Saints Row: The Third Review – Third Time Lucky?

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Right now almost every game is attempting to be something else. Whether it’s Uncharted or Gear Of War, our beloved games are busy trying to provide a theatrical experience akin to Hollywood movies. For that reason it’s refreshing to have a title like Saints Row: The Third that not only recognizes the fact that it’s a game, it unashamedly celebrates it! Who needs stunning visuals and grand locations when you can carjack vehicles with auto-tuning pimp by launching yourself feet-first through the windshield?

Grand Theft Auto comparisons are inevitable with almost every sandbox game but as far as GTA clones go, the Saints Row games have always been the biggest offenders. For better and for worse, Saints Row: The Third feels like a PS2-era Rockstar game but on a much grander scale. I genuinely get the sense that the folks at Volition spent many moons conjuring up the craziest things they could think of then continually pushed themselves to make to it even crazier! Thankfully the humor isn’t as juvenile as it was in Saints Rows 2 and the game’s more risqué moments seem like they were included to entertain, not to spark controversy.

[quote-right]One of the most entertaining games released this year![/quote-right] Underneath all the shenanigans lies a surprising good story which keeps the game grounded amidst all of the madness. After claiming the town of Stilwater for themselves The Saints’ popularity has grown immensely, catapulting them from a petty street gang to a group of criminal celebrities. Unfortunately their success has also made them a prime target for rival gangs and it’s not long before things spiral out of control. After attempting to rob a bank owned by The Syndicate, The Saints quickly end up in a turf war spearheaded by Syndicate leader Phillipe Loren and luchador wrestler Killbane. Not ones to fold under pressure and motivated by the death of one of their key members, The Saints vow to take down The Syndicate once and for all.

Saints Row: The Third retains the same mission structure that has been established for over a decade now. You select a mission from a menu, drive to a specified location, complete your assigned task and repeat for several hours until the end credits roll. Thankfully the missions themselves offer a vast variety of challenges which prevent the game from feeling repetitive. Saints Row’s sub-serious tone has allowed Volition to create some off-the-wall missions which would feel entirely out of place in a game like Grand Theft Auto IV. This ensures that there is never a dull moment whether you’re taking over enemy bases, rescuing hoes from freighters or running in to oncoming traffic (and using a Burnout-style after touch system) to damage yourself for insurance money.

As-per  tradition, you are once again forced to create your own character who will act as the leader of The Saints. The character creation tools are pretty extensive allowing you to customize virtually everything including your gender, skin color, appearance, voice, taunts and even genitalia size. Once you’ve created your ideal protagonist you’ll always have the opportunity to start over by visiting a plastic surgeon so if you ever feel the urge to become a big breasted, purple zombie lady there’s nothing holding you back! The game also features a selection of upgrades for your character, weapons and crew with new abilities becoming available as you progress and climb the ranks.

The core shooting mechanics work well although they feel a little dated by today’s standards. The absence of a cover system and poor enemy AI can often makes kills feel unrewarding even when you successfully take down a brute armed with a minigun. Graphically the game looks ok but the numerous glitches found through-out the campaign often took me out of the experience. It’s not uncommon for an open world game such as this to be riddled with bugs but Saints Row’s lack of polish sticks out like a sore thumb.

Those who like to play with others will be pleased to hear that The Third’s entire campaign can be played online with a co-op partner. It feels a little disjointed as the game never acknowledges the fact that there are two of you and as far as I could tell the difficulty doesn’t scale but it’s a neat addition regardless. The game also features a Gears of War style Horde (or “Whored”) mode which supports up to two players via Online, LAN or Split screen. What makes The Third’s Whored mode unique is the fact that each wave is different than the one which precedes it. Each wave features its own unique set of weapons and enemies but the limited number of maps and selectable characters means you’ll quickly lose interest in this underdeveloped mode.

Saints Row: The Third is not exactly a GTA-killer and it has more than a fair share of issues but it is still one of the most entertaining games released so far this year. Now that the groundwork has been laid I’m eager to see where the series goes from here. THQ has already stated that Saints Row 4 will be “wilder” but If Volition are able to iron out most of the kinks as well, the GTA series might really have a worthy competitor.

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