reviews\ Nov 15, 2011 at 9:00 am

Review: Saints Row: The Third Delivers the Over-the-Top Experience as Promised


When a developer has the cojones to parody blockbuster titles like Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, and Gears of War 3, they better back it up.  THQ promised us bigger, better, and wilder with Saints Row: The Third and, boy, did they deliver.  Never one to hold back, Saints Row: The Third is packed with sex, drugs, and guns--everything we love and everything you need for that true "WTF" experience.  Honestly, you'll have plenty of those in your experience with Saints Row.

As promised, there is never a dull moment in Saints Row: The Third.  You won't find any GTA-style "fetch" missions here.  In fact, you're more likely to find yourself naked and drugged in a BDSM club surrounded by machinegun-wielding hookers.  That's just how Saints Row: The Third is.  It's filled with shockingly outrageous, innappropirate, and over-the-top sequences that somehow come together in some freakeshly obscure way.  And it works.  Each moment in this game is truly a memorable one.

If you're expecting a realistic open-world adventure, you're looking in the wrong place.  Of course, the ability to wield a big purple dildo should be the first hint.  Since it's creation, Saints Row has prided itself on becoming a series that embraces over-the-top absurdity and focuses on spectacle, but that's not to say there's no substance mixed in with the fun.

On the contrary, the plot of Saints Row: The Third, as cliche as it is, has enough variety to create a lasting experience that's enjoyable--even without the immature dildo jokes.  As an open-world sandbox game, there's plenty to do and see, but I constantly found myself going back to the main story, wanting to see what ridiculous mission they'll have me do next.  The reason for this?  Each mission outdoes the previous one and will have you craving more explosive action.

From the get-go, you will find yourself in the middle of the action as you and the Saints attempt to rob a bank.  In typical Saints Row fashion the heist goes wrong, and you find yourself in quite the jam.  You'll experience a shootout, hanging from a helicopter, free-falling from a plane, and a major twist (which I won't spoil) all within the first fifteen minutes.  From there, the missions only get crazier.

Without spoiling too much, the plot revolves around The Saints relocating to the city of Steelport in an attempt to get revenge on the international crime organization, The Syndicate, led by Phillipe Loren.  With The Syndicate in full control over Steelport, your goal is to take the city from their clutches--ridding the streets of gangs and buying up local properties like retailers and casinos (and maybe some strip clubs). 

You won't just be taking on The Syndicate, however.  You'll be tasked with defeating three gangs: The Morningstar, the Luchadores, and the Deckers--each with their own specialty.  As the gang war intensifies, so does the city's response, which eventually leads to a full-out military takeover, resulting in you having to deal with government-trained Special Tactical Anti-Gang (STAG) units.  This is when the game really gets going.  These guys see no gang colors as they attempt to destroy anything and everything even remotely violent.

Unlike previous Saints Row games, where you would approach each of the three rival gangs along separate storylines that cultimate into a final conclusion, The Third interconnects the storylines between the three gangs.  Decisions you make in dealing with one faction actually alters the future actions of the other gangs.  While the majority of the missions have linear gameplay and one-way endings, some actually leave it open for you to make a final decision on how to end it.  Do you keep the prostitues for yourself or do you turn them over to the Morningstar?  Those are the types of decisions you will have to make, and it will ultimately  have an affect on the game's ending. 

While The Third brings some welcomed changes, it also builds upon the economy and upgrade system introduced in Saints Row 2.  Completing missions and Activities rewards you with cash and Respect.  Respect is like a level system, with each level of Respect unlocking different abilities like extra health, faster health regen, longer sprint, and much more to help you tackle The Syndicate.  Cash can be used to buy in-game tangible items like weapons, clothing, and ammo.  In addition to this, cash is also connected to the Respect level in the sense that you use it to actually purchase the unlocked abilities so that you may use them.  Like I mentioned earlier, the goal is to own the city of Steelport, and one of the ways to do this is to purchase property.  By doing so you not only get closer to overthrowing the rival gangs by increasing your control over each neighborhood, but you also get a hourly cash flow which you can use to help fund your next customization or upgrade.

As I mentioned earlier, you have missions and Activities.  Missions, of course, progress the story of the game.  It should be noted playing straight through, just completing the story missions, will run you about 10-12 hours of gameplay.  Of course, going for full 100% completion could tack on several more hours.  Some of these extra completions include the Activities, which are Respect-building sidequests usually unlocked after you complete the mission.  These include Insurance Fraud, Trafficking, and Mayhem (where your actual goal is to cause as much mayhem as possible in the city).  Side-quests are present in the game as well, challenging you to steal cars, assassinate targets, and find stunt jumps around the city.  Of course, if you don't feel like being tasked with any challenges, you can always go for the mind-numbing gameplay focused on exploring the city and beating random civilians with a giant dildo; that's ALWAYS fun.  And trust me, you'll always explore something new.

Saints Row: The Third doesn't offer the longest playthrough time, but it does offer enough other things to keep you occupied.  Among them is a brand new "Whored Mode"--a 30-wave challenge that pits you against waves of ridiculous enemies.  Mostly in there for shock value, a shot at Gears of War, and because that's just what every game has now, Whored Mode offers a quick, fun bonus on top of the main campaign.  It's not the most challenging and seems like it was tacked on just for kicks at the end of development, but it is pretty damn funny.  Co-op gameplay also exists in the game, allowing you to replay the entire game with a buddy in two-player co-op.  Unfortunately, we only received one review copy, so I was unable to fully experience the game's co-op.  Stay tuned for a future co-op expansion to this review.

The Third does many things right, driving being one of them.  Though the collision detection is far from perfect and cars are sometimes sluggish and unresponsive, The Third offers cool GPS feature that actually places giant turn arrows in the middle of the road that point you in the right direction.  It may not seem like a big feature, but it allows you to focus your attention on driving and experiencing the lovely city of Steelport rather than focusing on a small mini-map in the bottom-left corner.

Don't expect Saints Row: The Third to shock you with graphics, but it's enough to get by and a definite improvement over Saints Row 2.  Should you find yourself in the car, the radio pumps out some pretty good tunes.  Any game that jams out to Butthole Surfers is good in my book.  With a station featuring Adult Swim and Cartoon Network content, you probably won't get bored.

Saints Row: The Third is a fun play that shouldn't be taken too seriously.  Hell, the characters in the game don't even take themselves seriously, often pointing out the ridiculous situations they find themselves in.  Each mission is carefully crafted to provide a unique, memorable experience.  While there are always improvements that can be made, Saints Row: The Third effectively accomplishes what it sets out to do: provide fun, over-the-top gameplay that will result in a lasting, or somewhat scarring experience.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]


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