The lights are on
When I first got a subscription to GI, I read a review about a game that let you create an obese female gangster with a mustache dressed as a hot dog. That game, Saints Row 2, turned out to be the best crime-style open world game I'd ever played, trumping GTA Vice City, San Andreas, III and IV. So, expectedly, I was excited when reading about the sequel, Saints Row The Third. And believe me: it lives up to all the hype and more.
As many well know, SRtT begins with a hilarious, over-the-top, action-filled bank heist that inevitably goes awry. The next mission involves a plane, snazzy lounge music, brutal melee takedowns, and a freefalling chase through what seems like endless cargo that would make any action movie buff breathless. New characters come into play, such as the conspiracy theorist and super-techie FBI agent Kinzie Kensington, and the auto-tuned, smooth-talking pimp Zimos. Although the game is noticeably shorter than its predecessor, it means each mission is interesting and memorable, especially the missions involving the leaders of the Deckers and the Luchadores (two words: Tron and WWE).
Of course, there are a slew of activities and diversions to engage in when not fraternizing with the most interesting people in Steelport. Professer Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax is by far the best addition to the group, but every activity is appealing, from the satisfying ca-ching!-filled Tank Mayhem to the frantic Tiger Escort. Some returning activities like Trafficking and Snatch eventually become predictable, but differing banter and constant action keeps them from getting dull.
Gameplay is top-notch, and never feels clunky or unfair. Driving has been majorly improved since SR2, and gunplay is quick, smooth, and extremely precise, which is quite a feat when the guns in question range from standard .45 Shepards to Cyber Blasters. I had very little problems with the gun selection wheel, and the addition of the 'awesome button' modifier made little events like attacking a pedestrian or stealing a car amusing and awesome.
One of the things that has always set Saints Row above GTA for me is customization, whether it be cars, characters, gang members, or now weapons. Even though you can no longer choose the expression on your characters face or change how they walk, the customization is still extremely deep and rewarding, particularly the fact that there's no division between male and female styles; men can wear everything that women can. Car customization is extremely fun, and upgrading weapons is an addition that I can't imagine playing a SR game without.
With the rejection of competitive multiplayer, co-op is the main focus for online play. Although I was disappointed with the realization that there's no splitscreen co-op, the online play is handled very well, and I had hours upon hours of entertainment simply getting five stars of noteriety with a gang with an online friend. Whored Mode (Volition's clever take on Horde Mode) is interesting as well, and although I've only tried it once, I plan to invest time in it mercilessly with a co-op buddy.
It's refreshing to see such a colorful, hilarious, action-filled, and unbelievable game as Saints Row The Third among the sea of serious, dramatic, meaningful games that aren't well suited to a quick gaming session. Saints Row should definitely be considered a runner for Game of the Year, and is worth every bit of your $60.