When the original Saints Row came out I was unimpressed. I tried the demo on my Xbox and felt it was just a modern GTA rip-off with a heavy “gansta” theme (which I really dislike). However, months later at a friend’s place, I saw him doing a mission in that game that opened my mind to the possibility that Saints Row may very well be a good game. You had to throw yourself at cars and try to receive as much damage as possible in an cartoonish effort to con an insurance company.
It was so silly that I found myself laughing hard, and it earned extra points with me because my friend had his avatar dressed as a flamboyant pimp, feather boa and large purple hat included.
While the incident was really funny, the game slipped from my radar again and next time I even thought about it was at the very same friend’s house, while he was playing Saints Row 2 years later. He was spraying the city with a septic tank in the game’s infamous Septic Crusader missions… and later streaking down a road… my mind was blown. Was somebody really having the guts to do such an stupid (in a good sense) and cartoonish game using the whole “Gangsta GTA” as a cover?
The game’s developer, Volition Inc, definitely were and kudos to them for having the guts, and winning all their hard-earned fans slowly through 3 games, myself included.
You see, most people nowadays don’t even now, but GTA was originally quite a silly game. Sure, you were a criminal and you stole cars… but in the original GTA everything was very outlandish and tongue-in-cheek. Movie references were everywhere, you got extra points for running over multiple Hare Krishnas in a straight line, and there were bonus rounds in which a very exited announcer yelled “KIIIIILLLLL FRENZYYYYYYYYY”, rousing you to murder and destroy as much as you could in the city under a time limit.
Through the years GTA lost it’s wackiness becoming grayer and grayer, to the point were GTA IV was, to my tastes, a very well crafted game but without any personal charm or fun to be found. GTA had forgotten its roots and became a serious, down to earth criminal/ mafia story with a stupid cousin pestering you constantly.
Thankfully, Saints Row is here to pick up the slack, and then raise it to new heights of stupidity and over-the-top-ness (is that even a word? see what this game does to my brain?). Right off the bat the first mission of the game, which takes place before they let you run free in a new city, is robbing a bank with silly costumes, while the Saints give out autographs and the police say things like “Drop your weapons and come quietly! My son wants to meet you…”
Saints Row The Third (Saints Row 3 for simplicity… or Saints 3) is a massive sand-box game on the same vein as the modern GTAs. You can steal cars, potentially storing them in your own private garage, and travel freely throughout the city, which is populated with a variety of different side and story missions.
The city, as expected on a game like this nowadays, it’s huge, packed with different architecture and a multitude of NPCs and activities to do all over it. The driving controls are tight and fluid, and don’t deviate much from the norm either if you play it on a controller or with a mouse+keyboard combination on PC, though the controller wins when controlling vehicles. In my view on-foot controls are much more comfortable on PC using a keyboard+mouse, if only because aiming is much more precise, but are also quite comfortable on a controller, specially since many quick commands are well mapped on an Xbox controller (for example) and you can access your weapons quicker on the weapon wheel.
As mentioned, the amount of stuff you can do around the new city, Steelport, is simply huge. Most of them take the shape of missions and sidequests, that go from something mundane (distributing Saints “merchandise” around town while protecting your homies) to something weird (driving around town with a tiger on a convertible to build up courage) to something downright bizarre (participating on a gameshow a-la Takeshi’s Castle, but with flamethrowers for traps while fighting armed mascots and shooting down wooden targets).
Obviously this wouldn’t be a Saints game if you couldn’t customize your character in a myriad of ways. Several pre-designed character are there in case you don’t care much about this, but if they are not your cup-of-tea the game gives you so many options that you could spend hours just trying to fine-tune your character to your liking. There are also several clothing stores around town which you could use to dress your character as a standard “gangsta” or maybe as a superhero or a amusement park mascot (no really!).
Amazingly enough, the variety of clothing is somewhat less than that of Saints 2… which makes me suspect we will have dozens of new items of clothing as DLC in the future… which irks me a bit, but it’s not enough for me to really get angry over.
The story itself of Saints 3 is nothing to write home about, but it keeps the game going, which is more than enough. The best part of it is the characters, which seem to be aware of how silly and outlandish their world is. In general it follows the Saints as they arrive unwillingly in Steelport, a town controlled by an international criminal Syndicate that threatens the media empire the Saints built after the second game.
The story has a couple of interesting twists, but as mentioned, it’s merely a device to keep the game going, and many will follow it closely, concentrating on doing the myriad of side missions and generally having fun around town. Having said that playing some story missions is imperative to unlock new side missions and items in stores.
Sound wise, the game holds up very well too. Music is a mix of original and classic tunes from classical to heavy metal, distributed among the different radio channels when you’re driving, with the odd tune in the menu and mission debriefing screens. Voice acting is top-notch, something specially impressive considering that there are 6 recorded voices you can use for your character (3 male, 3 female) and 1 zombie voice, which is mainly grunts, as expected. Conversations among characters always fit your chosen voice and the respective character voices are brilliant and funny. Special mention goes to Zimos, a pimp with a tracheotomy that has his voice-box on the top of his cane, which is also shaped as a mic, and he uses it to sing instead of speak his lines with an odd but cool mechanical voice.
Graphics: 4/5 – While it looks cartoonish, it’s unarguable that it’s graphically impressive. Character models are really detailed and the city is beautiful to look at.
Sound: 4/5 - Explosions, gunshots and other myriad of sound effects are well delivered and impressive. There’s an ample selection of music for all tastes, and voice-overs are simply fantastic.
Gameplay: 4/5 - While it doesn’t have the freedom of other sandbox games like Just Cause 2, the game is what a good sandbox game should be: huge map, plenty to do and what you can do is fun. Also, you can ride around a pink convertible while dressed as a furry critter, armed with a rocket launcher that shoots mind-controlling octopi, not many games can compete with that!
Longevity: 5/5 - This game is huge. ‘Nuff said!
Overall: 4 out of 5
Saints Row The Third really shakes it’s last vestiges as a GTA rip-off and turns into a silly and cartoonish parody of modern sandbox games, and in the process becomes a long and funny ride of awesome. Don’t miss it.
- Jose Luis Perez Zapata