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Saints Row: The Third Review

By Jeff Buckland, 11/11/2011

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You've got a lot of wonderful games to choose from this fall. Dovahkiin and crew are carving up dragons in Skyrim, you're finally going to get some use out of that stupid WiiMotion Plus over in the new Zelda, and you're comfortably getting called a full range of slurs by teenage boys in Modern Warfare 3. Those games are all great, but they all take themselves a little too seriously. Saints Row: The Third comes out swinging a huge purple dildo to completely ruin your expectations of an open-world action game, and while there are a few minor missteps, this outrageous example of anything-goes game design is a perfect alternative to all of the self-important (but admittedly, equally entertaining) AAA games coming out this year.

Gamers are put in control of "Player", the leader of the Third Street Saints as they have become a corporate power with movie deals and energy drinks. One false move, however, puts the whole gang in jeopardy as the Syndicate, a group of gangs made up of hulking brutes, Mexican Luchador wrestlers, and emo cyberpunk douchebags, moves in to Stilwater. Player, Shaundi, Pierce, and the rest of the crew are forced to take over the city of Steelport instead, and this change of place really helps make Saints Row 3 feel like an entirely new game. It's running on some improved technology, too, which may not deliver the best visuals or biggest special effects on consoles, but it does supply a solid and acceptable 30fps on consoles - and on PC, you're looking at 1080p-or-higher action at 60fps if your PC can handle it.

And handling it is important, because the action is big and beautiful here. Gunfights with dozens of dudes happen fairly often, and the city itself has finally been filled up with some of those subtle little effects that made the Grand Theft Auto series so visually appealing. Of course, this game doesn't go for realism in any way, but everything just feels like it's grounded more in something closer to the real world - which allows the action to stand out as the most ridiculous thing going on at any one time.

From hilarious wrestling moves to completely silly weapons, pimped out cars to extremely powerful VTOL jets, Saints Row: The Third really brings a ton of creativity, and then makes use of it in great ways during the full campaign. Nearly every mission was carefully tuned for extreme fun, and the surprises and goofy things that Player does really brings it together. Of course, the fully configurable character you're playing as can have just as much character as the game itself. I went as a completely silly mid-century model with 1950s clothing, a big green beehive hairdo, and a zombie voice. And if I'm not mistaken, I do believe that the developers at Volition had a full set of voice acting done in the zombie voice - it's not just a few lines repeated here and there. All of the cutscenes and silly situations you get yourself into are done in one of seven total voices.

The missions in Saints Row 3 are fun as hell, and they often integrate some of the fun side-mission activities that have been so fun in the past two games. Now, you'll do some of these things during missions, and then get the opportunity to partake in extra versions of these activities after the campaign mission is complete. The game also includes fun gimmick vehicles and weapons, but it's best not knowing what they are and just going into the game blind, so I won't start listing them out.

There's plenty of extra stuff to unlock, too, like buying businesses that bring in a cash flow, a full customization system for your cars, and getting upgrades for your character that add cool abilities as well as the more mundane stuff like damage dealing, incoming damage resistance, ammo capacity and more. There are of course a bunch of cribs you can unlock or acquire, some of which are little one-room places, while others are rooftop mansions that completely outdo anything seen in any game of this type.

But the biggest and best feature in Saints Row: The Third is the ability to share in all this together with a cooperative-mode partner. The full game can be played in this mode, and anything you unlock in one session can be brought back to your own game - including having the ability to skip any missions you've already completed, even if you did them out of order in other people's games. The name of the game here is inclusion and fun, and Saints Row: The Third does a wonderful job of this. The only downside is that cooperative play can't be done via split-screen, but then again, in this game's coop mode, the whole city is open to both players at the same time. That would simply not be possible in split-screen mode from a technical perspective - or at least, not on consoles.

Admittedly, the game does wear thin here and there. The jokes sometimes fall flat and the references to pop culture, while not the usual mainstream BS seen on terrible sitcoms, sometimes don't quite fit the situation in a way I think the developers intended. Here and there, the Saints' loud-and-proud style and attitude gets in the way of the fun a bit, but it's nice that with Rockstar having taken so long to even announce a true Grand Theft Auto follow-up, THQ and Volition have gotten to move out of the shadow of the kind of open-world action. This means that in some situations, the Saints can be a little more "normal" once in a while without the developers feeling like they constantly have to differentiate themselves from the competition. Of course, that's only once in a while - the rest of the time, expect to see the brightest purples, the biggest explosions, and the most cavalier attitudes about drugs, explosions, sex, and more. It's fun, but in small doses.

The Whored mode included here basically makes each wave of incoming enemies (for you alone or with a buddy together) a surprise. You could be a little dude with a sword slicing up strippers, or you could be in a vehicle running over zombies. The difficulty generally goes up as you go, but it's not just bigger guns or more monsters - some of the waves are just completely insane with the themes the developers used. I found that this mode was fun once or twice, but I wasn't really interested in playing long-term - mostly because you have to have extremely good gunplay and interesting tactical choices for Horde mode-type games to work long-term, and Saints Row 3 supplied neither in this mode.

About the worst I can conjure up against Saints Row 3 is that sometimes it's just too crazy for itself. I spent quite a few hours with both the 360 and PC versions of the game, and they both work very well inside the confines of each system. On 360, the frame rates are solid and the visuals are always decent if not completely mind-blowing, and on PC, Volition has made up for that awful outsourced port of Saints Row 2 with an in-house port that includes Eyefinity support, great controls, easy online and LAN play, and a few more bits and pieces. The PC port also has a feature that you can use to save your last 30 seconds of gameplay to a .WMV video, but I could barely get the thing to work in HD resolution at all. It's no substitute for software like FRAPS, that's for sure.

Even with a style that can be a bit overbearing after a while, I had a ton of fun playing through Saints Row: The Third on both 360 and PC. There were some issues to be found here and there, but most of these unscripted bits of broken action make the game better and funnier - even if they are bugs - and make the whole thing an intensely amusing, high-octane action game that makes it seem like the whole engine's barely holding up, but it's generally doing just fine. I have no idea where the Saints go from here, but then again, I didn't after SR2 either, and it turned out that they had an even wilder and more entertaining adventure this time. If you get this game, make sure to play it with a friend, because that's the best way to play.

Overall: 9 out of 10



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