I headed to the roof of my apartment and threw myself off the edge, spiraling hundreds of feet down to the cold cement below. Once I parachuted safety on the ground, I immediately stole a car by jumping through the windshield “Dukes of Hazzard” style, much to the shock of the driver. After a nice joyride filled with explosions and senseless violence, I decided to remove all my clothes and streak around the city, showing my goods to anyone in the line of fire. If this was real life I’d be rotting away in a prison cell or asylum for the next 30 years. Luckily Saints Row: The Third embraces this outlandish behavior.
Developer: Volition, Inc. Publisher: THQ Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Release Date: Nov. 15, 2011 Current MSRP: $59.99
Laugh a Little
Volition needs to be applauded for making humor and comedy the cornerstone of Saints Row 3. There’s very few games that have done this to the extreme that The Third does. If you’re the politically correct type, you’ll probably be offended and be disgusted with Saints Row 3. From beating people with enormous purple dildos, transforming into a sex doll and language that would make M-rated enthusiasts blush, The Third pushes the limit on what’s socially acceptable in games. While the Grand Theft Auto franchise has taken the serious path in recent years, Saints Row 3 gave the middle finger and went the other direction. It takes the light-hearted components of the PlayStation 2-era GTA games and gave them steroids. If you have a sick and perverse sense of humor, you’ll love Saints Row 3.
The character creation is an extension of this. Throughout the game you play as a custom character of your choosing. You can make your player look like anything imaginable, from a replica of yourself, a celebrity or a modern-day Frankenstein. Clothing from business attire to S&M wear can be bought at several different shops, allowing for any fashion statement imaginable. Just like in Saints Row 2 (2008) there’s not that many voice options, so your character’s dialogue probably won’t match the virtual you. If you get bored of your character, you can take a trip to the plastic surgeon “Image as Designed” and revamp your physical appearance.
The game’s story is almost as ridiculous as its gameplay. The Saints gang have become corporate pawns, selling energy drinks and comic books with their likeness to the masses. They’ve gone soft, even securing a blockbuster movie deal based on the gang. People on the streets don’t fear them but want their autographs. The Saints have moved on to Steelport after an unfortunate incident with The Syndicate, a powerful group who attempted to blackmail them. Instead of retreating to their old stomping grounds in Stilwater, the gang decides to take over Steelport. Steelport is similar to New York City, complete with a steelworker as its Statue of Liberty.
Saints Row 3’s campaign structure has a bunch of unique and bizarre mission objectives, almost too many to name. Giving specific examples here would ruin the enjoyment of experiencing them for yourself. Some of the missions and characters are so outrageously goofy that I can positively say I’ve never anything like them in any other game. Rather than doing missions for certain gangs in a particular order like in Saints Row 2, in Saints 3 your close contacts from the Saints gang give you new missions. They all blend together and you can do them in any order. There’s three unique gangs that will go after the Saints, depending on where you are in the story or what part of Steelport you’re traveling through.
The respect ranking was used in the previous games to unlock new story missions. In The Third increasing your respect level gives you access to better skills and unlocks. Completing missions, buying property, taking out gangs and doing random actions all increase your rank. Most of the game is accessed through a smartphone menu. With the phone you can begin your missions, collect hourly cash, upgrade your character, call up homies for support or check a detailed list of everything you’ve done in Steelport. This phone menu works smoothly and is a great way to manage all the game’s content.
Strap It On
In combat, weapons are selected using the directional pad. Your arsenal consists of handguns, shotguns, rocket launchers, snipers, and even crazy specialty weapons like airstrikes. Shooting in Saints Row 3 is basic and easy to master. The action is usually always chaotic, and things get even crazier once rocket launchers are involved. Most fights include two or three large groups of enemies trying to take you out. This can be a problem since there’s not really a way to cover in combat unless you crouch behind a car or escape to a hidden alleyway. Many times the best option is to just drive away from the scene while your health regenerates. You can take people as human shields, although this doesn’t help much during large shootouts. Using your phone, you can call up other Saints characters or a group of your gang members to assist you. The extra help doesn’t clear the stage for you, but can give you a nice edge. It does take a long time to recharge the number you called, so don’t expect them to come back a second time during a mission.
Driving is still smooth and much better than other sandbox games, while flying a helicopter or fighter jet is also surprisingly simple to handle. Getting around the city isn’t a hassle, which is good because you’re going to be driving long distances to get to the mission objective for many levels. It’s easy to jack a car while on the run because you don’t need to go through a motion to enter the front door. You can do a running leap from a close distance through the window and immediately start driving. If you find a car that catches your eye, it can be stored at certain owned properties for use in the future, and customized at auto shops with a new coat of paint, fresh rims and other fancy accessories. All of the vehicles are named, with some having funny titles like the limo being dubbed, “Status Quo.” A lot of the cars aren’t that durable and will catch on fire quickly in a battle on the streets.
Eventually you’re going to need to beef up your skills to hang in Steelport. Upgrades can be unlocked by getting to the right respect level and buying them with your smart phone. There’s all sorts of upgrades and unlocks, like increased firepower, health, running speed or ammo capacity. You can also unlock permanent notoriety decrease speeds, which quickens the rate which certain gangs and the police stop harassing you. Weapon shops also sell up to four upgrades per weapon slot but get pretty pricey, with some costing more than $100,000 for a single purchase. The Saints gang is also customizable, from their physical appearance to what cars and weapons they bring to a fight. Like your character, your gang members can be upgraded, from the number that show up to your aid to how fast they can be revived. You can also upgrade a few hideout strongholds, which give you an increased money transfer rate and other bonus abilities.
