Well, although I hadn’t planned to review a computer game today, I’ve just completed the main campaign of “Saints Row: The Third” (2011) and absolutely had to talk about it.
This was a game that I found during a sale on GOG last October (I write these reviews quite far in advance) and decided to get because it has been ages since I’ve played a 3D “GTA”-style game (the last time was “GTA: Vice City”… On the Playstation 2). And, after waiting for the hefty 8.5 gigabyte download to finish, I was eager to take a look at it.
Note: I should probably point out that the DRM-free version of the game I played was the “full package” edition of this game. This is a version that – in a level of honesty that would shame some modern game companies – includes literally all of the paid DLC. I’ll be talking about the DLC in this review, but it isn’t an essential part of the game 🙂
Edit: Since a remastered version of this game has been released in the time between preparing this review and posting it, I should probably also point out that I am reviewing the non-remastered version here.
So, let’s take a look at “Saints Row: The Third”. Needless to say, this review will contain some gameplay and story SPOILERS.
You play as the leader of The Saints, a criminal gang who have become celebrities. After a bank heist goes spectacularly wrong, you and your associates – Shaundi and Johnny Gat – are captured by the leader of an organisation called The Syndicate. This is an alliance of three smaller gangs – the satanic/mafia-style “Morningstar”, the Lucha Libre-inspired “Luchadores” and an awesome cyberpunk goth gang called “The Deckers”.
The Syndicate leader takes you onto his private plane and makes a proposition. You and your associates refuse it – with bullets. In the chaos that follows, Johnny Gat is killed and both you and Shaundi have to make a daring aerial escape from the plane. When you land, you find yourself in the American city of Steelport. A city controlled by these three gangs. A city that you decide should belong to The Saints instead….
One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 For the first hour or so of it, I quite literally had a huge grin on my face. And, although some parts of it can get a little dull or repetitive at times, this is probably one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played in a while. Not only is it a game with an actual personality and a sense of humour, but it is filled with so many awesome moments and elements that really help to make it more than just a clone of the “GTA” games.
In terms of the gameplay, it is fairly similar to the “Grand Theft Auto” games. In other words, it is set in an open world and played from a third-person perspective. You can explore the city, carry out missions whenever you choose to, steal cars to get around, get into gunfights and earn in-game currency (through gameplay and gameplay alone 🙂 ) which can be spent on various things. And, although this game includes the dreaded regenerating health and checkpoint saving (albeit with a limited manual save option too), the gameplay here is really solid.
This is a gloriously open-ended game where you can either follow the main story, explore at your own pace and/or cause random mayhem just for the hell of it. You’ll probably be doing a combination of all three of these things but, to my surprise, the main story was a more interesting part of this game than I’d expected. Usually in these types of games, the “do whatever you want” element is a lot more fun than following pre-structured missions – but, barring a few repetitive combat and escort missions, the main story was a lot more fun than I’d expected.
Surprisingly, this was more due to the actual story more than anything else. Although the premise is incredibly stylised and knowingly silly, I still found myself gripped by the game’s epic – and often hilarious – storyline. It is completely “over the top” in the most fun way possible. In addition to telling the story of The Saints’ battle for Steelport, it also includes elements from so many other genres (eg: Cyberpunk, zombies, professional wrestling etc..) too. Yes, the story is utterly silly and “unrealistic”, but the game knows this and uses it to deliver a funny and compelling romp that is worth playing for the story alone.
And, as mentioned earlier, this game actually has a sense of humour too 🙂 Yes, it is a very immature and “edgy” sense of humour, but it is still incredibly funny. In addition to lots of sarcastic, cynical and/or funny dialogue between the characters, the game also includes all sorts of gloriously surreal things like a rather “not safe for work” chariot chase, an area where you turn into a laser-wielding toilet, a hilariously rude baseball bat-style weapon, a mission where you have to ride across town with an angry tiger in the passenger seat etc…
Whilst the game’s main plot also includes a small amount of political satire too, the game’s comedy elements are so surprisingly and consistently funny because a good number of the jokes are things that would only work in the medium of videogames. This style of transgressive and surreal humour relies heavily on interactivity in a way that only games can. Although your character also does a few traditional things like shouting out corny “Duke Nukem 3D”-style one liners (eg: “I always win my arguments!” etc..) during combat, a lot of the really funny parts of the game take full advantage of the fact that literally anything can happen in the artificial world of a game.
