Saints Row: The Third – review

[AJ: Please note that this review was written with only a passing knowledge of Saints Row 2 and a substantial dislike of Saints Row. There will be little reflection on the franchise as a whole and instead I am treating the game as a singular instalment.]

If you read and watched my It’s Friday post a week ago you may have guessed that I was very much enjoying SR3.

After blitzing through the 15 hour campaign I can safely say that my enchantment with the game’s disregard for realism, sanity and due process didn’t dissipate at any point during the thoroughly nutty story missions.

SR3 makes its statement of intent clear in the first hour and a half. It starts with a bank heist in which the protagonist dresses up in a ridiculous costume and racks up a body count that would make Arnie (circa Commando) blush. Soon after, now customised to your expectations, you will be plummeting through the atmosphere performing stunts pulled from Shoot ‘Em Up.

Refusing to let up, you are then given access to Predator drones to protect yourself in a scene very reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2. Except in MW2 once that short scene was over you never got to play with the toy again. Not so SR3; after that mission this weapon is made part of your inventory and is accessible at any time. The game allows you to break whole missions if you so desire, and it doesn’t seem to care as long as you are having fun.

And please let me stress, this all happens in the first hour and a half.

This is a game that is heavily geared towards player gratification. Whether that is via its mechanics, in that you are rarely far from more ammo nor a situation that a suplex or two could solve, or by desperately propelling you through each part of the game to see what crazy shit it is going to throw in your direction.

You can’t help but love Saints Row: The Third‘s enthusiasm. One minute you are fighting Luchador gangsters trying to redeem Hulk Hogan’s honour, the next you are rescuing a pimp from a BDSM parlour – a pimp who has an auto-tuner for a voice box – and then a zombie outbreak occurs. To offer any more examples would be to spoil the plot, such as it is, and thus some of the best jokes.

It is unfortunate that only a handful of the side missions live up to the main mission flair. The truly great ones are over all too soon (like The Club-inspired Genki challenges) and offer no real incentive to return thanks to no leaderboard or ranking system, as well as the money and experience (known as Respect in the game) earned being far easier to accrue elsewhere. Namely, by simply playing the game as crazily as possible.

Built into the open world exploration, alongside the usual ‘find obscure shit’ nonsense, is a Burnout-inspired reward system. The game wants you to drive recklessly so as to incur ‘Near Misses’ – driving close to moving vehicles – or driving into head on traffic, to name two methods of getting Respect but there are also carnage related ones (see the screenshot above). Each of these separate acts can be chained together to produce multipliers and you will find yourself turning a mundane traversal from A to B into a hair-raising experience.

The abilities unlocked by raising your Respect level further promote player disregard for personal safety. Tired of being ragdolled, sick of taking damage from bullets or having to shake off cops every time you run over a pedestrian? All that can be remedied by the time you hit level 40. No misdemeanour goes punished. SR3 lets you feel like you are playing a game rather than completing a series of chores before being given a narrative pay-off for putting up with the tedium.

Narrative beats: you get wrestlers with chainsaws.Â

Praise should also go to the voice acting. Saints Row: The Third offers up a choice of voices for your character, and once selected they do all the lines in every cutscene and in-game scenario. So far the experience has been flawless and the fact that the writing was geared towards both a male and female lead helps offset the misogyny on display in some of the plot. That your avatar’s approach never condones nor condemns the acts exhibits greater character consistency than that of Red Dead Redemption‘s protagonist. It never excuses the situation, but it also doesn’t make your character seem wishy-washy – they are a ruthless douchebag who does what they do best and will continue to be a ruthless douchebag. Instead of saying “hey that seems reprehensible, but I’ll do it anyway” they say “Will this get me closer to killing the people I want to kill? Yes? Good.” As a result the character remains consistent within the game’s warped logic and the experience is all the better for it.

My only other complaint, apart from some of the lacklustre side missions, is that there are some points when SR3 might be a bit too eager to please. By that I mean there are several moments where, as fun as it might be to follow an 8ft naked Russian on a murder spree, it might have felt more meaningful and rewarding to not be triggering quick time events every couple of minutes.

Any mild disappointment is immediately offset by the inclusion of numerous testicular attacks.

However, this was not enough for me to not strap myself in and delight in each new piece of silliness. Saints Row: The Third feels like a true sandbox game rather than a game inside a sandbox, and with only Just Cause 2 as competition it has quite clearly stepped out of GTA‘s shadow. Bring on the sequel and don’t let that Red Faction Geomod tech go to waste.



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7 responses to “Saints Row: The Third – review”

  1. ShaunCG Avatar

    I really, really, really must play this game as soon as possible. Dylan, do you remember our conversation about this?

    P.S. cheers AJ for being much more sparing with spoilers than everyone else who has written about this game. ;)

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      No problem, will be interested to see what you think of the game… Some of it gets deeply offensive but is so excessive that it comes over the hill into complete self parody.

      There is an article in the workings right now, so I will let you know when that is done

    2. Dylan Avatar

      I do, I do.

      Any week ye want really, is fine by me, but let me know in advance cos I can only rent new games on Sunday (or pay for them, which seems churlish when I do the free option). I got MW3 last Sunday and have thus far forgotten about it entirely, so it's not like I'm precious about my rentals right now.

      1. ShaunCG Avatar

        Grrrroovy. Well, this weekend is out for free rentals, at least. The weekend after this one I am (I think) entirely free except for a mate's engagement party on the Saturday evening. And the one after that, wi' Sat 17th, I am entirely free.

        So perhaps the 16th/17th/18th is the best one to aim for?

        The above excludes band practices, that is an almost inevitable 5 hour chunk out of any Saturday. :(

  2. GordoP Avatar

    I will eventually get around to playing this and I fully expect to enjoy it as much as I did Just Cause 2!

    On an unrelated note, has anyone seen the screenshots for Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2???
    Getting excited over here!

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      Bollocks to Sniper: Ghost Warrior, Sniper Elite 2 is the only sniper game I am looking forward to.

  3. […] Saints Row: The Third and Dungeon Defenders both got under my skin for this. However, I think one important difference between them was that one game conveyed a fictional world’s attitude towards women whereas the other felt like it conveyed a real individual’s attitude towards women, and this difference swayed me in favour of one over the other. SR3‘s world is nihilistic. It says much of a world when the most likeable character is a stone-cold monolithic Russian killer. This monster looks like a veritable angel in contrast to the sociopaths, main character included, who inhabit the city of Steelport. That women are objectified and the weakest exploited is par for the course in this dog-eat-dog setting. I think it helps that men don’t get any better of a deal, with males found subjugated to sexual torture or simply at the mercy of the Alphas within their respective groups (again, these Alphas might be men or women). That the writing is generally sharp and self-aware enough to make the ‘strong’ female characters the same bawdy clichés as the ‘strong’ men contributes towards the game denigrating both sexes, leaving you feeling like the gutter treats no one nicely. […]