Saints Row: The Third – Review

Platform | Release Date
360 | November 15, 2011
PS3 | November 15, 2011
PC | November 15, 2011

Developed by Voltion
Published by THQ

The Pitch:

Years after taking Stilwater for their own, the Third Street Saints have evolved from street gang to household brand name, with Saints sneakers, Saints energy drinks and Johnny Gat bobble head dolls all available at a store near you.

The Saints are kings of Stilwater, but their celebrity status has not gone unnoticed. The Syndicate, a legendary criminal fraternity with pawns in play all over the globe, has turned its eye on the Saints and demands tribute. Refusing to kneel to the Syndicate, you take the fight to Steelport, a once-proud metropolis reduced to a struggling city of sin under Syndicate control.

Saints Row is an admirable franchise. Undoubtedly the game started as a means to capitalise on the success of the Grand Theft Auto series, but has since evolved into an entirely different beast. The original was relatively straight faced, and featured ultra-serious gangsters doing their gangster business; the first sequel embraced the sillier aspects that crept into that first while drastically improving the side mission content. However, watching just one of the promotional videos for ‘The Third’ will tell you that any attempts to ape GTAs sincerity have been wholly abandoned.

This game is absolutely fucking nuts.

Volition waste no time in establishing this new, entirely mental status quo. The first couple of missions see you rob a bank while dangling from a helicopter, free fall through the sky, all before shooting out Belgian gangsters on planes. The concise set of story missions keep this insanity going, with new and old gimmicks being melded together to ensure that every single one of them feels like a fresh experience.

Truthfully though, you probably already knew that Saints Row The Third was going to be a wild ride. By now you’ll have read enough about it to expect tigers in cars, dildo swords and even zombies. If you think it sounds like a chaotic recipe, then you thought right. Is it good chaos? Yes, and here’s why.

Almost without fail, Saints Row gives you the tool you both want and need to have fun. It doesn’t just throw mad crap at the wall and hope that some of it sticks. While playing each of the missions you get the sensation that you are being catered for. You don’t get the opportunity to think “it would be cool if” because Volition have already given you the remote control drone and told you to unleash hell from above. It shows a great understanding of what gamers like, and their short attention spans. Its an understanding that is transferred into constantly pleasing game design.

If anything, the developers go above and beyond, anticipating your desires and delivering them before you’ve thought of them yourself. You’re awarded a helicopter early on, something that I found surprising, because they seem to know that you wanted one. They also seem to know that you wouldn’t mind a hover bike, or causing guys to implode with a sonic cannon.

I found it almost impossible not to have a gargantuan smile on my face while playing. At the same time, it’s a tough job to juggle all of this variety and keep the quality consistent across the board. From time to time it feels as though an idea has been cobbled together, and the care behind it lost in the process of trying to execute it. The Tron pastiches introduced through one of the games gangs, the Deckers, is probably the weakest content in the game, with much of it feeling like reskins of stuff found elsewhere.

The side missions seem to have struggled to keep up with the rapid evolution of the main story missions too. Most of your favourite activities have returned, but there’s not an awful lot that’s new. I found myself lacking the motivation to actually go and seek it out. It strikes me that the developers may well have been aware of the game’s weakness in this area, as they no longer demand that you carry out activities before unlocking main story content.

The game’s biggest sin comes in the form of its final mission. The insane levels of player gratification are dropped in favour of a mindless killing slog, before you are dumped into a very bizarre final sequence that is amusing in concept but poorly executed. I was shaking my head throughout, wondering how Volition managed to completely abandon its development ideology in the closing stages.

Still, it was the only really bad thing about the game. The cycle of earning money, spending it on upgrades and customisations, while growing your influence and control over the city is something that you can get wrapped up in. Bit by bit, the game’s perfectly sized city of Steelport succumbs to the influence of the Third Street Saints. It’s great to look out from a high point – probably using your hover bike to get there – and see the impact of your play. Towering purple buildings, those of rival gangs destroyed, and more blinged out pals than you could ever want.

Co-op is included, and a horde mode titled Whored Mode. However, competitive multiplayer has been removed which might irk a few fans. There’s more than enough content here though, and as a value proposition it’s definitely a sensible purchase. It’s probably the best sandbox ever created, usurping GTA: San Andreas. You’ll come back time and again, just to faceplant a pedestrian into cold, hard concrete. Yeah, faceplant.

About Martin Perry

Martin Perry is Reviews Editor for Splitkick.
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