Review: Saints Row: The Third (PS3)

Title: Saints Row: The Third
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (7332 MB)
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition Inc.
Original MSRP: 59.99 (Blu-ray Disc) / $39.99 (PSN)
ESRB Rating: M
Saints Row: The Third is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

You start Saints Row: The Third as the leader of the Third Street Saints in the new city of Steelport. Your job, as typical in the Saints Row franchise, is to take over the city and earn respect by doing various missions. All of this in an effort to take down the Syndicate, a powerful crime organization that is after the Saints’ money. Any urban open world game is bound to get compared to Grand Theft Auto, but Saints Row: The Third is able to separate itself from the competition. It’s almost like all of Volition, the game’s creators, got in a room and just asked, “How far can we take this?” That’s what Saints Row: The Third is able to do so well: going beyond the normality previously established in an open world game.

The shenanigans start with the opening mission, which involves lifting a vault right out of the roof of a bank and then shooting down helicopters mid-flight. Later, the player is stealing bombs from a military base, sky diving on a rival gang’s rooftop condo party, and parading through a mansion, naked and drugged-up, shooting their way through wave after wave of enemies. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the missions do get crazier as you continue through the game. Admittedly, the story does get lost in the zaniness and I forgot the purpose of what I was doing a couple of times, but that did not take away from the pure fun I had doing each mission.

The mission variety carries over to the side missions as well. To take over a section of the city, the player must complete a task that corresponds with that part of town, much like Infamous. Sometimes it is as simple as purchasing a local meth lab or strip club, which also helps the character earn more hourly income. Other times, the player is put into a side mission, the usual fare of fetch and escort missions. Volition is able to take these ideas and again, bring them to the extreme. The character will escort tigers in convertibles, fetch hoes for a pimp, throw themselves in front of moving vehicles to get insurance fraud, or roll a tank through town, destroying anything and everything, just to name a few. There are all sorts of challenges, assassinations and grand theft autos, to take care of as well, which add to the game’s longevity. The variety in mission types and difficulty levels keep these side missions from becoming stale and not once did I get bored doing one in my over thirty hours of playing the game.

After each mission, the character gets more respect, which translates into customization points. Customization is one of Saints Row: The Third’s strongest areas. After the opening scene, the player is thrown into one of the deepest character customizations screens I’ve ever seen. The options in this section are nearly overwhelming. My favorite part is the “Sex Appeal” section, which increases or decreases the size of certain body parts, depending on whether you are a male or female. The attire in Saints Row: The Third is just as deep. There are several stores scattered across Steelport that allow you to find just the right set of clothes for your character, unless, of course, you choose to run around naked (blurry textures included). You can also customize your cars, your cribs, and even your fellow gang members. There are small RPG elements involved, which allows you to pick and choose perks for your character as you level up. It is nothing expansive, but it is a nice touch to add to the customization and variety.

The actual game play is solid. Each car drives differently. Each gun shoots and feels different. Headshots feel satisfying. With the variety that Volition has put into the game, it is truly amazing how smooth they make the experience. Gun fights can get frustrating due to a lack of a real cover system, but I was just forced to adapt. Saints Row: The Third isn’t a merry-go-round, it’s a roller coaster. A stop and go cover system just didn’t make sense when I thought about it, and once I kept moving, jumping in and out of cars during battle, I realized this was how the game needed to be played, all out, no holds barred.

Saints Row: The Third won’t blow you away with its graphical prowess, but it does a nice job in working with what it has. Steelport has a variety of environments, from the skyline downtown to the steel mills and boat docks at the edge of the map, nothing looks the same. You will always have something to look at as you drive. The character models are also memorable. The Luchadores, a rival gang, drive large, semi-trucks and launch grenades, all while wearing tight spandex body suits and luchador masks. The Deckers, an Asian gang that primarily focuses on hacking, drive fast, small cars and wield electric swords and light SMG’s. Stereotypes are carried to the very extreme, but none of it seems out of place in the world that Volition as created. Each character has been created to look interesting and eye-catching.

Environmental effects are also a nice touch. Explosions look and feel satisfying. High speed chases blur the environment, giving a nice sense of movement and speed. Animations can be a little wonky sometimes, especially when a lot of action is happening on screen, but for the most part the game keeps up with the frantic fire fights. Occasionally my character would get lost amongst the explosions and bullet fire. But overall, with the mere scope of the game realized, Saints Row: The Third is visually appealing and interesting to look at.

The radio is the primary source of music that you will hear during the game. There are numerous radio stations to listen to, rap, techno, and even 80’s rock. There is a nice variety in the stations but I found myself using the Mixtape functionality, which allows players to pick and choose their favorite songs from the giant soundtrack and put them in a playlist to listen to while driving vehicles.

The voice acting is very well done, even with the main character, who can carry a number of different accents and voices. My favorite might be the zombie voice. The sounds of cars driving and people gossiping back and forth give the world a nice touch of realism. Explosions are loud and guns sound heavy. The audio is overall very well done at there are no blemishes to speak of.

Co-op mode is a fun addition to Saints Row: The Third. The world’s craziness is even more enjoyable when it can be viewed with a friend via the PSN. Players can seamlessly jump in and out of a friend’s game at any point during the campaign. Missions aren’t more difficult when a player joins, but the amount of enemies does increase, which could give players some problems. There are also co-op specific mini games. These games usually involve one player trying to destroy the other as quickly as possible. They don’t affect the game, but are a nice, competitive break.

Overall, if both players are able to carry their weight, the experience is enjoyable. Half my time I spent in the game was with a buddy as we drove around taking over city points and sky diving off of skyscrapers. We would blow things up and run from cops, never really attacking the main campaign together. That’s why this co-op is fun, because those “WTF” moments you find while playing alone can be shared with your buddy, you both get caught up in the explosions and mayhem.  The game does not have to be played with a friend, but the experience is even better if you can share it with somebody else.

Saints Row: The Third is no Grand Theft Auto, and it doesn’t try to be. It is an open world, sandbox game on drugs. Everything Volition does is creative and extreme, which makes the game play exciting and the missions unique. Where the story suffers, the characters shine. The game is humorous, charming, and absurd. Yes, the third installment in the Saints Row franchise features plenty of blurred-out private-parts and over the top scenes, but beyond the innuendos is a wonderfully crafted and addicting experience.


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