Saints Row: The Third (X360, PS3) (2011)
Review by Faididi and Co.
Letting loose, and proud of it
Al Capone has never had it as good as the Third Street Saints, whose wild exploits make them such great celebrities that even their victims and the police want their autographs. Unfortunately, the criminal syndicate in the neighboring city of Steelport doesn't share this love for the Saints. When they rob the wrong bank, the veteran Saint, Johnny Gatt, gets machinegunned in the face, and his friends must avenge him by bringing the fight to Steelport.
Not content to be a tacky shadow of the tired gang saga, this installment takes things to a completely different level with its sheer irreverence, playful absurdity, and very bold decision not to reset the Saints' power like some contrived Metroid bullshit. Within ten minutes of landing in the new city, our gang-banging heroes lift advanced military weapons from the local National Guard armory. Before even halfway through the game, they're zipping around in futuristic VTOL fighters that shoot deathrays. The increasingly bizarre situations in which the Saints find themselves are made all the more memorable by the new allies they win over, including a super-intelligent Russian giant, a toughness-obsessed luchadore, a real-life Hollywood actor (or two), and especially the friendly pimp who speaks through an auto-tuning cane. It's the holy marriage between popular humor and unbounded creativity.
Gameplay: Above Average
The immature-mature craziness of Volition's Saints Row: The Third is already apparent in its name, and it's the good sort of craziness. Like its immediate predecessor, the game is a Grand Theft Auto-style action adventure with full 2-Player support for the story mode (via LAN or online networking), but it comes with several changes worth noting.
This sequel seems to make room for its fancier graphics and other new features by rebalancing and refocusing the elements brought over from Saints Row 2. While your character's motion style is no longer adjustable, the basic animations are noticeably more refined. The new jump-in maneuver for vehicles makes carjacking funnier, not to mention helping allies catch up more easily to your character. The clothing texture choices are simplified, but the shops are consolidated, so purchasing a favorite wardrobe and arsenal is far easier than before. Additional streamlining work further ups the convenience factor, like using the stores owned by the Saints to throw off pursuers (instead of going to the awkward drive-through confessionals), being able to customize vehicles from the convenience of any garage (instead of specifically visiting a mechanic's shop), and not finding gangsters randomly engaged with cops every other block like in a bad cartoon. The Third also drops the versus mode nonsense in favor of a stand-alone survival mode that comes with predetermined characters and scenarios.
What really carries this game, however, is the sheer energy and pace of its story mode. Your character is no longer required to fulfill quotas of side activities; the hero can kick off the next major operation at will. Instead of repeating similar setups like before (such as catching up to enemies on bikes or driving karts through interior zones), each story mission in The Third is a completely different experience, yet together they cram in nearly all the conceivable contemporary ideas belonging to gaming culture, from drone-guided missiles and sticky grenades to hover bikes and zombie hordes, and from text adventures and pro-wrestling to cosplay fetishes and plastic surgery taken to hilarious extents. Best of all, they keep the Player in control most of the time, and Saints Row 2's lengthy, pre-scripted cutscenes thankfully remain a thing of the past. The second act (climaxing with the undercover mission on the enemy airship) particularly comes to mind.
Sadly, a few irritating glitches hold The Third back from being a top-of-the-line game. At the minor end, it fails to tally some statistics correctly. At the major end, the dumbass computer allies experience severe trouble in following your character up and down stairs, ruining otherwise perfectly fun missions. In between are other glitches, like airplanes failing to load at hangars or the navigation markers mysteriously pointing to the middle of nowhere. Problems like these are puzzling, given the polished nature of the rest of the game.
The controls are imperfect, though not to the point of ruining The Third. While basic actions like walking, crouching, jumping, and aiming are all a breeze to do, changes to the button assignments now leave too many secondary functions assigned to the context action button. This easily causes your character to enter a vehicle or open the shop menu by mistake instead of grabbing an enemy, which is bad during intense fights.
Also, there's no good reason why the game lets your character instantly warp to a more convenient location while swimming but not at any other time. The same stupid inconsistency applies to why your character can warp to a safe spot when smashed into a wall or under the pavement but will sometimes keel over when leaping out from an exploding helicopter.
The 2-Player mode's join-in-progress support is pretty smooth, but it always pauses the game for both Players if either brings up the console's menu.
Generally speaking, the visuals are state-of-the-art. The changes in the clothing options are likely due to the much more richly detailed characters and the much more heavily textured environments. The new option to install underglow lighting can make your character's cars quite pretty at night. There may be sudden pop-ups of vehicles when driving at high speeds during certain situations, but they're nothing glaring enough to worry about.
The quality of the voice acting is higher and more consistent, not just for the supporting characters, but for the Player's characters as well. The game's eight radio stations are two fewer than before, but the licensed music featured is definitely stronger on the whole. Anyone should find at least one or two tunes decent enough to leave on, and the much funnier in-game radio ads and DJ chatter are always worth hearing.
Overall: Above Average
Saints Row: The Third is blemished by its cluttered context controls and its iffy computer ally navigation. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable, genuine goofball action adventure that takes on its genre with a carefree atmosphere not found in its predecessors. Its highly varied missions, streamlined logistical elements, and gorgeous visuals are definite proof that it's driven by much more than a love for the immature.
Expansion: Average (Murderbowl VII), Excellent (Gangstas in Space), Above Average (Trouble with Clones)
The Third has three DLC expansion packs. On a quick note, the patch that allows the game to read these expansions also adjusts the damage balance to offer more challenge, although Player characters who have picked up all the defense bonuses won't notice until they get clubbed over by the special rag-dolling attacks from Oleg's brute clones.
The expansions begin with the weakest one in Murderbowl VII, a series of Professor Genki-themed missions. Except for the scenes that parody Namco's Katamari Damacy, Murderbowl VII is mostly a redress of the same minigame activities in the core game, so one can skip it without missing anything important.
Second of the expansions, Gangstas in Space is arguably the best. It's a set of three lengthy missions that pokes fun at campy sci-fi filmmaking and features two memorable supporting characters, along with many new space alien-themed weapons, vehicles, and environments.
The final expansion, Trouble with Clones, is a spoof on the comic book superhero genre. Your character wields superpowers only toward the end, and even then it's quite brief, but the best part is seeing Pierce take on a very gross-out role and singing horribly off-key.
Unlike the core game's main missions, all of these expansions can be replayed. Too bad the patch doesn't allow all the main missions to be replayed as well.