By Tom Kuipers
A side mission is Saint’s Row the Third has your character streaking around the city in order to gain experience points and this is tame when compared to the rest of Saints Row. When I am asked about the game this is usually the first thing I tell people and it will always get one of two responses: hysterical laughter or a judgmental look. Depending on your response you will either find Saint’s Row to be fun and over the top, or horribly offensive.
Right off the bat, Saint’s Row the Third doesn’t take itself too seriously. The opening mission of the games leaves you and the rest of the Saints stuck in the new and unfriendly city of Steelport. It is your job to take out the three rival gangs in Steelport and put the Saints back on top.
Although Saint’s Row looks a great deal like a Grand Theft Auto rip off, it is far from it. The biggest aspect that sets Saint’s Row apart is the customization aspect to the game. You can personalize everything from your character to the cars you are driving. The things that you can do with customization can be a bit ridiculous, but that is part of the charm of Saint’s Row. Being able to run around as a Top Heavy woman dressed as a cheerleader one moment and then switch to playing as an overweight man dressed like a mascot the next is not something most games allow.
Like any other open world game you can ignore the story missions entirely and just cause chaos throughout the city. Buying shops and slowly taking over territory for the Saints will increase your income and let you buy more weapons or customization options. Everything you do in Saints Row rewards you in some way, whether it is with cash or respect. Respect is a sort of currency of its own that allows you to purchase new abilities, like more ammo capacity or the ability to dual wield some weapons.
The system of rewarding the player for everything they do makes this game incredibly playable. There was never a moment when I felt like the game was wasting my time, it was always giving me something and encouraging me to play around with the game world. Saint’s Row never gets in the way of you having a good time. Found an awesome car? Park it in your garage and you will always have access to that car, even if you blow it up. Wanna fly a helicopter around the city? Go to your helipad and take one out for a spin. Saint’s Row treats realism like it’s a dirty word; it removes any sense of reality and just lets you have a good time.
I have never played any of the previous Saint’s Row games but one major criticism that was made of the previous games is that the driving mechanics felt “floaty” and not responsive enough. The third seems to have fixed this, I never had an issue with the way any of the vehicles handled and they had a great sense of speed to them as you tear through the city. Considering the amount of time you spend driving around the city, it’s important that it’s fun.
Saint’s Row does have a few control issues when you’re on foot however. Simply walking or running is fine but when gun fights break out the controls become a slight issue. There is no real way to avoid bullets, you generally just have to stand and take whatever punishment is dealt out. You character moves stiffly and navigating around a pile up of flaming cars or dodging the larger enemies can be a problem. A simply cover system may have done wonders for the game.
The game does have an “awesome button” holding it down will allow you to run, dive through car windows and get from place to place with more style. It helps the controls to some extend but they are still there. The control issues are minimal though, you may suffer a few deaths because of them but they never become overly frustrating.
A lot of the content is going to turn a lot of people off. There is no way to defend Saint’s Row as being anything but the epitome of what gaming detractors say is wrong with the industry but Saint’s Row revels in that role. At one point in the game you save a pimp from an S&M dungeon, It’s exactly as horrible as it sounds but it’s also pretty funny.
Saint’s Row the Third is video game junk food. There is nothing redeeming about the game on an intellectual level, it is made to let the player cause mayhem on their own terms with a generous side of sex appeal. It has all of Grand Theft Auto’s debauchery and more but none of the social commentary. It’s a vapid game but all games don’t need to aspire to be art, some just need to be fun.
The quality of Saint’s Row doesn’t really matter unfortunately. Its launch window has doomed it to mediocrity, going head to head with games like Modern Warfare 3; it’s going to have a hard time getting gamer’s attention. Months from now when the release season is over and gamers are begging for something new Saint’s Row is going to be fantastic bargain bin buy. As long as you don’t take it too seriously and crude humor doesn’t bother you, Saint’s Row the Third is an entertaining game but doesn’t offer much more then that.