Another awesome thing about this game is the sheer amount of customisation and self-expression that is available to the player too 🙂 Not only are there numerous character design options available to you, but you can also mix-and-match numerous outfits, get various tattoos, create your own “mixtape” (albeit from a list of pre-selected songs) for one of the in-game radio stations and choose which weapons/abilities you want to upgrade. Yes, some costumes are DLC, but there are still quite a few non-DLC ones that can be earned and/or unlocked through gameplay. Seriously, I cannot praise the sheer amount of customisation on offer here enough – and I probably spent at least 1-3 hours on all of this stuff throughout my playthrough of the game 🙂
Literally my only complaint about the customisation is that the game doesn’t allow you to choose which gang you belong to. You quite literally have to be in The Saints – which seems like a little bit of a missed opportunity. I’d have absolutely loved to play a more cyberpunk-themed version of the game as a member of The Deckers instead. Plus, although some missions are themed around the other gangs, you don’t always really get to learn a huge amount about them.
As mentioned earlier, I played the “full package” edition of the game which includes all of the DLC. I have very mixed feelings about this extra stuff. On the plus side, two of the three extra mission packs (“Genkibowl VII” and “Gangstas In Space”) are reasonably fun – especially when you’ve upgraded your character enough. Likewise, the DLC also includes cool stuff like a gun that summons a hungry shark, a couple of really awesome motorbikes and several extra costumes.
On the downside, some of the DLC messes with the game’s progression and difficulty curve by giving the player some fairly powerful weapons and vehicles very early in the game (in addition to automatically unlocking some stuff that is meant to be unlocked via gameplay). So, I imagine that this game is probably a slightly more fun, focused and consistent experience without the DLC. Which, in this greedy modern age, is something that I actually have to praise 🙂
Plus, even without the DLC, the game still provides a decent amount of replay value after completing the main story thanks to a large number of optional “Saints Book” side-quests and the fact that there are numerous collectable items littered across the map too. You can also re-play many of the game’s various activities and challenges too. Plus, after completing the main story, the game gives you the chance to re-play the final segment in order to see the other ending (but, it will only let you choose that ending the second time round!).
As for the game’s combat, it is fairly standard console-style third person combat. Although the regenerating health drains some of the suspense and reduces the level of challenge a bit, the game makes up for this in a number of ways. Not only does it throw realism out of the window and include some creative enemy designs (eg: large tough “brute” enemies, zombies, armoured soldiers, tanks etc..) and also includes a large range of upgradeable weapons too. Although some of the more imaginative weapons are DLC, there are at least a couple of creative weapon designs (like the “sonic boom”) in the main game.
In terms of the game’s vehicle segments, they are really good. As you’d expect from a “GTA”-inspired game, there are a wide variety of cars and motorbikes for the player to steal and you’ll quickly work out which ones are worth choosing. Plus, in addition to a few armoured vehicles, the game also contains segments that involve flying helicopters and VTOL planes (with reasonably intuitive controls) and even a few brief boat-based and skydiving segments too.
In the classic “GTA” fashion, there are several radio stations you can listen to when you’re in a vehicle. These include a refreshingly large variety of music and there is nothing better than roaring down the freeway at warp speed with the “William Tell Overture” thundering through your headphones or listening to some “edgy” Marilyn Manson music during a car chase.
Plus, during at least a couple of missions, the game will also play some very well-chosen background music too. Whether it is Kanye West’s “Power” playing during a thrilling aerial raid on a penthouse flat or the way that Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” serves as a hint during a crucial decision that you have to make in a later part of the game, I cannot praise the music in this game highly enough 🙂
The game’s world design is fairly interesting too. Not only is the city large enough to encourage exploration, but it is small enough to ensure that you’re never too far away from where you need to be (and, yes, the game includes a “GPS” feature too). Plus, although a lot of the areas are the kind of generic Chicago/New York-style city locations that you’ve seen in “GTA” games before, there are still some brilliantly creative flourishes too.
All in all, this game was a hell of a lot of fun to play 🙂 Yes, it isn’t quite 100% perfect (eg: regenerating health, a limited saving system, DLC that messes with the difficulty curve, annoying escort missions etc…), but it certainly comes close. This is a game that is simultaneously a thrillingly epic action movie and a hilariously immature comedy at the same time. Although it was released in 2011, it is closer in spirit to the classic “edgy” games of the 1990s than most modern games. It is a game that is made to be fun and, for the most part, it achieves this in spectacular fashion 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.