based shooter.
Handily, the shooting is solid, accurate and easy to control, lending itself perfectly to the speed runs through Genki’s warehouse of electrified walls and gun-toting beer bottles (but don’t shoot the panda).
Generally, they’re nothing more than a bit of an extra on top of everything else, and it is a shame that so many side-mission archetypes simply return, unchanged, from the last Saints Row game.
But the activities outside the main missions do offer a welcome change of pace and can sometimes tap right into the compulsive part of the brain that makes you simply have to finish them all. Just like a good collection of side missions should do then, really.
Accompanying you on your journey of ridiculousness is a fine arsenal of wonderful toys. Now, we’ve all seen The Penetrator – the giant, floppy, purple dildo. That’s old news.
We’re above that kind of thing now, and it definitely doesn’t still make us laugh in a pathetic fashion every single time, no siree, not us… But there’s other powerful paraphernalia to thwack, blast and twock people, places and things with.
The humble submachine gun is ever-present and as with most weapons is upgradable, but the real interest comes from the laser weapons, Professor Genki’s Octopuss Cannon, the MegaMan blaster and the other weird and wonderful gizmos you can get your hands on. Fancy calling in air support?
Dive bomb the nuclear power plant. Go on, we dare you.
Yeah, why not. Want explosive bullets in your dual-wield pistols that are as big as your torso? You should probably do that (seriously – they’re really rather powerful).
Need something to incapacitate those who would stand against you? Try lobbing a fart in a jar. But it doesn’t stop with the blast and boom sticks you hold in your emerald-skin hands.
No, the vehicles also run the gamut, from your Smart Car clones to your fancy drop-top roller skates. From a STAG APC to that hover-bike we just can’t shut up about. From a tank to a slightly better tank (and onto a slightly more 8-bit tank).
You can very much be the bringer of death from above, below and any side with the vehicular options available. Handling of each isn’t what we would call ‘realistic’, but it doesn’t take much getting used to and, in most cases, serves the experience far better than an accurate portrayal of front-wheel drive understeer would.
Remember to be liberal with the handbrake use and you’ll have a blast motoring around Steelport. Or if you’re in the sky, just remember that your laser blaster in the VTOL should be referred to as The Harbinger Of Glorious Light, or something equally dumb you come up with yourselves.
What we’re trying to say is: just like a lot of the game, it’s a lot of fun messing about in vehicles. Imperfect, true – sometimes you will hit an invisible obstacle, or idiot cars will pull out in front of you because they’re idiots (idiots), but you work around these minor irritations, fly off in a helicopter and bring Minigun death to all those that oppose you. As well as a bunch that don’t, just for a laugh.
There are arguments – justifiable arguments – to be made in criticism of Saints Row: The Third. It still looks rough around the edges, there are still issues with clipping and pop-up and things you would hope to be ironed out by now.
Side missions bring little new beyond what was offered in the last game, the driving is more loose than realistic and there are some battles that devolve into simply running away, turning around, shooting, running away again thanks to the irritating way in which larger enemies charge you.
Odd enough for you?
The licensed music – while often used very well indeed as a comedy/Eighties action film tool (no game has ever made us feel more like Johnny 5, ever) – isn’t as eclectic or plentiful as it maybe could have been.
Anyone saying Saint’s Row: The Third is a perfect game is obviously a bit wrong in the head, because it demonstrably isn’t. It’s home to too many smaller issues to be ignored – none are big enough to ruin enjoyment, but when you see another road sign get lodged in the middle of a car thanks to dodgy clipping you do start to wonder if a bit of polish would be out of the question.
Generally speaking it pales in comparison to the main competition – that which it will be endlessly compared to – Grand Theft Auto IV, at least from a presentation and polish perspective.
But anyone saying SR3 is anything other than a brilliant example of what happens when you let a videogame simply be a videogame – well, that’s when they’ve gone too far.
We’re not saying you should ignore a game’s faults, we’re just saying it’s easy to ignore the minor issues that crop up with Saints Row: The Third. That might sound like a cop-out – it might sound apologetic or like it’s there to preemptively counter criticism the game is inevitably going to get and, well, it is.
But it deserves that very defence for one very good reason: it’s just so much fun. SR3 absolutely does not take itself seriously – the phrase ‘anything can happen, and probably will’ is a terrible, overused one, but we’re happy to use it here.
The sense of escalation – from running hos to taking on a military superweapon – the genuine swerves you don’t expect, from wrestling the world champion to controlling a toilet (no, really)… the fact of who the mayor is (something we’re not going to spoil for you, because it’s brilliant)… it all comes together in such a ludicrous, enjoyable way that it’s impossible to do anything but love Saints Row: The Third.
Yes, it can annoy. Yes, it’s sometimes very rough around the edges. Yes, it’s puerile, and the humour and general style will fall flat with some.
But it’s so utterly wanton and there’s such a feeling that Volition had a ball making the game that you’d only be proving to the world you have no soul if you don’t get along with it. Just so long as you always bear in mind – it’s not big, and it’s not clever.