BRR: Saints Row The Third Review

After a series of humorous trailers and promotions from a wonderful PR team, the oft so promised romp of insanity, Saints Row The Third, was released.  Does it live up to the hype and deliver a cranking good time, let’s find out.

Saints Row The Third Review
release date: 15/11/2011
Platform:  Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Price I Paid: $69.99 (Because of the season pass from THQ’s store)

The game begins with the notion that the once obscure street gang, The Third Street Saints, have made it big and became pop icons thanks to the multibillion dollar clothing company they took over in Saints Row 2.  You are then sent into a bank heist where the main character from the previous two games, who I’ll refer to as the Protagonist, two of your allies from the previous game, and a newcomer actor who plans on being in a movie about The Saints, try to not only steal all the money, but the entire vault as well.  Now, I really like this, it shows how far the protagonists have come during the time between this and the prior game, but also shows how out of touch the saints are with their gang roots, they are ripping out a bank vault for crying out loud.  

Sadly, things do not go according to plan and the Protagonist is captured by a group of gangs who also grew in power, called the Syndicate.  They demand that you hand over 66% of your earnings and join their organizations, or you’ll be whipped off the face of the earth.  The Protagonists are having none of this, and it causes an amazingly well done plane chase and free-fall sequence.  But it results in the death of the only character who is featured throughout the series as a main character as a main character, other than the Protagonist, Johnny Gat.  Admittedly, they handle his death with care during the main story, with the character, Shaundi, pissed off at his death, that still doesn’t excuse the sequence where he dies.  He gets stabbed through the chest, and considering how nutty this game is suppose to be, it’s absurd to think that a flesh wound would kill any main character.  

Note:  I do realize that he was cloned in the Problem With Clones DLC pack, but this was a ripe example of the writers being lazy or not understanding the source material.

I would also like to complain about the leader of the antagonist group from the first act, The Morning Star, namely how underdeveloped he is.  After his death, which is just a giant ball crushing him, no final encounter or anything, he had absolutely no development and we barely even knew the guy.  Compare this to even the first Saints Row game, after nearly every mission you saw the antagonist’s reaction, saw and learned about their character.  Whereas this guy probably didn’t even have 50 lines.  His lack of development is most likely due to the fact that most of the first act is doing activities that are disguised as missions.  But, I’d like to finish my pages of story gripes before I get to the gameplay and its structural missteps.

After you take out the Morning Star’s underdeveloped leader, you are properly introduced to the other two gangs, the Deckers and Luchadores.  They are lead by two unique antagonists, but the Decker leader also feels very underdeveloped, and Killbane, a fairly well done masked wrestler who tries to serve as the game’s main antagonist, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as it should.  I felt very little to no threat from the other gangs, and the leaders apply as well, perhaps that’s because I managed to capture the majority of Steelport before the halfway mark and they are only threatening in large numbers, but then just summon a tank or call in an air strike.  Perhaps it’s also the lack of characters in the gangs besides the leaders.  In both of the prior games, every gang had about 3 core members in it, they were eliminated as the plot progressed and led to an encounter with the leader.  But only one of the gangs has extra characters, the Morning Star.  However, they pull the twin card and don’t really give them distinctive personalities, so I felt nothing when one of them died.  

Yet, it can be argued that are representative of a single group, so they don’t need more than one character per gang, or that they aren’t the main antagonist, but those decisions are still just bad.  You are limiting the characterization of our enemy and removing the main reason for a trinity of gangs if they are all connected, rather than focusing on keeping their turf away from you.  And if they are a trinity, why does the Morning Star control half of the city of Steelport?  I didn’t even properly explore all of their territory before I completed their section of the main story.

By the main antagonists I was referring to STAG, a military group that seems bland despite their sonic boom cannons and laser helicopter-jets from the year 2080.  They appear right in the middle of the game and derail the pot from the Syndicate, only to wrap that plot up, move back to the Syndicate, and end up taking turns until you decide in the final mission.  It reminds me of how comic book movies try to add more villains per movie in an attempt to raise the stakes. But even those don’t wait until the one hour mark for the film’s real antagonist to appear, focus on them for half an hour, finish up the old villain’s plot line, and then return to the newer villain.  I do admit that it’s fun to play with the STAG’s toys.  They break the flow and it does seem insane that a government, or any kind of authority, would spend about 800 billion dollars trying to get rid of some gangs.  You are pop icons with a very negative message, I can understand how them having an urban war can be considered a problem, but you don’t make flying battleships to take care of them.  

