Saints Row: The Third
Saints Row: The Third is all about the climaxes. Within the first hour of the story, you’re having a shootout on top of a vault as it’s being airlifted from a bank, taking part in a firefight mid-skydive, acquiring what would be end-game weaponry in any other release, and crashing a rival gang’s rooftop pool party by way of parachute with Kanye West’s “Power” buzzing in the background.
That’s the level Saints Row: The Third always wants to be on. It reaches this high watermark a few times and the stuff in-between is all filler. It provides a gradual introduction to most of the content and mechanics and provides some breathing room in between the balls-out moments. But it never stops laughing at its own jokes. In a way, it’s easy to appreciate. It’s a videogame composed of all the things that ought to be thrown out as quickly as they’re pitched. The feeling is that the only thing left on the cutting room floor is any sense of meaning.
Odd thing is, Saints Row: The Third is occasionally well-written and compelling, but when there’s an opportunity for some lowbrow quip, it’ll make that instead. It’s almost far too aware that it’s a videogame and suffers for trying to assert that it’s not a film. Considering the game’s puerile humor, and target audience, maybe it’s worth asking for something more from our games. During the game’s strongest moments, there’s certainly some kind of potential for meaning but unless it’s sell-able in a commercial, it probably hasn’t made the cut.
Many of the good ideas are borrowed from the usual open world sources and are iterated on in familiar ways. Where The Third separates itself is in its brand of easy-going, loose gameplay. These are the parts one might claim are the high points of the medium but it’s a bit prohibitive not to consider the game in its entirety. What do we want out of our games? (Besides weaponized dildos?)
These aren’t entirely negative things. There’s a cartoon-like quality about the game that suits the nature of its action. Everyone’s essentially a cartoon character. The three rival gangs featured, in particular, are colorful and their traits are played upon in their segments of the story. Besides all that there’s an ultra-violent, exaggerated feel informing the weaponry that works well with the aesthetic.
Saints Row: The Third at least has a fun new location in the over-industrialized city of Steelport, a possible amalgam of too many real cities to draw any straight comparison. This allows for a better open world than most set in real settings as the developers have gone hog wild creating well-designed spaces and keeping them tighter (something they’ve especially improved upon). Unlike the first two games’ city of Stillwater, there’s never any real need for public transport, with the ‘hoods’ all rooting outward from the central district. It’s a well-represented, debauchery filled city, and the idea that you’d never want any sort of fast travel highlights its effectiveness.
There’s a squirrely feel to the vehicle controls that makes driving through the city simple and pleasant without being bogged down by realistic racing-style controls. That kind of depth’s great for a racing game but it’s wasted on a game where it’s only necessary to drive from point A to point B. Even when you’re doing the most mundane thing, Saints Row: The Third piles on heaps and heaps of combos, resulting in cash or respect bonuses, managing to keep the driving interesting.
A roughly established economy persists within the game. It’s nothing new or exciting and like many of its features, there’s still something satisfying about buying out each neighborhood’s stores and taking on the slew of side activities. There’s some inventive stuff, including twisted takes on Japanese television as some kind of blood sport, tank mayhem, and a mode where you rack up the largest amount of bodily damage possible (using a ragdoll button) for the purpose of collecting insurance fraud. Through building up your cash-flow in the city, you’ll obtain all kinds of new upgrade paths with a wide range of useful boosts, some overpowering, others merely additive.
The co-op provides a fun, frenzied approach in fending off some of the game’s monotony. On the other hand, the new Whored mode is a sad take on wave-based combat that’s main appeal is whatever kind of odd enemy variant the game selects. An amusing diversion but like so much of the game, it all feels a bit insignificant afterwards. The more intense the campaign’s best moments get, the more these pedestrian features seem to flatline, co-op or otherwise.
Saints Row: The Third is generally successful at being an open world game and although it’s riddled with glitches, none are game-ending, although a handful are somewhat amusing. There are some great moments and some very dull ones but in all, there’s a worthwhile world presented with about thirty-something hours of content. If you’re not put off by the game’s populism, then there’s enough to like about Saints Row: The Third. While not a groundbreaking game, it’s interesting on its own merits, with a good setting and a colorful personality to match.