Playing catch-up: Saints Row The Third
After two tours of duty in Stilwater the Saints are now a infamous gang with their own brands and promotions, they judge themselves to be unconquerable. Then after an accidental attack on a Syndicate run bank, they demand their cut of the action. From here on in it’s a war that’ll leave Steelport in pieces no matter the outcome.
Volition bequeaths the city of Steelport as an open sandbox for you to coast around and bring about pandemonium. With The Saints now a infamous gang with their own brands and promotions, they judge themselves to be unconquerable. Then The Syndicate makes an appearance and demands their cut of the action. From here on in it’s a war that’ll leave Steelport in pieces no matter the outcome.
The gang warfare is made entertaining through vibrant colours and a comical ‘anything goes’ mentality. It’s a shame then that giant purple schlongs were the brunt of most of the images and preview content, for there are plenty of comedic moments. There are times when it all concocts together as a surprisingly tasty slow cooked chilli. A sure fire way to instantly improve the experience is to pick the male gender and faux-cockney accent. Continuing the vocal work in the previous two, it’s certainly the best way to play.
“Equally achieves and fails”Battles can turn into absolute chaos as gang members are downed , cars explode , and the screams of innocents are interjected with off-the-cuff humour. Any mission with Zimos never fails to make me laugh. By having him speak via an electronic voice box due to having a tracheotomy they’re able to riff on the recent overuse of auto-tune and vocoder in modern pop. In the end the developer equally achieves and fails by ramping everything up to 11.
As the third title one may expect it to have the clearest vision but this isn’t the case. The open world is redundant. There’s no reason to call on fellow gang members for help, the side missions are now purely mini-games that provide cash for new abilities, and visiting stores feels pointless. With the storyline the main focus it’s shorter in length and this shows holes in the narrative.
A fantastic element of the video game medium is its ability to introduce non-main storyline based content. Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro’s Deadly Premonition excelled at this by including optional events that weren’t necessary to progress but would reward an investigative player with a deeper knowledge and connection to the town’s inhabitants. Volition decided to remove the activities from story progress, splitting them into two distinct halves. You can choose to disregard all of the activities and plough through the story, as did I. By removing any importance from them, whether that’d be increasing respect to unlock new missions or integrating them naturally, the blast through Steelport feels short and unfulfilled. The city is alive but very much asleep.
In essence, the activities have evolved into additional fluff that one may use as a means of procrastination. As mini-games there are few worth playing and the in-game rewards are minimal if not defunct. It’d make sense following feedback to give the player a choice but their implementation is often lacking. At times a new mini-game will be introduced via a storyline mission and this is an idea never fulfilled. Mundane actions in an open world can easily be made entertaining via the use of leaderboards. Now driving safely, running, gunning and being a general menace to society would become mini-events in themselves. Constant smaller rewards and challenges are a growing part of design.
More impressively, merging these activities into the real-time world would be a natural and intrinsic step. For example, as you cruise through Steelport you’d turn a corner and narrowly avoid colliding into a tank abandoned by the army, cars beeping their horns as they begin to back up. Leaving the vehicle, you’d sprint over and upon entering the tank the Mayhem activity would instantly start. A timer appears with the target score and off you go. Upon completing the task, or time running out, an army transport helicopter hovers above with a giant magnet. Our anti-hero leaps from the tank as it’s pulled into the sky and the game resumes, as seamless as possible.
“Events and characters came and went”It would be more fluid, with minimal loading screens to avoid disruption. By introducing the activities in a free-form manner the player would feel intelligent by design. They found the tank. Perhaps they were the only one of their friends that did discover it. Better use of the characters Volition has worked on for over 6 years was expected too but never came to fruition. Events and characters came and went, resulting in one character’s death that went unnoticed until it was later mentioned by another character.
This concluded with a wafer thin ending. A last pitch battle grinds out and you leap in with Oleg and Pierce to sort both sides out. Down to the last armoured vehicle we unleashed round after round, grenade after grenade. What we hadn’t taken into account was their ultimate defence: The Bug. With a quarter of health left victory was close. But no. The enemy vehicle suddenly became invincible, and it only took me fifteen minutes of running around and collecting leftover ammunition, rinsing through it, repeating the loot run, repeat, grow bored, repeat, and so forth, to realise it. What a chore.
Restarting threw me and my two stupid buddies back into the battle. This time The Bug was no longer present. With the damage already done, a final choice is thrown up at the end to save one supporting character or take vengeance against another, Holding Out For a Hero by Bonnie Tyler blasting from the vehicle’s speakers. This should be fantastic. It wasn’t. The waypoints were misleading; the leftover military from the previous battle damaging the vehicle that now trundles onwards. What should have been a moment of absurd brilliance becomes a neat summary of Saints Row The Third as a whole.
The Saints Row series continues to be unrefined. For this third entry the engine is cleaner and better produced; however, there is still much to be done. As fellow writer Calvin Kemph said during one of the recent Thundercast’s, ‘it’s a game of moments’. Saints Row The Third asks its audience to forgive its flaws, sit back and have fun. And I did. But that doesn’t stop the flaws from being there.