Saints Row – a series that is equal parts essential and disposable. The first instalment providing the Grand Theft Auto patch that Xbox 360 early adopters craved, with enough personality, flair, and humour to be considered essential. The sequel returned to a familiar space but took the vulgarity and nihilism hinted at in the first game to near-unacceptable levels. It also felt like an unpolished turd after GTA IV's release just months earlier, which featured a polished game world that felt alive. Saints Row: The Third gets the f#@k outta dodge with a new setting, and a set of missions and activities that makes its predecessors look sober by comparison.
Back to school – I sincerely hope that Rockstar North – or any developer of open world action games, for that matter – takes notice of the opening act of Saints Row: The Third. There's no errand boy boredom on offer here. While there are some missteps throughout the adventure, most missions are designed and paced in a way that is undeniably fun. Stealing a bank vault by helicopter, and sky-diving into a rival's penthouse pool party are highlights that appear in the first few hours. The slightly more-intelligent friendly AI and forgiving vehicle physics also served to counter the frustration that I encountered in previous games in the series.
By the end, moments like this will feel sedate
Great salad – While the steak that is the main quest line offers a great deal of fun, an addictive real estate meta game and activities like Trailblazing and Insurance Fraud make for a disturbingly enjoyable side salad. While a lot of these activities return from earlier instalments, they're scored more generously this time around, and are more enjoyable as a result.
Smarter than the average – While the humour tends to be a little more explicit and infinitely more crass than its competitors, Saints Row: The Third raises the bar by taking aim at pop culture phenomena and American foreign policy. There are still some remnants of the series' frat boy roots here, but they are for the most part undone by spectacularly-vulgar jabs at the everyday. Definitely not what I expected from a series that once had me spraying structures with raw sewage.
Commando – The arsenal of upgradable weapons and abilities available to players in Saints Row: The Third offer satisfaction, side-splitting laughs, and often had me pondering "Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" Sure it may not be appropriate to have an incendiary SMG in a game like Grand Theft Auto IV, but something similar would have been a perfect fit for Volition's Red Faction games. Pistols with explosive ammo that can propel enemies into the air, a Mega Buster-esque arm cannon, and the terrifying Apoco-Fists were other personal favourites. Then there's the Bo-Duke-En, a Dukes of Hazzard-inspired move that allows you to enter cars stylishly, but at the expense of closed windows and windscreens. Glass everywhere.
Where were you in '92? – Generally speaking, the sound design found in Saints Row: The Third is exceptional. The general citizenry of Steelport may not have much to say for themselves, but the central cast deliver an outstanding experience; especially given the lunacy of the plot at large. Not one character – not even the auto-tuned pimp, Zimos – is over-acted, and I often found myself chuckling at my own character's incomprehensible zombie dialogue (that my homies were somehow able to understand). Guns, explosions and collisions also have that comical oomph that matches the floaty vehicle physics, and wacky on-screen action. The soundtrack isn't flawless, but you can distill your favourite tunes from each radio station into a mixtape that conveniently shows up in any vehicle that you commandeer. That being said, I almost always found myself tuned-in to the Adult Swim station.
Big bugs – While it didn't happen often enough to discourage play, some pretty big glitches occurred throughout my playthrough that required patience at the very least, or a full restart at its worst. One particularly frustrating hiccup occurred during the final mission, when a wrecked VTOL fuselage landed on a catwalk that I needed to ascend in order to reach the next checkpoint. I couldn't clear the clutter with weaponry and I couldn't crawl under it. Instead, I had to backtrack for five minutes and wait for it to disappear. Other bugs included the GPS failing entirely, and certain context sensitive commands not working. In both of these instances, I had to turn my console off and start again.
One hand clapping – Throughout the campaign you'll be presented with several choices in pivotal missions, only once did the question asked cause me to stop and take stock. The characters in Saints Row: The Third feel somewhat disposable, even though they're voiced expertly. This may have a lot to do with the fact that most decisions involve money, respect or the granting of an additional (usable) homie. As your empire grows, very few of these outcomes present any real benefit to the player (as you'll be blessed with an abundance of each from early on), and as a result, they lack weight.
American Psycho – For the first few hours at least, I found the inherent nihilism in Saints Row: The Third to be somewhat unsettling. There never seems to be any consequences for any of your transgressions. The Steelport police are near-powerless to stop your player character's unbridled thuggery. Upgrades that increase your health, damage resistance, ammo count, and weapon effectiveness render most threats impotent before they're even introduced. Despite the narrative implying that a gang war is escalating, there's no real sense of tension. Even the presence of a paramilitary organisation failed to evoke any fear, or impose too greatly on my routine. The game tried to make me feel as though the whole world was against me, but there was little that put a stop to my antics.
Saints Row: The Third represents fun in its most unadulterated and immediate form. From start to finish, you will literally be hanging from helicopters, swinging dildos and generally blowing shit up. The pace never lets up, and very rarely did I find myself wanting for anything. There are issues with purpose, but the game is so unbelievably loud that it simply can't be ignored; and thus, shouldn't be missed. Highly recommended to the cynical, the jaded, the young at heart, and the easily bored: trust me, you will find something to like in this game.
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