Another Rise To Power

by Jeff Cork on Mar 23, 2011 at 09:00 AM

In just a few short years, the 3rd Street Saints have grown from a small group of thugs to a major commercial force, with endorsement deals and piles of cash large enough to make Scrooge McDuck envious. That’s great news for the gang, but it’s a tricky setup for Saints Row: The Third. What do you do when you’re at the top of your game? The guys at Volition found the solution: get tossed out of a plane. Once you land in Steelport, it’s up to you to take over the all-new city from scratch.

“When you first get to Steelport, you immediately realize that the Syndicate has locked out all of your cash and that the Saints aren’t around you,” says the game’s lead designer, Scott Phillips. “It’s just you and Shaundi, essentially stuck on your own.”

Backup is only a phone call away, though. The player calls home and gets in touch with Saints lieutenant Pierce, who says he’ll mobilize as many Saints as he can and head to Steelport. Around the same time, Shaundi has a great idea on where the Saints can score some weapons—the National Guard armory. After that mission, Pierce, Shaundi, and the player put their heads together and strategize. Pierce and Shaundi have a little background on the Syndicate, and it becomes clear that the criminal collective will have to be eliminated if the Saints have any hopes of gaining traction in town.

First, however, the Steelport Saints are going to have to upgrade their living situation. “Eventually you decide that you need a better base than just some s----- apartment, so you go and attack a Syndicate penthouse, where they’re having a huge party,” says Phillips. That raid provides more than a posh place to crash. Since they were taken by surprise, the Syndicate has left behind documents and other information that provides valuable intel on the group’s inner workings. Now that they have a deeper insight into how they tick, the Saints are better equipped to take them out. That is, they will be once they’re fully resupplied.

Saints Row: The Third continues the series’ basic structure, where players slowly take over a city through various activities, like insurance fraud and tank mayhem. Complete these activities, and you kick gangs out of specific areas. You also earn money, which can be used to purchase business and strongholds. To fully move a gang out of an area, you’ll have to take out their flashpoint zones. “These are areas that the Syndicate will defend with their troops, because they’re key transfer points for their drugs or anything that earns them money; the guns the drugs, the steroids, the parties,” says Phillips. “The Saints come in and kick them out of it, the Saints roll in, and from then on the Saints will show up in that location.”

Those AI accomplices are key parts of the city. Players can recruit them off the street to accompany them during missions and other activities. As the Saints gain more of a foothold in Steelport, they become better equipped to deal with resistance, as well.

The most visible way players can make their mark on the city is through the strongholds system. Don’t think that the penthouse is the only place you’ll be able to call home. There are also skyscrapers and casinos up for grabs, as well as Phillips’ favorite in-game place. “[It’s] kind of a BDSM Playboy Mansion kind of place. If you also think of the movie Taken with Liam Neeson, it’s kind of like that. It’s a little dirty, a little disturbing, but it’s also nice, and there are people hanging out in the grotto.”

Strongholds can be upgraded, and those upgrades directly affect your gang. Phillips says the mansion can be upgraded several times, until it’s basically the biggest building in Steelport. “By upgrading that, your gang will get stronger and the people who spawn out in the street will go from pistols to SMGs to rifles. It’s a modifier for that territory, for the cash that you earn, for the respect that you earn in that area. It’s kind of like creating a ring of power; it just makes everything in that area better and better and better.”

Taking over a city is fun, but it’s also tough to balance. Once you start gaining momentum, games that feature similar mechanics tend to have economies that break down. Phillips says that the team has been keenly aware of that problem, and that they’ve taken steps to make sure things stay interesting. “Even if you do own large parts of the city, we have enough ways for you to spend that cash, so it’s not going to be like Saints Row 2, where cash and respect very quickly lose their usefulness,” he says.

Following a character’s rise to power is a proven storytelling technique, and it’s one that’s served Saints Row well in the past. It’s good to have a change of venue with the third game, and it’s nice to not have to start completely over from scratch. Sure, driving people around might make sense when you’re first starting out, but it doesn’t really work when you’re already running another town. One thing’s for certain: Steelport’s map is going to be saturated in purple before it’s over.