Volition and Rockstar have been kicking each other in the shins for a bit. Rockstar brings their heavy story-driven behemoth Grand Theft Auto to bear against the more irreverent Saints Row series. Today we get our hands on Saints Row The Third, and from the first moments of the game it is unmistakable that the folks at Volition have decided to go whole-hog in their own direction. With a heavier focus on humor, this title has moved the pendulum far into the realm of over-the-top and the results are side-splitting uproarious laughter. With the series taking a step away from hyper-realism and moving towards over the top, will Saints Row The Third carjack your time, or will the wheels simply fall off? Let’s hit the awesome button and find out.
Before we get too far into this review, just fair warning that I will be using the occasional bits of salty language in my review. The game is rated M, so act accordingly.
“Yo, could you speed this shit up? I wanna go to Freckle Bitch’s.” – SR1
After a truly epic opening to catch players up with where the Saints are currently in the criminal hierarchy, you start off the game with a heist – what else? Naturally, it all goes completely sideways and that’s when the fun begins. Robbing the vault turns out to be much harder than anticipated, leading to a truly comical plan B that results in your character being stripped back to the basics – perfect for starting your crime wave in Steelport. It also introduces you to the character creator where you can adjust everything under the sun about your character including gender, voice, height, weight, voice, ear height, mouth width, cheek makeup opacity, with more adjustment sliders than I’ve seen in the most hardcore modern RPGs.
With our character fully fleshed out, it’s time to get out into the city of Steelport and begin to establish the Saints once again. Fans of the first two games will feel right at home with the open-world sandbox and the freedom to establish their own paths, but to help players new to the series, established members of the Saints are back to introduce the various activities and side missions. Your gang starts off pretty much reduced to poverty, and as newcomers to Steelport, their rep means nothing here — it’ll be up to you to rebuild their assets and reputation from scratch. As before, the cash you rake in can eventually be invested in local businesses to generate an hourly bank deposits and give you a slight discount, and as your bank account grows, even more options come available.
Respect, rather than unlocking new missions, instead unlocks new abilities and bonuses. For instance, you’ll unlock the ability to pick up a second and eventually third minion, as well as akimbo weapons, bonus cash, faster dispersion of wanted levels, the ability to call in specific main characters for help, vehicle delivery, and much more as your respect level rises. When you polish off a main segment of the game, you’ll often (after some crazy twist) be given a choice of either a one time cash bonus, a respect boost, or some combination therein. Obviously if you are having trouble raising either capital or respect, your choices will change accordingly, but if you want all of the achievements you’ll have to do it both ways.
New to the series is the weapon upgrade mechanic. There are multiple levels of weapon upgrades, usually four in all, granting things like suppression, larger mags, incendiary rounds, recoil suppression, and more. Your vehicles get similar treatment courtesy of Rim Jobs, the mechanic joint in the game. From increasing torque for higher acceleration to adding kneecappers for taking out anyone unwise enough to roll next to you, there are a metric ton of both cosmetic and functional upgrades for the multitude of vehicles in the game. Since you can store them in any of your cribs for use at any time, it makes sense to spend your hard earned cash on your favorite rides.
“I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite motherfucking Gun Shop in the Citadel”
The dialog in Saints Row has always been a blend of semi-serious, bravado, and flat out hilarious. Saints Row 3 gets the same treatment, only this time we get Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard from Mass Effect), Sasha Grey (former porn star turned actress), Hulk Hogan (no intro needed), and Daniel Dae Kim (he played Johnny Gat in the last two games) to deliver the fun. As before, there are several voice options including one that makes your character sound like a zombie – it makes for some interesting conversation moments, but somehow manages to work. The writing is tighter than the previous titles, and the game has become more self-aware and self-referential than before. For instance, just in the opening scene we get “How long till the chopper gets here?” with the response “I dunno…about 2 waves of SWAT guys?” from Johnny Gat. In fact, the game really never takes itself seriously. One of the characters who joins the Saints is Zimos who speaks via his gold pimp cane topped with an autotuned microphone – literally everything he has to say is pretty much hilarious, and the circumstances in which you meet him are laugh out loud ridiculous. If you can point to any game on the shelf that has you in a low-speed gimp-drawn rickshaw chase scene, I’d like to see it.
Saints Row 3 gets it right in the music department as well. You’ll have your selection of stations including 80s, heavy metal, classical, techno, and others with funny faux commercials interspersed, but it is the way those are then draped on top of some of the cutscenes that again makes you smile. Meeting up with ex-Pro Wrestler Angel in his crummy gym, you can hear “You’re the best….arouuuund, nothings gonna ever keep ya down” from the Karate Kid soundtrack playing in the background. When you come to this meeting wearing a zippered gimp mask wearing a Molly Ringwald dress from Pretty in Pink and a pair of combat boots while sounding like a freakish zombie, it just completes the whole picture.
