Wooooooo! This review marks one year since I first started writing for The Fan, with my first game review for the site about Devil Kings first being posted back on February third of last year. It’s been an awesome year writing for you guys, with lots of fun reviews and fun side content just for you! I think this calls for a bit of a celebration! So brace yourselves, as we’re going to take a look at a new game that came out over the holiday season every week for the rest of the month, plus one or two pieces of side content just to top it off! But enough of me blathering on, let’s get to the real reason why you guys are here: the review.
For the first week I want to take a look at Saints Row: The Third, the latest and almost certainly silliest entry into the franchise. It’s kind of hilarious how a game with a mature rating can have so much unabashedly childish humor in it. From the preposterous dildo sword weapon to the Tank Skydiving mission ala The A-Team (the movie, not the show), everything about this game is totally over the top and ridiculous, to the point where I’ve heard many critics complain about how absurd it is, saying that the game is a step backwards from its predecessor. And you know what, in a cynical sort of way, they’re right. Whereas Saints Row 2 felt more like a different take on the Grand Theft Auto games, The Third lacks their emotional depth, trading out meaningful character relationships for cheap gags and over the top stunts. Heck, one of the main characters from the previous games is killed off within the first mission just to give the characters motivation to take out the other gangs. I can fully understand why some fans of the original series might be upset by the direction this game has taken, as it has thrown all sense of reality out of the window in return for a bit more preposterousness. But as for me?
I loved every freaking second of it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good story. If you read my Mass Effect reviews from last month you’ll know that I place a lot of value on character interaction and how it can drive a narrative. Heck, a large part of the reason why I like RPGs so much is because I place so much value on a game’s story. But even I have a reptilian part of my brain that enjoys the simpler humor that Saints Row: The Third represents. Riding a civilian like a skateboard down a sidewalk where I transition into a nut punch to rival gang member, before taking out a cop with a giant purple dildo and jacking a passing limo with a flying kick through the windshield is a preposterous scene; but dang if it isn’t fun! This game has embraced the ridiculous, and it is glorious in its idiocy. From the over the top weaponry, to the awesome luchador wrestling moves at your disposal, to the fact that you have a designated nut shot button, everything about this game is designed for you to have as much perverse pleasure as is physically possible.
But what makes this goofiness so much fun isn’t just the over the top antics in and of themselves, but the fact that they’re executed flawlessly. I don’t often talk about controls in reviews unless they actively sabotage me during game play, but suffice to say that the controls in Saints Row 3 are both incredibly tight and easy to pick up. I had a friend come over who had never played a Saints Row game in his life, and within minutes he was reveling in the game’s hijinks, each button press representing a new fun way for him to interact with his surroundings. I actually found the driving controls to be superior to its Grand Theft counterpart, with more intuitive drifting and turbo controls along with tighter steering all around. Even the boat and flying controls were acceptable, to the point where I actually found myself flying around the world map a lot despite my normal dislike for any sort of aerial vehicle in these games.
Then again, this was probably helped by the fact that the game lacks the sense of scarcity that seems to permeate the start of most Grand Theft Auto games. What I mean by this is that in GTA you have to earn your equipment; anything more powerful than a pistol is an investment, and if you are unfortunate you can lose all of your equipment at any time due to an accidental arrest. This forces you to ration your supplies, only busting out the big guns in situations where they are necessary until later in the game. Saints Row 3 says eff that noise, and immediately starts you off with an airstrike as one of your three starting weapons. And once you have picked up a piece of equipment you can never lose it due to the game’s upgrade system, meaning there’s no additional fear of death holding the player back. Ammo is incredibly inexpensive, to the point where I went on a killing spree right after I got my first hand gun outside a weapon shop and actually made more money than I spent on supplies by a large margin (not to mention the huge cache of guns I gathered. What was that game? Use the pistol? I’m sorry; I was too busy using my sniper rifle I jacked off of a rival gang’s helicopter.)
This brings us to another interesting point: the game’s upgrade system. It’s actually kind of amusing as to how they set this system up, as for the first seventy percent of the upgrades it’s really not too game breaking. Sure you can boost your health and ammo capacity amongst a variety of other things, but it never really renders the game too easy. No, it’s not until you reach the end of your level up cycle, level 50 in particular, that you can well and truly break the game. I don’t know who decided that the jump from twenty percent damage reduction to invincibility was a good transition, but it breaks any challenge the rest of the game had almost immediately. Fortunately it takes a while to reach such heights, so the main story is safe so long as the player doesn’t go around rampaging on the side too excessively. Still, it would’ve made more sense to keep a gradual upgrade system to the end in my opinion, as once you reach level 50 the game no longer offers any sort of challenge to the player, meaning no replayability outside of starting a new save.
On another note, the game’s visuals are actually rather well done, with a clean, almost cartoony style that only serves to emphasize the game’s lack of emphasis on realism. It still takes advantage of the current console generation’s graphical abilities, giving the game world a crisp presentation without any sort of slowdown or obvious pop ins. This is great, as many of the longer missions have you traversing a large chunk of the world map, and due to the lack of popping in you can really get a sense of the game world’s scale as you explore. Throw in a few exotic locales such as the always amusing virtual world taken straight out of a Tron parody and the Gangsters in Space set and you have enough going on visually to keep the player engaged at all times.
This visual aesthetic is only complimented by the game’s excellent audio. As always the game provides a fun selection of radio stations for when you are travelling around, with a wide variety of musical genres and amusing sketches available for your listening pleasure. But the game actually goes farther than just this, using music in order to build a sense of atmosphere during key scenes. The most obvious example of this is the game’s prolific use of Kanye West’s “Power” at dramatic moments, but another great example comes towards the end of the game, where during a potential rescue mission the game starts blaring “I Need A Hero” by Bonnie Tyler. These moments really stood out to me, as in the later case it actually influenced my choice during said mission!
For once I’d like to finish this review by looking at the game’s story, as while the game may not take itself too seriously I still enjoyed the story a great deal. Watching your character rise up against the gangs of Steelport and take over, dealing with each of the faction’s leaders as you progressed through the game was truly satisfying for me, as I felt as though I was making tangible progress each time I took out one of the gangs. Something about taking over a world’s map really strikes a chord with me, and seeing it included in this game after its disappointing absence in GTA 4 pleased me greatly. Long story short, I was intrigued enough by the story to not only go through and complete it, but I enjoyed my experience so much that I then went out and achieved one hundred percent completion on my save file before finally calling it quits. Heck, my biggest gripe about the game’s story isn’t about how ridiculous it is, but the fact that it’s too short! I should not be able to reach 100% completion of an open world game in less than 30 hours.
Yet despite this criticism I highly recommend this game if you’re looking for a fun open world title where you can turn your brain off for a bit and just relax. I had a blast playing it, and if you enjoy these sorts of games I can pretty much definitively say that you will as well. And hey, at the very least it’ll serve to tide you over until the eventual release of GTA V! The co-op mode alone has the potential to provide players with hours of additional content, and the main story mode is worthy of at least a rental. Easily one of my favorite games released in 2011.
Next week we’ll take a look at yet another new release, starring everyone’s favorite nocturnal hero. But until that time this is Bargain Gamer, logging off!