Unreal Game Review: Saints Row: The Third

Oh Saints Row, how I love you…

The Saints Row series is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated gems of the current console generation. It’s easy to dismiss it at first glance as a wannabe GTA clone with a goofy name and worse graphics, but if you sit down and actually play one of the games? You’ll be having a blast within minutes.

I missed the first game entirely and went straight to Saints Row 2, and upon completion, promptly declared it my game of the year. The reason why was that in terms of pure enjoyment, there was nothing else that touched it, and after desperately wanting Grand Theft Auto to stop taking itself so seriously following the dark and gloomy IV, I got my wish in the form of Saints Row.

Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to Saints Row: The Third ever since, despite it’s Shrek-like title. What I’ve found over the past twenty hours or so might not have blown my socks off the way the first game did, but it’s a marked improvement over its predecessor in a lot of technical ways, even if the initial “wow” factor is gone.

Yes, one of your cribs is a pimped out nuclear plant.

After the events of the last game, the Saints are on top of the world, literally. Their penthouse cribs soar far above the city, and they’ve become worldwide celebrities with movies and energy drinks using their likeness. But all that changes when the gang is abducted by a shadowy group known as “The Syndicate.” Almost immediately a longtime cast member is wiped out, the Saints bank account is drained and they’ve crash landed in a new city with nothing to their name.

As usual, the area is controlled by a few street gangs whose leaders all work with the Syndicate in one form or another. About midway through the game when the gang violence spirals out of control, the military is called in to occupy the city, and you discover that we’re actually in some sort of vaguely futuristic dystopia where the police have no rules of engagement and are all driving hover jets and shooting laser cannons.

Storywise, the plot is pretty shitty. Even now I don’t understand what happened to the Saint who supposedly dies at the beginning, and the leader of the Syndicate at one point just sort of hobbles away, and you don’t hear from him at all the rest of the game for unknown reasons. Getting to know homies like Pierce and Shaundi was fun in the last game, but the new characters introduced here, like a pimp who speaks only in autotune, are mostly just annoying.

Just another day in paradise.

The missions aren’t quite as well structured as the last game or the GTA series either. Yes, there are a few extremely goofy ones, like a pony show cart chase sequence or getting plastic surgery to transform into the general of the army to sneak onto an aircraft carrier, but usually they’re just driving somewhere, shooting a whole bunch of people, and leaving. Not un-fun, but not exceptionally creative either. And there are usually a ton of breaks in the mission where you’ll reach a point and simply teleport somewhere else, making them not feel very cohesive.

Lastly, it’s a bit disappointing to see the game recycle a lot of the past sidequests into this game. Nearly ALL of the sub-missions reappear here, from escorts to snatch to heli assaults to mayhem to insurance fraud and the list goes on. I can only really think of one or two new side quests offhand, one being a strange TRON lightcycle race through cyberspace and the other having you drive around with an angry tiger in your front seat in order to “learn about fear.” The old missions were good to be sure, and they still are, but a little more thought into some new ones would have gone a long way.

All that might be the bad news, but the good is that the game is still extremely fun. Saints Row is everything a sandbox game should be, as it encourages destruction and mayhem and silliness where other titles take on such concepts with a straight face.

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  1. I’m not a gamer, but I really liked this one. My bf got it and it’s one of the few games I play. I love the character creator and all of the extreme upgrades. I don’t play a lot of the missions, mostly just run around finding cars to collect and pimp out. I also love all of the clothing options, although I do wish there were even more ><.

    The only complaint I have is the god damn traffic. I am not very good at driving, but the game makes it so hard (at least for me) because it seems like every car is trying it's best to pull out in front of you or change lanes in your direction. I do okay in the long stretches, but neighborhoods are a pain in the ass. Using a motorcycle helps for me, though.

  2. I’m not sure exactly which Syndicate leader you are talking about when he hobbles away. The first guy gets killed when you drop that giant sphere thing on him after falling through his tower, Killbane kills one of the De Winters and the other joins your crew, the Decker leader quits after you corner him and the Killbane either escapes or you kill him.

  3. Also one of my favorite things to do after buying all the upgrades is to throw satchel charges on random passerby, letting them freak out and run into a group of gang members and then detonate.

  4. Like you, I started with the second game in the franchise. I wasn’t expecting much from it, besides a GTA clone with the silliness ramped up a bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find the game had some serious heart, solid character interaction, and quite a few really badass cutscenes (house party comes to mind).

    After beating the second game, I had to play the first one. Needless to say, it was a step down in almost every direction, but like the second one, it had a decent story, and some cool moments.

    That left me anxiously awaiting the third installment for the last few years…

    Sadly, I feel incredibly let down. The story is a mess and the new characters are lame (auto-tune pimp?)

    Those are the big problems, here is some nit-picking:

    You can’t replay missions or cutscenes anymore
    You can’t customize your crib anymore
    Where’s the Bezier?

