Review: Saints Row: The Third is crazy, crass and a whole lot of fun

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Saints Row: The Third, the latest third-person action game from developer Volition and publisher THQ, blasts its way into the hectic Winter gaming marketplace, with more spectacular set pieces than a blockbuster movie, a huge array of customization options, and absolutely no sense of shame whatsoever. Following the two previous Saints Row titles, this latest installment lets you play the leader of the 3rd Street Saints, who are embroiled in a turf war with The Syndicate, a rival criminal gang in the fictional city of Steelport. Playing out in an open-world environment that encourages exploration, experimentation and general goofing around, the game makes clear its intentions from the beginning, namely to provide gamers with an exciting, fun and downright crazy experience, albeit not one for the easily offended. No longer just a street gang, the Saints are now a full-fledged crime syndicate.

Who do you want to be today?

Following the game’s first mission, you arrive at the character customization screen, and get to create the leader of the Saints, whom you will play as for the duration of the story. The range of customization options available invites you to be creative, with a generic action hero type being one of the least attractive options. Everything from permanent tattoos to double chin height is definable, and there is a range of skin tones that can make your character look more like something from a comic book, than a traditional action game.

In the custom settings, there is a cheeky option to alter ‘sex appeal’, which essentially reduces something that psychologists have argued about for decades, to the simple act of enlarging a man’s manhood, or a woman’s breasts. While that particular option is not subtle, there is no doubting the overall depth of the effects on offer, when you see some of the creations that the Saints Row community have come up with. (THQ released the avatar creator early to get the community stoked) As well as new unique characters, users have managed to craft realistic models of Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Lara Croft, and Peter Griffin from Family Guy, to name but a few. Personally, I was quite happy with the Mohawk-touting cross between Tony Soprano and the Silver Surfer that I managed to piece together in about ten minutes.

Dressing your character is also a mini-adventure in its own right, with a basic range of clothes available to begin with, plus more that can be unlocked through completing missions or shopping in the Saints stores. From wristbands and glasses, through to giant monkey masks and gimp suits, there is literally something there for everyone. If you don’t wish to show off your sartorial elegance, however, you can always choose to run around Steelport in the buff, with some carefully placed pixelation hiding the more personal details. In true Saints Row style, Volition has even built-in a side mission that requires you to shock passers-by, by streaking near them.

Anything but dull

While playing through the first few missions in Saints Row: The Third, you soon come to realize that the game won’t be forcing you to do anything dull. Barring a few more low-key events, the missions are generally bold, brash, funny, and chock full of gun-fights and explosions. As you progress further through the story, the missions get exponentially more insane, along with the weapons and vehicles that you can use to complete them.

Volition has certainly taken a refreshing approach in the making of Saints Row: The Third. While some games are striving to reach new levels of realism and immersion, Saints Row is quite content just to be a game, and in doing so it offers some really crazy experiences, that simply could not be reproduced in any other medium. Without wishing to proffer too many spoilers, some of my personal highlights included parachuting into a nuclear reactor, beating a masked wrestler around the head with a giant shark, causing waves of ‘infected’ citizens to explode with a gun ripped from a virtual reality game, and a gloriously inappropriate use of the Joe Esposito song “You’re The Best Around”.

Third person shooting

Whilst you start Saints Row: The Third with a limited arsenal of weapons, over the course of the game you accumulate some incredible pieces of technology, and can also upgrade some very basic weapons to be devastatingly effective. I found nothing more satisfying than sending a room full of enemies into a coughing frenzy with a casually tossed ‘fart in a jar’, before mowing then down with a pyrotechnic sub machine gun. Other personal weapons of choice included the RC Gun, which allows you to take remote control of any vehicle and explode it at will, and the sex toy bat, a giant purple dildo which is a particularly effective means of bludgeoning people around the head.

The gunplay in Saints Row feels pretty tight, with the third-person view working no better or worse than it generally does for shooting. There is no cover system in place, which is quite rare to see in a third person shooter these days. Whilst it is nice to be free of the problems a cover system sometimes brings with it, it does sometime feel like you are a sitting duck at a carnival sideshow, with nowhere to hide and bullets flying at you from all sides. Having said that, Saints Row is anything but a stealth game, and the best form or defence is usually attack, something which is eminently satisfying here, as bodies and vehicles fly around, amidst seas of explosions.