Saints Row: The Third is an action sandbox game with crime simulation elements and is the third instalment of the Saints Row series. Its frame work notably adopts the formula of the Grand Theft Auto series, however focusing on a more zany and madcap experience as opposed to the gritty realism of its counterpart. The game’s overall presentation and humour maintains a tongue in cheek presentation throughout, being self-aware of its own inanity through metafictional gags, exaggerated parodies, as well as including a gamut of well-known cultural references.
The game focuses on the street gang known as the Saints and picks up after Saints Row 2 where the gang maintains control and infamy over the city of Steelport, having decided to move their operation from Stillwater. Having indulged in the excess of fame and fortune, the Saints have redesigned their image as a media brand name, marketing their malfeasance with tacky merchandise and concessions as well as garish advertisements, movies and comic books. With their newfound authority over the city, the Saints decide to rob a bank as a publicity stunt, complacent that their influence on the cities’ authority figures gives them free reign over Steelport. However this complacency does not go unnoticed as a larger local organised crime group simply known as The Syndicate intervene and kidnap the Saints’ members. They then proceed to give the Saints an ultimatum; have the assets and brand names absorbed into The Syndicate or have their entire operation liquidated. The saints refuse and manage to escape but are divested of all their wealth and resources. The player is left to pick up the pieces and restore the Saint’s influence over Steelport.
When the player is finally given the reins and allowed full access of the city itself, it is presented as a sort of caricature of modern urban living at its worst, exaggerating the hedonistic and deprived underbelly to the nth degree. We see people casually walking in unflattering outfits such as pimp outfits, dominatrix suits, gimp suits, people wearing only underwear, lingerie, and even oversized mascot costumes. As well as the general public on the streets, the local criminal gang members also have gaudy attire, some with day-glow transfers and colours outlining their clothes and vehicles.
Steelport is also rife with gambling halls, gun shops, dance clubs, televised battle arenas as well as the player not being able to go down one street without a porn shop, strip club or adult theatre staring them in the face. It’s a game that relishes every moment to show you the excess of the city itself, and lavishes in its unedifying embodiment of debauchery and wasteful extravagance at every given turn.
While attempting to be hyper-realistic in places, the game can also offshoot into the more outlandish territory. This includes encounters with zombies, weapons transposed from cyberspace, super futuristic aircrafts with laser guns as well as mollusc guns that shoots octopi which brainwash victims into subservience.
The main storyline missions attempts to give some context to game’s environment, albeit very loosely. There is more of a fixation of packing as much into the game as possible, with some effective set pieces that begin to get more nonsensical as the game progresses. The first half of the game is dynamic enough to keep the gameplay engaging and is genuinely entertaining while it lasts, however has difficulty understanding the most effective way to keep the momentum going besides keeping the action as frenetic and far-fetched as possible.
The game also includes side missions and extra activities which are fairly conventional for a sandbox set up. This can include side objectives or just activities that are happenstance depending on the area you’re currently traveling through. Activities from the previous entries make a return here such as Mayhem where you have to destroy as much property as possible within a time limit, Heli Assault where you protect drug deals with a helicopter or gunship and Insurance Fraud where you purposely endure injuries from oncoming vehicles in order to claim health insurance.
The game also includes new actives such as Tank Mayhem which is a rehash of Mayhem but with a tank, and the new Genkibowl mini game included in the DLC Genkibowl VII. This pits you in a sadistic game show format mission, where you have to survive a deadly obstacle course while killing other contesters; a format heavily reminiscent to the Running Man film. There is also a whored mode in the main menu where the player has to survive a set wave of enemies with limited resources provided and a co-op mode where the player can play the main game a teammate .
These games can be fun to play alongside the main missions to gain money for new upgrades and weapons, however the spoils received from the main missions are hefty enough to cover most expenses as well as providing weapons effective enough to finish the game without much exertion. This may vary if you pick the harder difficulties however on normal most of the missions become fairly easy. In addition to this the game includes a levelling system in which you level by doing impressive feats that earn respect (experience points essentially). Each level allows you to spend money on perks as you progress. This can lend the player some nice additional attributes however the most useful perks requires unlocking higher levels which are unlikely to be reached by the end of the game unless the player grinds the available activities.
Perhaps the biggest noticeable problem with the game’s structure is its pacing. Thirty minutes into the game, the player is assaulting a military base for weapons and then proceeds to steal a high tech army reaper drone. Forty five minutes later the player is given access to a penthouse, a helicopter and a rocket launcher. Then an hour later the player acquires a tank, which is really something you should see closer to the end of the game.
Most of the missions did have an interesting variety however the most memorable content were so densely clustered at the beginning of the game, that the later missions repeated some of the same formula in order to pad out the game’s lifespan. Kinzies mission line for example was laden with a litany of the same Mayhem, Escort and Guardian Angel missions, over and over in a manner that became very repetitive and tasking to do.
Essentially the crux of the problem with Saints Row: The Third is that the game is too generous with the content on offer. The games ethos makes it a point to put emphasis on fun over realism with the enablement of the player to have wacky antics by wacky and grandiose means. However by not spreading the content out finely, the entertainment value from such overpowered devices wears thin very quickly. It would have been more sensible to spread out the availability of the more devastating weaponry to later segments of the game, as well as space the more engaging missions apart with slower paced missions used to further expand the plot and characters.
In addition to this, while effective in places, the momentum of the humour and appeal throughout is very heavily reliant on gags. You can only get so much mileage from exaggerating the game’s environment but without any other depth to invest the player. The low-brow humour and shallow visual gags become very transient and instantly forgettable. Though the motivations of each character are competently done for the most part, there was little expansion of their personalities to deem them memorable besides giving context to the objectives at hand, and deriving humour from their epithetical character stereotypes. There are also a few gags that are slightly off-colour and can be deemed misogynistic. This is apparent in the mission The Ho Boat where the players must steal prostitutes stocked in crates from The Syndicate in order to dishevel a part of their business empire. The representation of prostitutes as livestock or being a material product under someone’s ownership seems quite distasteful. While the agenda may have been to subvert the concept for comical effect, the end result delivers an inappropriate message that the game developers may not reflected upon in hindsight.
There are also a few slight glitches and problems which are to be expected in a vast sandbox game, however were still very jarring. The most noticeable is how the AI does not always react to players in close proximity as well as intended set sequences going awry, which in turn gives players ample time to take opposition out.
While the initial set up delivers a large burst of entertaining set pieces to being with, Saints Row: The Third ends up being so distended with content from the outset, that there is little left to maintain the appeal throughout. A rivetingly dumb action game for the first few hours that burns twice as bright yet engages the player for half as long.