    There’s more, but I’m drawing a blank.

  5. Just a quick note: Another side mission is Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax.

    @ Mandy: Steal a cop car and pimp it out, traffic pulls off to the right whenever you turn the siren on.

    @ Alex: I’ve been playing for a bit and havent unlocked the Satchel Charges yet, what do I need to upgrade?

  6. @ J5: this may be spoilers here, so don’t read if you care about a minor story point but: when you’re on the STAG aircraft carrier you get to choose two prototypes to try out of 3 (VTOL bike, upgraded tank and satchel charges) and you get to keep the two that you choose.

    @ Paul: Yeah, Alex was right, when you’re riding the giant ball that’s falling down Philippe (the Belgian Syndicate leader) is hobbling away and you land on him.

  7. Another problem that I noticed after beating the game is that it becomes impossible to collect all the challenges/ vehicle heists/assassinations if you decide to put all of them off until after you gain 100% control over each island. Unfortunately found this out after I had all the upgrades and control and wanted to finish everything out in order to get all the achievements.

  8. Favorite thing I did today? Skydiving into the restricted area, stealing one of the weaponized Eagles, and luring the Tornadoes back to your rooftop helipad, then using the vehicle control tool to glide the gunships down to where you can hijack them.

    As for the things like assassinations and auto thefts, I’ve been working on those more than the story. Honestly, the story isn’t as interesting this time around, but I’m more interested in the side missions and secrets anyways. Do you have any idea how hard it is to outrun a 3 star police notoriety in a street sweeper?

    One thing I really wish they had was replay. I’d love to go back and re-watch some of the sicker things I’ve done a la Call of Duty. Today, I was speeding along in a sports car, with no notoriety or wanted level at all. All of a sudden a Challenger Tank appears in the opposite direction of travel, and turns across my lane of travel. Instead of flying out the windshield, the car was instantly crushed under the tank, all 4 wheels falling off by the tank, and my paper thin car floated out the other side and landed like a feather on the wind as I died instantly. It was so surreal and unexpected I couldn’t help but laugh.

    Sure, it lacks some of what made Saints Row 2 so good, but its still a helluva lotta fun. And its pretty funny how my Facebook friends keep asking why I’m posting so many status updates about how many people I’ve assassinated or run over (hint: its a lot).

  9. @ Paul

    It becomes almost impossible because after you take over an island 100% then the gang members that owned that island completely disappear from walking around on the street. That becomes a problem when trying to get the achievement/challenge for taunting 50 gang members because it doesn’t work with your gang or opposing gang members once they start shooting at you (which is the case for the only time they appear after you clear the island, during car thefts and survival missions). It also makes the assassination attempt of the guy who only comes out after you kill a bunch of morningstar and a bunch of his hookers nearly impossible (the way I cleared it was driving into the district after completing a car theft that pissed off the Morningstar so I dragged a Morningstar tail into the area). I also have the problem with the cars being destroyed when I enter the area after I defeat STAG (collecting the STAG planes becomes impossible).

  10. correct me if im wrong but the saints serise has always used your phone as a menu, so i find it hard to say it was stolen from gta, you know since the first game was out in 2006 and gta iv was out in 2009, unless THQ went “your phone makes a good menu” and traveled back in time to put it into the Saints Row.

    Saints Row for Life

  11. Definitely a fun and entertaining game, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who found the story a bit shoddy compared to the last two. The whole thing you mentioned about the Saint who apparently dies in the beginning is incredibly lame. I’m really not understanding the decision to have a major character death take place off screen instead of in a badass cutscene. Plus, his death is really vague, so most of us were expecting him to show up again before the game ended. Only he doesn’t. Meaning that when the end came, I wasn’t excited so much as confused and let down.

    Again, good game, lots of fun, but a handful of odd plot decisions for sure.

  12. Whenever you do a game review, it always seems like you’ve skipepd all the cut scenes or something… There’s susually at least a handful of blatantly inaccurate things said about the plot, along with the usual (forgivable, since you’re not a video game website) fallacies about the game and the nature of some of the mechanics (the phone thing here, for instance).

    I don’t know how you missed crushing the mother@#!$er with the giant globe; did you think they just did that to scare him? I’m trying to rememebr the other one you did semi-recently where you made a comment about something being left so ambiguous, and I was left saying “does he play with the sound off? They outright say ‘Wow! X happened to Y! That means Z!” immediately after the scene, but here we are acting like it was the end of Inception (rather than every word of exposition throughout the film).

  13. Paul almost certainly skips the cutscenes. This is a habit I don’t share, but I don’t condemn it. It’s perfectly acceptable to skip them if you don’t care. It is not, however, acceptable to criticize the story in that scenario, because YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE STORY!!! I mean, geez. . . .

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