Article first published as PlayStation 3 Review: Saints Row the Third on Blogcritics.
Los Angeles based publisher, THQ has had a busy year. Starting with a logo change at the beginning of the year and continuing with their wireless sell off, closure of Kaos Studios, announcing the end of the Red Faction series and seeming to disavow movie licenses it comes as somewhat of a surprise they are taking on the South Park RPG with Obsidian Entertainment. Though Saints Row is an Action game, there are a good amount of RPG elements and if the South Park game can aspire to what Saints Row the Third has accomplished, it should be a smash hit.
It is impossible not to compare Saints Row to their better known Rockstar counterparts. Red Dead Redemption and L.A. Noire have filled in the space since Grand Theft Auto IV came out a couple of years ago. Except for L.A. Noire, the formula has been; big open sandbox, lots of sex and violence and a fairly light narrative. It’s difficult to have a strong and consistent story with so many ways to play the game. Even open world games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls have trouble maintaining a compelling and consistent plot.
There is no need to have played the previous iterations of Saints Row and honestly, it’s a bit tough to recommend anyone go back and play them at this point. Saints Row the Third takes place a few years after Saints Row 2 (which is free with new Playstation 3 copies until mid February) and the Third Street Saints have now evolved from street gang to household brand name, with Saints sneakers, Saints energy drinks and even Johnny Gat bobble heads. Their celebrity status has however, not gone unnoticed. The Syndicate has turned its eye on the Saints and sees them as easy prey. In Saints Row the Third, you take the fight to them in a new city, Steelport.
After a short and somewhat puzzling introductory mission that doesn’t turn out well at all, you begin your character creation. The customization is pretty robust allowing you to adjust various sliders to make the male or female character you want. An amusing addition to Saints Row the Third’s character creation is a sexy slider that adjusts the bust size of female characters and pants bulge of male characters. This is a little misleading because, while there is quite a bit of adult content in the game, your character has almost nothing to do with sex or sexuality.
Those that have played Grand Theft Auto games, since they came to the Playstation 2, will feel right at home with the basic controls for Saints Row the Third. On foot, you are able to run, jump, melee, aim, shoot and swim. Of course the preferred mode of travel is by vehicle, whether it is a scooter, motorcycle, car, truck, helicopter or plane. Being able to swim means, crashing into the water doesn’t equate instant death and a parachute, besides being mission essential a few times, will also save your life quite often. As you progress, there are plenty of upgrades to help keep you alive.
Let me just say, Saints Row the Third is a silly game – and it knows it. There are three foot long, purple rubber sex toys usable as melee weapons and for a good chunk of the adventure you will be fighting luchadores. Doesn’t that sound like a good enough reason to recruit Hulk Hogan for voice work? Besides everything you’d expect in an urban sandbox game, there are plenty of detours. At the end of one mission, you will be rewarded with an Atari styled, 8 bit tank you can then drive down the streets. Man, I loved me some Combat, back in the day.
Saints Row the Third also features co-op either online or with a system link. This can be done in the story mode although it clearly wasn’t designed for more than one player. There is also a multiplayer Whored mode, which is a word play on Gears of War’s Horde mode. The real strength of this game is its quirky and over the top single player. It does what you would expect it to really well but when you really dig, there are plenty of technical and continuity issues that plague the title. Unexpectedly, Saints Row the Third shares quite a bit of the spirit of Shadows of the Damned.
Unlike Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row the Third treats the thug life like a comic book. It’s over the top and more often than not, you’ll feel more like a Marvel superhero than a hood rat. Yeah, you can jack and trick out cars, deal drugs and blow lots of stuff up but it always feels more plastic than grit. When you get done with those, there are plenty of other criminal activities to occupy your time. Even though you recruit a gang leader voiced by Sasha Grey, it’s in a story that shares common themes with Jet Set Radio. These kind of bizarre paradoxes make Saints Row the Third, also available on Xbox 360 and Windows PC, some quirky but crazy good fun.
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