To boost your hourly paycheck, you have to gain territory around town by wiping out small groups of gangs and buying property. You can even buy an unlock to gain all territories from a gang in a neighborhood, but it costs a lot to do so. The stores available for sale around Steelport are places like gun shops, clothing centers, tattoo parlors and a vehicle customization shop called “Rim Jobs.” Property like crack-houses and meth labs can also be bought, offering a slight increase in your bank statement. A great aspect about buying stores is that by walking into a shop you own, all the negative notoriety you earned from both the police and gangs will be immediately erased. This trick even works during missions. With your notoriety gone, enemies temporarily get off your back until you irritate them again. This is extremely helpful if you’re playing by yourself and are overwhelmed by enemies during missions, especially early on in the story.
The game’s radio stations feature music from artists like the Black Keys, Sublime, Mos Def, KMFDM, Pitbull, Mastodon and others from various genres, even classical. Blasting Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” while destroying the lives of others with unjustified mayhem is poetic. It’s too bad there’s no dedicated talk show like you would find in Grand Theft Auto, because with the game’s humor it probably would have been incredible. Jane Valderamma, the game’s news reporter, gives almost satiric radio stories after big happenings in the campaign. During one mission late in the game she continually gives updates each time you complete an objective, each increasingly hilarious.
Saints Row 3 does an amazing job of weaving certain recognizable songs into a few missions, especially when the action is at its highest climax. These are some of the best parts of the game. The music adds so much to the action and gives the player a massive adrenaline rush. The Third maximizes the song being used to coincide with the advancement of the level. Volition did these sets better than anybody else.
We Need a Hero
Saints Row 3 isn’t going to be known for its narrative and character growth. The story doesn’t flow that well, and after you’re finished the game you probably won’t be able to tell anyone much about the storyline. Knowing anything about the previous two Saints games isn’t necessary, because from besides a few references here and there, Saints Row 3 could almost be considered a stand-alone title. There’s three acts for the story mode, and the main storyline can be finished in 10-12 hours. After completing major storyline missions, a choice will be presented to the player. Two options will be available, usually giving players a permanent cash or respect bonus based on the decision. Some also grant extra characters to call up for help. These choices don’t really affect the overall story route except towards the end of the game with the last string of missions.
There’s so many cool moments in the story that it would be wrong to even slightly spoil them here. Competing in “MurderBrawl XXXI” is one of my favorite missions I’ve ever done in a game. The level was fantastic and an excellent example of creativity that most other releases simply don’t have. However if you’re looking for The Third to answer life’s deep mysteries, look for another game. Saints Row 3 is all about being as crazy as possible. The game knows it’s offensive, and prides itself on the fact. The Third even has an Achievement called “Gender Equality” with the description, “We’re an equal opportunity offender.” It’s unlocked by playing as a male and female character for two hours.
Most importantly, the game is legitimately hilarious. Unlike a game like Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard (2009) that failed miserably while attempting the same concept, The Third delivers genuine laughs. Saints Row 3 pokes fun at everything, from American culture, to movies and even other video games. The story characters are all individually designed, each with their own persona and gimmick to them. The Third’s characters are another strong point of the game because they’re not bland or cookie-cutter. The game’s humor doesn’t just come through a cut-scene or one-liners in conversations but through actual gameplay experiences. The insane mission objectives really add a significant amount to the comedy.
It’s obvious the team at Volition are huge pro wrestling fans. One of your gang members is voiced by Hulk Hogan. Former WWE, ECW, and current TNA Wrestling star Rob Van Dam is the announcer for “Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax,” one of The Third’s prominent sidequests. An enemy gang is a bunch of Luchadores whose leader, nicknamed “The Walking Apocalypse,” competes in the game’s version of WrestleMania called “MurderBrawl.” You can use character taunts from the likes of the Nature Boy Ric Flair and WWE Superstar John Cena. There’s references to famous pro wrestling feuds and even wrestler lingo during cut-scenes. These are all nice nods to another of the developers’ passions and they blend well into Saints Row 3 without alienating anyone.
While the missions are interesting, their structure boils down to the same concept; drive to a location and kill a bunch of enemies. This can get tedious with the amount of people you have to eliminate during many of the missions. This doesn’t mean that the action isn’t fun, but sometimes gets overwhelming. Another problem with the game’s missions is that a lot of them are just prerequisites to unlock the sidequest featured in the objective. It felt like half of the story missions were just preparations to unlock the sidequest or mode played in that particular stage.
The missions also abruptly and awkwardly end once the final objective is completed, bringing up the earnings screen of money and respect. There should’ve been a cut-scene or explanation after beating the mission to connect the story better so the objectives feel more important when you beat a stage. There’s also some weird checkpoint problems with some missions where you’re forced to replay all the way from the beginning if you die, which is aggravating. Some of the stages can be extremely difficult if you’re playing solo, especially towards the end of Saints Row 3.