There is one area where the game does fall short in the audio department though – repetition. More times than I can count I’ve heard “You still think I’m just a pretty face?” or “Somebody had better buy me a drink!” or “After that, I need a massage” from the main character. The game spans a good length of time, so after a while it does begin to grate on your nerves a bit. Similar repetition from the pedestrians just adds fuel to that fire.
“Whoa! This car has a CD Player?!”
Graphically, Saints Row The Third has kicked things up a notch. The previous title had some framerate issues, but that has been ironed out. The engine keeps up with the game no matter how many bodies and vehicles you pile up. The problem is that it does come at a price – there is a good bit of pop-in present. It’s not bad, but it is obvious. What is even more obvious are the clipping issues. Both NPCs and the player controlled characters become hung up on the environment, frequently getting stuck inside of vehicles. Similarly, characters die in mid-air or go flying beyond the reasonable when struck. It did make for some unintended hilarity when two STAG Commandos ended up hunched over one another, humping one another furiously as the Havoc engine tried to figure out how to free the trapped characters.
In terms of presentation, the game’s polygon count has obviously been bumped up. Character models, clothing, faces, lip sync, vehicles — pretty much everything has gotten a visual bump. On the other hand, the pedestrians are still pretty generic. To help spruce it up, the environments have gotten a bit more personality this time around. The Luchadores have a more casino-like feel, and the Deckers are pretty much doing the TRON thing. In fact, with the Deckers you’ll end up playing several modes that are a bit outside of the norm including a Trail Blazing variant that resembled a light cycle ride through a tube. Squaring off in the latter Decker missions means going into full-on cyberspace to take down the gang.
The oddest thing in Saints Row has to be Professor Genki. Wearing a bizarre oversized cat head and a green racing suit, he is as strange as they come. Genki’s levels imitate a Japanese gameshow, asking the player to shoot their way through a crazy house full of traps, gun-toting mascots, pop-up targets that you can shoot to regain health or prizes, and pandas that you are found to be most dishonorable if you shoot. It’s over the top, it’s insane, and it fits perfectly with the irreverent insanity of Steelport.
A big part of the Saints series has always been the side missions. These missions return, including Mayhem and Insurance Fraud, but there are some crazy new things to add to the list. For those who have been watching the coverage of this title recently, you are no stranger to the bizarre Japanese gameshow Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, but there are also crazy missions like Tiger Escort which ask you to raise your confidence level by trying to drive safely while being attacked by a Tiger in your car. The point is simple – the folks at Volition don’t want you delivering stupid packages, they want you having fun with every moment of the game. Surprisingly, they’ve pretty much succeeded. There were a few missions that had some odd mid-mission checkpoints, but I never stopped having fun. All told there are about 40 story missions and over 160 tasks to complete to keep you busy. In terms of overall value, Saints Row The Third has you covered, and we haven’t even gotten to multiplayer!
“So, what’s in here? Guns, money, some uncut shit…shoes?”
The multiplayer mode in Saints Row 2 was competitive and deathmatch and pretty much dead on arrival. Focusing more on the single player, Volition brings multiplayer back to the table in two ways – drop-in/drop-out cooperative play, and “Whored Mode”. Drop-in/drop-out works flawlessly, allowing you to take your single player developed character into another player’s world. Mike Dunn and I tested this out on my game, dropping him right into one of my cribs. We raced off at crazy speed in my tricked out car and stopped off for a little helicopter mayhem. The missions load up and work just as they do in single player, but with a few more enemies in the mix to amp the challenge.
Before we hopped off to Whored Mode we also checked out some multiplayer specific missions like Cat and Mouse. In this mode, one player is in a helicopter, and the other player is driving a ground vehicle. At that point, it works exactly as the mode suggests.
Whored mode surprisingly doesn’t allow you to use your character, instead giving you a host of 5 odd folks from which to select. Rather than describe the 30 level oddity that is Whored Mode, I’ll let you check out this video of Mike and I taking it for a spin (Video delayed due to production issues, expect later today- Mike D). As you can see in the video, the clipping issue rears its ugly head, sticking a Professor Genki into a solid object that we couldn’t shoot through. Only with a bit of luck were we able to complete the mission without restarting it. There are only 3 maps to play Whored mode on, but the recently announced pass suggests that we’ll have a bit more coming very soon. As you can see in the video, there is a bit of a disorienting ‘bounce’ when players first load up a level, sometimes spawning with a great weapon, and other times spawning with a specific one. Additionally, we had a lot of trouble getting in position to revive the other player, but the mode is more of a funny distraction from the main course.
“The public is fickle. Champagne?”
With 8 islands, an airstrip, a military armory, hookers, hundreds of missions, distractions at every corner, and writing that hits damned near every time, Saints Row The Third delivers on almost every promise. The game makes you feel like a badass from the word go, and it just gets even more out of control as things progress. Sure, there are some hiccups graphically, and sometimes things can be a little clunky mechanically, but there is no doubt that Saints Row The Third is crazy fun from start to finish. Professor Genki approves – most honorable, win GET!