Way way back, Right after the release of Grand Theft Auto 3. Several games came out to try and capitalize on it’s success. Games like True Crime, Driv3r, The Getaway, and several more. One of these flash in the pan rip offs was a little game called Saints Row. In the sea of GTA Clones, Saints Row was likely the least offensive (offensive in that it was not very fun to play.) But at it’s core, it was still just a GTA Clone and there was no hiding that, the game didn’t even really try to hide that fact. It was built squarely on the back of what GTA had already started. Did Volition Inc. continue that trend of taking the latest GTA and releasing their own “version” of it under the name Saints Row?
No, thank God.
The story takes place years after the events of Saints Row 2. You (The Protagonist), Johnny Gat, Josh Birk and Shaundi are all about to rob a bank. This is where the game drops you. The actual story swings away from the story of the 2nd. in Number 2, the Saints are losing there grasp of control of the city and need to reassert their dominance. In this one, they are international stars and have their faces plastered all over the city, have their own line of clothing stores, and are asked for autographs and pictures from their fans. This plays well with the complete ridiculous and over the top story that this game has decided to take, which in my opinion is a much better route for the Saints franchise to move down. Pulling far away from “Hey, we’re like GTA!…a lot!” and more into “We tripped on a bunch of drugs and played GTA, this is what it was like!”
The overall feel of the game is solid. It does feel fairly polished and everything is setup in a functional manner. Having the mobile phone be the basis for all menu interactions works very well and it’s easy to get into and tinker with whatever needs to be done. I prefer this to GTA4’s menu system by a large margin. It’s just easy to navigate, go into, set a GPS checkpoint and get out. Speaking of GPS check points. If we aren’t going to allow instent warping to locations you’ve already been at….which I do understand but still would have liked to have seen. This is the best implementation of a GPS system in a game. Reroutes are fairly quick, the GPS will remember shortcuts you’ve found and add those to the guide, large arrows will show up in the game that will direct you to which turns you need to make, sure…not realistic. But it adds to the whole “f**k it!, it’s fun!” mentality that the game has going for it. It’s also nice that the GPS system knows when you are in a flying vehicle, as it just goes straight to the spot and doesn’t have to zig zagging through streets.
The presentation of the City itself is… good, it does feel more “alive” than the 1st game and other sand-box style games like this but even though there are “people” in the game, it still doesn’t quite have that same life like feeling as, say, GTA4 did, were it really did feel like the game was doing it’s own thing while you were just apart of it. This does feel like it’s there for you and doing things in anticipation or preparation of something you are doing. One example is the sometimes VERY short respawn locations. I had to point them out to my girlfriend because it was so ridonkulous. I was fleeing in a tank from the cops and the Luchadore gang on the freeway. On a couple instances, cop cars and luchadore trucks had respawned ON TOP OF MY BUMPER!. I didn’t see them fade in at a distances and go “Well, that’s a little close”. No, They phased into existence so close to my tank that it counted as them rear ending me. That takes away from the atmosphere a bit. On another occasion, during a certain “Biological outbreak scene”… “Enemies” were spawning in groups right in front of my eyes. Typically something that should be happening off screen. I wasn’t in some glitchy corner where the only place they could respawn was within eyeshot range. No, open street with a couple cars and they were appearing on the outer corners of the screen, but completely visible. It’s things like this that pulled away from the overall feel of the game.
At it’s core, Saints Row: The Third still is a clone of Grand Theft Auto 3. The way it feels, it’s mission structure, and overall presence is that of GTA. But at this point in time it’s really moot. GTA is created a genre so you can’t fault a game anymore for being “like” GTA. Back when the franchise was first started though, that is a different story. What this game does to pull away from it’s roots and it’s previous games in the series is make the entire experience so over the top that it’s past ridiculous and does a big ol’ belly flop in the “Ridonkulous” category. GTA had baseball bats? Big deal, we have a giant purple dildo you can beat people with. GTA has bare knuckles? we have something called the “Apoco-fist” which allows you to punch a CAR to death. shoot yourself out of a cannon? yeah, can GTA do that?. Let do that than! It seems like every step of production they thought “forget realism, what the hell would be FUN to do?” and added everything they can think of… shoehorning it into the story as an afterthought. Does it work? HELL YES it works. Everything about Saints Row 3 is what I missed about GTA: San Andreas and then some. Controls are tight and spot on, Driving around may not be realistic but it’s fun and easy to do, flying is very enjoyable and the variety in side missions and how ridonlulous they are adds a lot of replay-ability. A couple types of side missions involve insurance fraud, where you run out and try and get hit by as many cars as possible and earn the amount that is required. Destroying as much property as physically possible in a tank or on foot, escorting a FREAKING tiger around town. Can you understand how I say they added stuff for the sake of being FUN? There really is a lot to do in this game and it’s all pretty fun. Only a few side missions didn’t want me going and looking for more. I did wish they added more side missions actually, there is only around 5 missions per mission type and the mayhem and insurance ones are really fun, I would have liked to have seen more of those.
