Saints Row: The Third Review
Since I started this game reviewing gig, I've referred to many a terrible game as being a guilty pleasure. G.I. Joe and the second Transformers movie tie-in games jump immediately to mind as Metacritic bombs that I actually enjoyed, but it seems now the term "guilty pleasure" has taken on another meaning. Saint's Row: The Third is another type of guilty pleasure; you'll have the time of your life playing this exceptional game, but your level of education will be directly tied to the shame you'll feel over having such a good time doing so. Yes, Saint's Row: The Third is juvenile, depraved, sensationalistic and completely off-the-wall, but it also might be one of the best games of 2011, if not the most utterly insane.
Saint's Row: The Third, the third game in the Saint's Row series (what a coincidence!), takes the Third Street Saints gang to a new city, Steelport, where it is basically up to you to wrest control of the city from three other gangs. The plot is tailor-made for this type of open world sandbox game, but its simplicity is deceiving; getting to the end of the game's main story mode will throw you into some of the most creative (and often very funny) situations seen in a game in a while. I've gone back and forth on whether to spoil any of them in this review and decided that you've just got to see them for yourself. The game's opening mission/tutorial has the Saints causing mayhem while wearing giant fake heads, which is awesome for two reasons: it's a clear reference to the classic film Point Break and it allows for you to completely customize your character before starting the main game (you never see a face until you've created it - brilliant). It also sets up the madness of the main game perfectly, and gives me an example to illustrate without ruining too much for you. Everyone has been playing a game and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if..." Saint's Row: The Third boasts a mission list that reads like a journal of all those crazy ideas, and the old "take over the city" story is given new life by them. I know, I was shocked, too. My only gripe is that, like every other form of media these days, they just HAD to throw in some zombies. Enough with the zombies, already!
I can't review a game like this without mentioning the Grand Theft Auto series, though I am sorry I have to; the games could be more different. But I bring up Rockstar's flagship series as a comparison point. GTA has always had tons and tons of side missions to complete, but personally, I never tackled very many. Why? Well, two reasons: The rewards never felt great enough and/or the challenges simply weren't fun. Saint's Row: The Third remedies both those problems. First, the rewards. Saint's Row: The Third is ALWAYS giving the player something new to earn or fiddle with. Side missions here earn not just new costumes, vehicles and cash, they also build up your character in a low-key but extremely fun upgrade system. And the challenges' fun factor? Nearly all of them are a blast to play, and even once-boring side missions borrowed from GTA feel more fun here. You could probably finish the main story mode in about 20 hours, but when the side missions are this much fun and reap such rewards, its tough not to imagine not wanting to play longer. Much longer.
I mentioned the costumes as rewards for side missions, and while I'm not usually one for costumes as prizes (or DLC, for that matter), customization is so important here that you'll quickly get into the swing of earning new items, testing them out and running to earn more. The impressive amount of character customization option available at the start is just the beginning; one your closet starts to fill, prepare to become addicted to getting just one more before bed. Ok, two more. Umm... I'll sleep when I'm dead. Even if you never thought a game of dress-up sounded fun, let this game cast its spell on you.
New cheerleader skirts and cartoon cat heads are the only items you'll earn along the way; you'll also be given access to some truly amazing vehicles. The normal cars and trucks are all present and accounted for, but you'll also get jets, hovercrafts and all manner of wild modes of transportation. And once you've earned the vehicles, they will be available to you at all times - forget running around looking for that tank, just go pick one up from the hideout. Oh, you blew it up? There is another one, right in its parking spot. Awesome.
Giving players access to unlimited unlocked vehicles is just one arm of Sant's Row: The Third's ultimate goal: Give players all the sex, violence and naughty behavior they want, and keep every second of both fun and rewarding. But most of all, keep it entertaining. Which brings me to the game's easily praised aspect: the game's sense of humor about it all. Even the most depraved sex acts and horrific violence are transformed into jokes that would make David Caruso jealous. The game's mostly light-hearted lens on all this nonsense is maybe most evidenced in it's Adult Swim-staffed radio station. Fans of the Cartoon Network programming block (this game is aimed squarely at that same demographic) will pick up on the bits and voices immediately, and as a fan, I found myself just driving around, listening to the radio. None of the GTA radio stations ever caught my ear quite like this one, and the other stations are mostly decent as well. With everything that Saint's Row: The Third throws your way, from the "What the-? Awesome!" mission structure to the customization to the massive amount of unlockables, it's impossible to play this game without a huge grin smeared across your face. Go ahead, try it out. Like drinking a gallon of milk in under an hour without ralphing, its simply impossible.
Unfortunately, the game isn't perfect. Some of the characters you'll meet are extremely obnoxious, and the menu system (represented as a touch screen phone) is cool to look at, but tough to get used to and expertly utilize. But my greatest problem was with the controls, specifically the four-wheeled vehicle type. Cars, trucks and all manner of seemingly normal vehicles all control like hovercrafts; vets of the open world genre know what I mean when I say the vehicles feel "floaty." The kicker is, this game actually has a hovercraft! And it pretty much controls like the cars - badly. The good news is that you'll be having such a good time, you'll barely notice. I'd also like to note that the game's ending makes absolutely no sense, but it doesn't really affect the overall experience in any way.
I'll be honest: Saint's Row: The Third really surprised me. It had all the strikes against it: I didn't care for the first two games in the series, I'm not a huge open world crime fan and I've been feeling less positive toward games that are shocking for the sake of being shocking. Somehow, the game's huge ability to entertain and bewilder the player forgives all that in my book, and even after finishing the main game, I'm still having a blast just bouncing around Steelport. Saint's Row: The Third hits shelves alongside the two fall blockbusters, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, and though it lacks the fanfare, it manages to be a better game than either of those giants. Even with a few dents in its score, Saint's Row: The Third is one of the best times you'll have with a video game this year. And yeah, its ok to laugh. No one is looking.
Author's Note: For an added treat, check YouTube for Tim and Eric's short video based on the Professor Genki DLC. It's weird, but you'll love it.
Final Rating: 94%. It's impossible to play this game without a huge grin smeared across your face.