A few months ago, on the N4G Podcast, I mentioned that I had brushed off the Saints Row series many years ago after trying the demo for the first game. My compatriots jumped in and immediately told me that I had missed out on a gem in Saints Row 2, and that I should keep my eye on Saints Row The Third.
“Really, guys? Isn’t it just a Grand Theft Auto with a heavier gang theme?” And it’s right there that many people, including me, misjudge the series. Now, with the third entry in the franchise, THQ and Volition have set out to, once and for all, completely differentiate themselves from Rockstar’s flagship series and, in the process, succeed with flying multicolored fireworks from a mind-controlling octopus.
While Ken and I both rated the game highly, with him covering the console release and me covering the PC, our perspectives differ. He’s been a fan of the series and I’m coming into it new, so make sure you check out his thoughts, as well. First, I want to point out that, unlike the PC version of Saints Row 2, Volition did all of the work in house. They recently admitted that the port of SR2 was less than ideal, but the PC version of Saints Row The Third is everything that the console version is and more.
If you haven’t created your character in the Saints Row Initiation Station (a free download on 360, PS3 and Steam), you’ll have the opportunity to do so shortly after you begin in the story. If you are interested in getting a head start with the Initiation Station, make sure you know which platform you’ll be playing on because a character created on one platform cannot be used on another. Speaking of the story, like everything in Saints Row, it is over the top and hilarious. More importantly, you’ll get more action and insanity in the first 10 minutes than you will in the entirety of some other games.
After the thrilling start to the tale, you’ll quickly gain access to important tools: strongholds where you can change armaments, clothing and cars; and your phone, which gives you access to missions, upgrades, side jobs, homies and more. Between the two of these, you’ll have everything you need to wreak havoc on the streets of Steelport. Unlike some games, Saints Row: The Third gives you early access to weapons specializing in overkill. Restraint is simply not in Volition’s vocabulary.
When you get into a car for the first time, you’ll find that the driving controls are fluid, and even the largest of vehicles handle well enough to be usable. The damage modeling and the way the cars reacted to different types of damage impressed me. Having a blown tire doesn’t just slow you down. You’ll find the car pulls and you’ll need to constantly compensate. With the available cruise control, allowing you to focus on shooting while behind the wheel, and the GPS, which puts arrows on the main game screen in addition to the mini-map, driving is extremely enjoyable. When you have a homie with you, they will smartly open fire on enemies from the passenger seat, making them more than just cannon fodder.
On foot, the shooting and melee combat is beyond satisfying. More importantly, it’s fun. You can access your available armaments via a weapon wheel, making fast switches between firearms extremely easy. Many actions can be augmented by the “Awesome Button.” By holding this down while you engage in a standard action like getting into a car or performing a melee attack, you’ll do something special. Instead of just jacking a car, you’ll jump kick through the windshield, knocking the hapless driver from the car. Melee attacks become brutal, comical assaults. The addition of the “Awesome Button” is, for lack of a better word, awesome.
You can carry one weapon in each category (pistol, rifle, shotgun, etc.) and there are special weapons that you can pick up that cannot be stored. These flamethrowers, miniguns and rapid-fire grenade launchers can lay waste to large swaths of rival gang members, vehicles and more, with ease. Of course, laying into the opposition means that they’ll start calling out the big guns. Each faction has oversized brutes that can soak up damage and deal it out. These encounters are fun and result in the most excessive finishing moves. Taking down one of these hulks felt very satisfying each and every time.
As you mow down the opposition or engage in non-combat activities like driving dangerously, buying clothing, upgrading a car (which is an investment, as the upgraded cars can be called up from your garage or delivered via mobile phone) and more, you’ll earn all-important respect. As you increase your respect level, you’ll be able to spend your cash on upgrades for your character, homies, vehicles and weapons. While the system isn’t really anything more than a basic XP mechanic, it works very well and the upgrades you can buy do substantially impact your gameplay. Having smarter, stronger homies with you is great, especially since the AI on foot is as good as it is in-vehicle.
If you want to take a break from the main story mode, there are plenty of side activities to participate in. Whether you’re stealing specific cars for a chop shop, assassinating targets, quelling rival gang operations, committing insurance fraud or simply finding hidden sex dolls and photo opportunities, there is a bunch of stuff that will keep you busy. Sure, you can just play around in the sandbox if you want, and believe me, it is tons of fun to do so, but if you’re in it for the mayhem, THQ and Volition have you covered outside of the main mode.
Previous installments of the Saints Row series have included competitive multiplayer. If that’s your thing, you may notice the absence of those modes, but what’s left is a better fit for the series. Saints Row: The Third features co-operative play in the main campaign and the new Whored Mode. Yes. Whored Mode. Each level puts you in the middle of a crazy scenario, whether it’s miniature zombies after your flesh or a mob of angry furries, the humor is dialed up to 11 and, with the fidelity of the shooting, it’s a blast to play.
The beauty of the PC version is that you’ll be able to share your exploits with your friends. There is a screenshot option that uploads your pics to the Saints Row community site. Additionally, you are able to save video clips to your hard drive. Turning the option on allows you to select 480p, 720p or 1080p and whether or not you want to turn the HUD off. With one button press, the game will export the recent gameplay footage, which means that you won’t have to worry about pressing record until after something cool happens. The one thing you lose by having the video recording feature active is the music. Due to licensing issues, the fantastic radio stations are disabled. Speaking of the radio stations, you’ll be able to mix and match your favorite tunes using the mixtape option, it’s a small thing that just exemplifies the level of care put into the game.
Visually, the game maintains the cartoony look, wisely veering away from the ultrarealistic. The game is gorgeous, filled with bright colors, fluid animations and spectacular explosions. The fidelity, even at mid-range settings, is fantastic. Controls are solid, whether you choose to use the gamepad features or not. Unless you are a diehard keyboard and mouse user, the gamepad is an option you should at least try.
Saints Row The Third surprised the heck out of me. The GTA comparisons are inevitable, but they are vastly different games. While both hold a mirror up to reality, the reflections are vastly different. As absurd as GTA gets, it still keeps one foot firmly planted in reality. Saints Row has taken a flying leap off the roof of reality, howling the F-bomb while chugging a licensed energy drink all the way down- and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Review copy provided by publisher.