It’s not all handjobs and bubble gum in terms of gameplay though. While, in the end, it all is very fun to play. There are several flaws in the game that really pulls way from the entertainment a little too much to go unmentioned. For one, Hardcore difficulty is kindof a joke. I found that 60% of my deaths in the game were caused by glitches or my “partners” need to flail through incoming gunfire like an excited muppet. The ONLY reason the game ever gets even remotely difficult is because the A.I. is so frustratingly retarded. There is no sense of self-preservation, they will go guns blazing all the time. When I tossed a grenade they would never run away and many times walk into it like a dog playing fetch. As I’m firing an assault rifle they will gleefully walk into the stream of bullets as if it’s a 12yr old into R.Kelly’s urine stream. I would die trying to resurrect them from all these deaths or else I lost whatever mission I was on. Many occasions they wouldn’t get into the vehicle I was driving either, causing the game to warn me that I was abandoning them. The only character that could hold his own was “Oleg”. Who was strong as an Ox and would “catch up” to me. Why the game couldn’t have treated other gang members this way is baffling. They clearly didn’t have issue turning the character into a walking toilet at one point, why not this? The other thing that caused about 10% of my deaths was good old fashion glitching. There is a feature in the game were instead of “politely” removing someone from their car, you can quickly jump through the windshield, kicking them out and allowing you to drive off, no health is lost, no real reason why you wouldn’t do this all the time. It’s pretty great. But on 3 separate occasions when I did this my health bar would FAR to zero and I would die. No rhyme or reason, I would just die. On another occasion, I jumped off of a short building roof. I knew I’d get hurt, but no biggie, right?. unless I got stuck “falling” off the very edge of the building. when I finally hit the ground the game thought I had apparently jumped off a very tall building, causing death. I know games have glitches, I get that, these were in the mid range scale of glitches and pissed me off (all 3 times I was in the middle of a mission.) But the “eats paint chips” stupidity of the AI is too much to overlook sometimes.
In the visual arena of the game, it’s not horrible to look at, not going to win any awards either though. I did notice some “lower than could have been” textures, typically in hard to see areas.
As mentioned previous, some pop up and draw in was a bit too close for my liking (like on top of me!) And once in a while ragdoll physics would just go completely INSANE and do crazy stuff. The ragdoll was really more hilarious than annoying, which lead to the overall feel of the game, so I’m not griping about that one. But there were a few things that annoyed me. One was a few of the costumes you could wear and there interaction with what you were already wearing. there was some bad clipping that looks pretty terrible that made me not want to wear them at all. Another thing were all the windows of places you couldn’t enter. Instead of doing it either really lazy or really detailed.
They went with this middle ground that just didn’t look great anyways. what they did was put a texture of everything inside the building slightly INSIDE the building, like hanging a painting of your livingroom pointed out your window, and than they added a window over that. So, you get this slight effect that this flat, painted representation of the inside of this store was…real. it’s hard to explain. it added such a slight amount of fake depth that I wish they would have just made it more detailed and flat or gone all out and furnished the inside of the window. It just looked bad to me. The overall lighting of the game is a tad bland as well, nothing really stands out or ends up looking especially gripping, but it’s all functional and doesn’t distract from the game being played. Which is perfectly fine, a game doesn’t have to be the next Uncharted to be fun.
In terms of artistic direction, the game hasn’t really detoured from it’s original design, which is fine with me, the game was never one for originality, but keeping it grounded in it’s blah art style but adding “ridonkulousness” to that seems to add that sense of originality. It’s added artistic style by leaving it alone and simply adding on top of it.
In the audio department the game fares about the same as it did in the graphical department. It’s not going to break new ground in how we hear games, but it’s going to get the job done. First off, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed the voice acting. I chose to make a female character, and the voice I chose for her was really good, she sounded as if there was no other chose to be made for that character. (even though there were 5 other choices to make.) The cast of your gang and other people in the game were all played very coincidentally and did an excellent job of telling the story of the game. I am a little surprised by some of the guest voices in the game, good surprises…but surprised none the less.
The sounds from the city seemed a little sparse to me, only depicting the immediate area and nothing more, it’s not something your going to notice unless you are trying to pick apart the game..which is why I noticed it. But it seems a little too quiet in some areas were it should have more of a lively feeling going on. When you are in the thick of it though it’s not something your going to care about. One thing that I did notice rather quickly though was your cars apparent ability to have 20 gears!.. this applies to every single car you drive and really got to me. Every single car had no top gear sound. They constantly kept gearing up as if you had an infinite number of gears to shift into. performance wise your car, all cars, had a top speed that it would eventually reach, but no matter what that was the sound effect would loop as if you kept changing gears. something that the sound department must have overlooked…but bafflingly annoying once you notice it.
Saints Row: The Third was a bold move for both THQ and Volition. The original game spark just enough interest for a sequel, and in turn, it’s sequel sparked enough interest to warrant yet another sequel. With the industry so scared of changing their established franchises for fear of losing their fanbase, it’s a treat to see both of them essentially go “f**k it!” and try something so off the wall. Just in the same way Evil Dead is NOTHING like Army of Darkness..yet they are both great movies within the same film series. Saints Row: The Third has changed gears on the series, established itself as a major player by itself all while bucking it’s predessors apparently working formula. By creating a satirical parody of the GTA Clone genre and of it’s previous games it’s created a supremely entertaining game that I am now looking forward to a sequel for. Something I couldn’t say when playing the original! The final score in this review does not reflect upon the sum of the games individual scores, but as a whole of it’s package. and because, even with it’s flaws and weaker areas of graphics, sound, and presentation, it’s overall fun brings it into a higher level!
Final Score: 8.8
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