Yet, I’m still not at my biggest gripe with the narrative, the ending, or should I say endings.  

This game is the first Saints Row title with some form of narrative control, it mostly results in monetary and Respect bonuses, but occasionally changes the plot.  partway through the second to final mission, you are given a choice whether you want to let Killbane live to fight another day, save two of your allies, star in a poorly done parody of 1950’s B-movies, and become heroes in the public’s eyes.  Or kill two of your allies, kill Killbane, become terrorists in the public’s eyes, create a city-state, and kill Burt Reynolds.  The first seems more plausible, although maybe not given my description thus far, but the later one is done far more like the canonical ending, which would be stupid.  How can you run a city-state and maintain the feeling of a sandbox?  You end up with the schematics of an airborne battleship, which doesn’t seem like a wacky thing to do at all.  

I believe this was done to give the game a more logical sense of progression, allow me to elaborate.  In the first two games, you gained districts of the city by progressing the story, but now you can own most of the city by buying stores, completing activities, and going to optional strongholds.  However, before the end of the first act, you can own the majority of all of Steelport, the new and smaller city.  I lack any data to back me up, but Steelport just feels smaller, and like there is a lot less to do, boat are basically useless, the areas are less memorable, and the game gives you Helicopters very early on in the game, making the world feel a lot less like grounds for exploration, and more of a hub for your destinations.  

Unlike in Saints Row 2, you don’t need to play activities to unlock buffs for your character, which you’ll need, considering that I felt significantly weaker than how I felt in Saints Row 2.  This causes the game to feel shorter than it actually is, since you no longer need to do an activity every time you want to do a mission.  I can see how people would not like that, but the activities were, and still are far from a chore.  

Although, maybe it’s to distract us from the removal of several activities.  There is no more Fuzz, Septic Avenger, Demolition Derby, or Fight Club.  Now I can understand why Fight Club was removed, the melee system has become a simple, press right stick to hit the dude’s crotch system.  But why would you remove genuinely fun activities that would greatly advertise this game’s insanity?  They even mentioned Septic Avenger in the only brand new, and very fun, activity, Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, a Japanese gameshow where you shoot targets and mascots with laser guns in order to obtain cash prizes and time bonuses.  Although, there are some other ‘new’ activities, but they’re just slightly modified versions of others.  A new addition of Escot, an activity where you hide a whore and their customer from suicidal news reporters, except now you’re driving around with a tiger.  Mayhem, where you blow up cars and fences for combos, now has an absurdly easy version where you are driving a tank, but you could do that in normal Mayhem, so what’s the point?  There is a new version of Trailblazing, where you are riding a tron motorcycle and crashing into cyber-tanks, which is obviously better than setting a university on fire whilst in a buggy.  And they modified Helicopter Assault to include sniping sections, only gave it two instances, and called it Guardian Angel.  They are all fun and I appreciate their inclusion, but they feel like they were made instead of bringing over other activities.  Although, I think my main gripe might be that every activity now only has 6 instances, as apposed to 12.

I also believe the character customization to be very limited in comparison to Saints Row 2, the character builds are designed to look a lot more attractive than the 70-500 pound monstrosities that you could create in the previous game, with about 300 pounds being the new maximum, this also reflects in the wardrobe.  For the most part it seems more like an expanded Jack’s Tread catalog, with the exception of the furry suits that you can get from the costume emporium, which felt lacking, probably since a lot of it is reserved for DLC packs.  It feels very limited, since you no longer have 3 upper body pieces, socks, and can not tilt hats or zip/unzip jackets.  Although, you can make pink haired sexual deviants made out of crystal, so it’s not all that bad.  Although, I do really like the colorful art style, it’s very reminiscent of the first one, but with graphical aspects far better than the second one.  Except there are some manga based influences in the overall art direction, which makes the game look good despite character models that have fairly low quality textures.  Although, it’s not all good from a technical aspect, namely how I often encountered vehicles, mostly tanks, that spawned in less than 100 meters in front of the Protagonist, which is surprising considering how smoothly the rest of the game runs.  

