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[PS3 Review] Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row has always been one of those franchises where each successive title is more over-the-top than the next, and Saints Row: The Third is no different. In fact, this title takes the ridiculousness to a much higher level than the jump from 1 to 2. It may have been a few months since the game originally released in November, but a hundredth opinion doesn’t hurt, right? With the amount of hype and attention THQ built up for this game, does the title fall short, or does it meet or exceed the expectations?

Back in the prime of the Grand Theft Auto series, open world, sandbox titles (at least as far as action/crime-themed ones go) were referred to as “GTA Clones.” Although this is more of a sensationalist monicker, I’d say this is also the title that would best fit it. It’s not inherently bad, though. Saints Row has a habit of taking things that worked right in GTA games, gave it their own personal touch, and then took them to a higher level. Look at the vehicle customization, for instance. Not a whole lot has changed as far as the Saints Row universe is concerned, but what did GTA have after San Andreas? Nothing.

Anyway, I won’t delve deeper into the comparisons between the two, because that’s not what this is about. Here’s where the review truly begins.

As you know, since Saints Row (which was available on the 360, but not the PS3), the universe revolved around your character climbing the heights of the Saints’ criminal organization. Upon taking over in Saints Row 2, the Third starts a little later in your character’s career, at a point where the Saints are in the ranks of celebrities, with merchandise and sponsorships all over the place. Well, eventually, you wind up in a city called Steelport (giving you a different locale, with only a slightly different vibe, than the first two, but still feels fresh), where the action truly begins.

This new location makes sense, though, considering Stilwater was completely controlled by the Third Street Saints anyway (the Syndicate did a hostile takeover of Stilwater, though, but a botched attempt to rid the Saints of their leader winds the player up in Steelport, in spectacular fashion). Steelport now offers up a completely new set of gangs to take control from, but with the ridiculous level kind of up there, the gangs took on some traits of their own. Brutes, for instance, are members of the Syndicate’s “Morning Star” and are guys built like tanks that either carry large Gatling/chain guns or go around ramming vehicles out of the way, causing considerable damage (they’re essentially dumbed down clones of another character, which eventually joins your gang), or the Deckers (a cyberpunk gang) and their extremely fast, energized specialists. Hell, there’s even a gang of wrestlers called the Luchadores. The specialists take some time to defeat, but for the most part, regular gang members are still pretty standard.

Eventually, the Saints wind up causing such a big problem that an anti-gang unit by the name of STAG invades Steelport, bringing with them a range of high tech weaponry and vehicles, and become a pretty integral part of the story, climaxing at the end. The guy in charge of STAG proves to be a power-hungry hard-ass and a thorn in everyone’s side, including the government’s (speaking of which, I laughed so hard when I saw who the mayor of Steelport was).

Taking over the city is an exercise in itself. There are gang hideouts in certain areas, and upon killing off all of the marks, you’ll take control of a small portion of a neighborhood. This, however, isn’t how you take control of everything. There are activities strewn about, and upon completing them, you take control of other areas. These can rang from helicopter escorts (protecting a driver while flying a heli) to the series mainstay, the Insurance Fraud activity (because what’s more fun than raking in thousands of dollars by throwing yourself into traffic?). Of course, you can go back and replay some if you’d like.

With that said, sticking to the theme of “ridiculousness,” there is one activity in particular that stands out, and that’s Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, which is themed like a Japanese game show, except you go around killing other people in what is essentially an obstacle course. This is a pretty insane diversion. Traps can be found anywhere, as well as power ups like more health, etc. The goal is to make enough money to unlock and reach the exit (usually there would be a special character you can opt to kill before exiting, but they’re tougher than the other inhabitants). Oh, and Hulk Hogan is one of commentators (the commentary is pretty funny if you pay attention to it). You’d figure he’d have been one of the Luchadores.

There is also an upgrade system that allows the player to upgrade themselves, unlocking new attributes, increasing the strength of weapons, etc. This is dependent on the Respect level, though (which works better than previous games, as you no longer need to have a filled respect meter to play the next mission), so the more “Respect” you have, the more upgrades there are available to you. Eventually, you can get to the point where you have infinite health (for the most part) and ammo.

Shopping around is still there, too. For some reason, though, the shops available seem pretty limited on the merchandise. Layering clothes seems to be gone as well (or, at least, effectively). There are some costumes you can get, though, and you can unlock others later in the game, including a toilet and a blowup doll…

Oh, and the vehicles. Although only available to pre-order DLC, there is a human catapult car based off of Professor Genki, but right now, it’s not available for purchase. I tried looking for it in game, not realizing it was a DLC item at first. However, you can get a flame throwing Johnny Gat van, or steal a tank (which crushes cars when you drive over them, in a really cool way; you can also get killed yourself if they drive over your car).

Personally, though, I think the most useful vehicle is the F-69 VTOL. Mainly because it’s essentially a jet that can take off and land anywhere, but also because this game is missing something that I used ALL THE TIME in previous titles. The ability to hail a cab. Heck, you can’t even call the numbers you see everywhere like you used to. The phone, apart from viewing the map, selecting missions, or changing settings, etc, only allows you to call up people already on your contact list.

