The lights are on
There are a lot of games out there that allow you to customize your character, complete dozens of side quests, and indulge in building a criminal empire. There are very few games that allow you to do all this while dressed as a wolf and wielding a three foot ***. If you take the basic template of the GTA games, and replace the frustrating parts with an emphasis on having fun at every twist and turn, Saints Row: The Third is what you end up with.
Concept: Take all the fun parts of the Grand Theft Auto format, and make them even more fun.
Graphics: It might not be the prettiest game out there, but a vibrant color palette and huge amount of customizable options for your character and vehicles more than make up for it.
Sound: Sounds effects are solid, but the treat here is the 100+ licensed tracks in the soundtrack.
Controls: Your standard layout of aim, shoot, grenade, melee, run, etc. Easy to pick up and jump into the action.
Replay value: Higher, for new purchases or people willing to shell out the extra $10 for an online pass. Less so for everyone else.
Billy Joel once sang, "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints // the sinners are much more fun." Saints Row: The Third seeks to undo that theory by letting you play as the Third Street Saints, and in doing so, creates one of the most entertaining gaming experiences of the past few years,
You only need a few minutes of gameplay to realize the level of absurdity this game is aiming for. The opening mission is a heist that results in your character hanging onto a bank vault as it's being dragged out of the building by a helicopter. The rest of the game follows this tone; a ridiculously overblown Hollywood spectacle with enough tongue-in-cheek charm to remind you that the development team knows how silly the entire premise is, and yes, they just want you to have fun with it all.
Furry with a rocket launcher; what could go wrong?
And there's plenty of fun to be had. Steelport is a huge city, broken into multiple districts, each under the control of a rival gang for you to take the fight to. Besides the linear story missions, you have an array of activities and side quests, including car hijackings, causing a target amount of property damage with a tank, and "insurance fraud," where you willingly leap into traffic to earn cash proportional to the damage you take. There are also various collectible items, such as money stacks and blow-up dolls scattered around the city, as well as challenges, such as riding a certain distance in oncoming traffic or running around fully nude for a certain amount of time.
Doing almost anything in Saints Row: The Third earns you cash and respect (i.e. experience,) and leveling up unlocks new perks and abilities, such as extra ammo for your weapons, taking less damage, or calling in allies to help in battle. Reaching the level cap of 50 unlocks a set of abilities that may as well be cheat codes, because at that point you can unlock immunity to most types of damage, and unlimited ammo for all weapon types. And in order to keep the cash flowing to unlock all those goodies, taking certain objectives adds to your "hourly income" (which feels closer to about 15 minutes in reality) which you can transfer to your account from your cell phone menu screen.
Besides your headquarters, your income is boosted buy purchasing various properties around the city, from gun shops to apartment buildings, with each property contributing 10% of its purchase price towards your hourly income. You can also spend that cash buying upgrades for your weapons, tricking out your vehicle armada, buying clothes, or re-tooling your character at a plastic surgeon that can change anything from your hair color to gender.
There's a slight dip when it comes to replay value, as the few decisions you're asked to make along the way don't significantly impact the story or cut scenes in any way, and nothing prevents you from progressing or getting either of the two endings. In fact, once you choose the path to get one ending, the game allows you to re-play the last mission again to get the second ending without starting a new game. Other than shooting for a higher difficulty setting, there's little reason to start a new game, other than to enjoy the whole campaign again in co-op with a friend.
[MINOR SPOILER: I'd suggest you choose to get the "Apoco-fists" when you get the choice; being able to punch cars around and splatter enemies is too much fun, and it's one of the few items you can't go back to get otherwise.]
Once you complete the entire game (including all activities and collectibles) for an area, that gang is exiled. Forever. So is the paramilitary force you encounter later on. In other words, the only enemies you'll encounter after that point are the police (and then SWAT and national guard as your notoriety builds up.) It's sort of a let-down in a game that offers so much variety elsewhere, to limit you to one type of enemy once you've done everything.
Thankfully, there's never a shortage of cars to explode, or stylish clothes to wear.
One other disappointment is the implementation of the screen shot camera. By linking your account to a saintsrow.com/THQ account, you can enable the camera option and press down on the d-pad to take a screen shot. Unfortunately, you can't view them in-game; they're uploaded to THQ's website, and users (myself included) are still experiencing all manner of difficulties viewing and managing screen shots via their website. It's a real shame, because being able to capture a moment of the chaos you're bound to create in this game would have been a great perk, and one that a lot of games don't offer, even today.
As mentioned above, unless you bought it new or purchased the online pass, you won't be able to play the game in co-op with a friend, or enjoy the pun-intended "Whored Mode" survival game. Unlike EA games, THQ's policy doesn't seem to include a two-day trial, so renters won't even get a taste of co-op in order to decide if the extra $10 is worth it.
Despite a few mis-steps, Saints Row: The Third is still one of the most entertaining games in recent memory, and proves that the "criminal empire" genre still has a lot of life (and explosions) left in it.
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