To shift topics, I feel like the game is hard early on, and for all the wrong reasons.  Based on the two introductory missions, I was assuming that I’d be kicking ass and taking names, sadly that is not the reality.  The game just feels hard for the wrong reasons, I can’t do enough damage, I die easier than I should, and these mini-bosses know as Brutes are a pain.  They can toss over cars and take 40 maximum level pistol headshots to bring down.  However, in an attempt to balance this, they allow you to buy upgrades based on your Respect level and to buy upgrades for your weapons, the main way to get money in the game is by completing activities, missions, and buying proprietary to get ‘hourly’ income.  Which I would not mind, except for the ability to become immune to bullets and explosions, which breaks gameplay faster than one can say, “What’s not fun about permanent god mode?”

The system itself is very exploitable, but that’s not what annoys me, it’s that these upgrades are required if you want to live.  Perhaps I was just annoying the new and well done ability to grab human shields and develop new strategies, but using them is only smart when you don’t have vehicles trying to run you over, or everyone all around you, which is all the time.  I am impressed by a game showing 50 enemies on screen, but without a Gatling gun or laser cannon, there is nothing I can do but hide behind an invincible concrete wall and let my health regenerate.  

That’s not to say that the gameplay is bad, it can be very intense at some parts and completely awesome at others, namely the https://deckers.die and Murderbrawl XXXI, which were some of the most insane and overall best missions I’ve played in the past three years and refuse to talk about them in fear of those who didn’t get to play them yet receiving spoilers.  And the driving of both the aircrafts and cars if improved to a level I thought impossible, I never had any trouble controlling my car unless it was a street sweeper or something, same goes with aircrafts, which were actually good enough to make me, someone who loathed inverted controls, enjoy them.

The audio aspects are also improved, the soundtrack is a respectable mix of tunes, although I believe that The Mix is notably lower in quality, but that’s just me being the kind of guy who learned to appreciate music by playing these games.  However, I do believe that the music is used better, with Kanye West’s Power playing as you capture a penthouse, A sing-along to Sublime’s What I Got while you’re getting used to the city of Stillwater and buying some knickers with your friend Pierce.  And I Need A Hero playing during the frantic climax of the game.  They are all songs that enhance the mood and really got my blood pumping. 

Despite my endless story centered gripes, I do enjoy Saints Row: The Third, while there are many, many missteps, and the game just feel like it has less content than Saints Row 2, which took me 35 hours to get 91%, whereas this game took me less than 25 hours to get “100%”.  The storyline feeling jumbled and poorly planned, compared to the competently done storylines of the first two titles in the series.  The characters also seem to be added in waves, so there is a lack of development for most of them.  But that doesn’t stop the game from being a lot of fun.  This is the kind of game where you can beat up Furries with a dildo bat, while you are dressed up like a sex doll.  Hell, there is an entire multiplayer activity devoted to just that.  It may just be my fandom getting in the way, yet Saints Row: The Third, feels like an even better version of Saints Row 2, but with a boatload of stripped away content, and a story that was either thought up at the last minute.  The peaks of this game are the highest in the series, but the dips are also the lowest.  I can recommend Saints Row: The Third, but for only less than $40.  I was very excited for the DLC, but I was more than a little bit disappointed by the final products.

There are evident flaws, but the game still manages to remain fun and the game is competent in its execution.

NOTE:  I found out after writing this review that only 20% of the staff of Saints Row: The Third worked on a Saints Row title before this one.  The 80% who were new to this series needed heavy direction and had to be told over and over again that a far in a jar is a-okay.  There was also a Parkour system which I would have loved to death, but it was removed due to processing limitations.  Either way, I’m still psyched for the possibilities of Saints Row: To the Fourth Powah!

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