Anyway, mission variety is your standard fare, with a few outrageous missions thrown in. Remember that scene from the new A Team movie with the skydiving tank? There’s something similar to that in this game, too. Sorry if I spoiled that for you, but it was pretty insane. There’s another mission (it may have been the same one) where a plane wrecks into one of the islands, and a chemical spill causes a zombie outbreak.

Yes, I said zombie outbreak. Making a parody of the current trend of having zombies in everything, THQ/Volition decided to throw this in there, too. With now way of getting it to go away once it happens. Sometimes, though, when you first drive into the island, everything is more or less normal, but given enough time, your map lights up like a Christmas tree and there’s zombies everywhere. This makes doing the activity available on that island very hard (though you can make it a hell of a lot easier with the VTOL and its laser), or getting to that person for a “photo op” with one of the many citizens before the undead starts showing up. It’s an annoyance, but could be fun for people who just want to drop in and have themselves a killing spree.

Of course, what is a killing spree without weapons? Personally, I think the weapon choices should have been more varied, but there are a couple standouts. With the ability to upgrade your weapons this time around, each upgrade adds something to it (f upgrades are available). Usually, melee weapons don’t have upgrades, but if you want to degrade people, you can slap them around with the Penetrator. Or, if you fully upgrade the flashbangs, you can start throwing fart jars at people (no typo). Heck, if you don’t want to use any weapons, you can do some grappling moves with random people, including slamming their faces into the ground as if you’re performing a bulldog in a wrestling ring, and topping that off with a self-indulgent pose. There are also laser-painted air strikes and drones that fire player-guided missiles.

Also, you don’t have to play the game alone. You can also hop into someone else’ game, or allow people to hop into yours. I tried this, and it seems to work OK, but if you don’t communicate with one another and don’t know what they’re doing, it can get a little pointless. The nice thing is, you can do anything you normally can do on your own, including shopping, etc. Still, the drop-in/drop-out aspect is fun, but I don’t think co-op will be the biggest draw for people looking for their multiplayer fix. That would have to go to Whored Mode.

Whored Mode is the Saints Row take on hoard modes in other games, where you and friends fight to survive waves of enemies. Each wave has a specific theme to it, with specific weapons available to the player(s). This can range from fighting zombies with Penetrators, or taking down Brutes with nothing but grenades. Some waves even have miniature or giant enemies to take out. This would be fun to play amongst friends and see how long each can survive and how many points you can acquire. The only downside is that there aren’t enough maps and this could still get repetitive.

With the gameplay out of the way, it’s time to shift focus to some other aspects. First of all, the graphics this time around are crisper and more colorful than the past titles (which, honestly, I felt seemed a little washed out), but they still feel like Saints Row. The sound design is no different, but my biggest complaint is still the radio. There’s hardly anything worth listening to, so I either play the game with the radio off, or I have it on the classical station. However, your interactions with other gang members (which you can recruit, up to 3, by pressing up) can include singing along to songs on the radio, or engaging in random banter. Beyond that, not much else can be said.

As for some complaints, apart from the phone, there is also a lack of good cheats available. I know, cheating is usually frowned upon, but honestly, Saints Row titles are a lot more fun with cheats involved. Sure, you can buy some DLC that gives you more cheats available (like gravity-based cheats, etc), but the standard game? I couldn’t find a cheat worth even trying out. My complaints don’t really end there, either. For some reason, my interest in this title died down a lot faster than previous ones. I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t have that staying power (though, even in the first two, I would eventually lose interest). At least the driving physics have been improved, but they’re still pretty bad. I know a lot of people didn’t much care for them, but I still like GTA4’s driving physics more than any other open-world game.

Another thing I’m not too crazy about is the fact that on some missions, you can’t go back and re-play them to unlock the other item that could have been available to you. I missed out on the Apocafist, for instance (and the only way I can get it now is by either replaying the game or using the cheat). At least you can replay the last mission (once) and take the other route, but this was the only mission that allowed you to do so (and after doing so, it’s no longer available).

So what conclusion can you draw up with this? Saints Row the Third is a fun, ridiculous game, but it’s not one of those games with staying power. Eventually, the novelty wears off. You might feel inclined to play through it again eventually, but definitely not immediately after like you can, say, a Metal Gear Solid game. There are some outstanding qualities to be had, still, including the ability to upgrade your characters and weapons, but a lot of the variety from past games is missing. The inability to call for a cab is a big letdown, and zombies? Really? I can understand the parody aspect of it, but still… I’m going to have to give this game a solid C.

[review pros=”Amped Up Ridiculousness
New Location
Lots of vehicles
Decent Upgrade to Graphics
Co-op Available” cons=”Seems Lacking in Variety
Replay Value Isn’t Too Good
Still Has Bad Music
Lack of Good Cheats
No Taxi Service” score=75]

This review is based off of a retail copy of the game provided by THQ and has been completed thoroughly