PS3 Review: Saints Row: The Third



While the GTA series has steadily walked the path of increasingly serious atmosphere, Volition and THQ’s Saints Row franchise has been quickly travelling in the opposite direction. It started out life as a cocky, immature contender to the sandbox crime throne with better physics and more enjoyable gunplay and driving mechanics than Rockstar’s flagship series but without the narrative quality. The second entry then embraced everything that GTA left behind after the joy of San Andreas, dipping its toes into abject craziness as it defined its strengths as a playful, silly GTA alternative rather than an opponent. Saints Row: The Third leaps into the deep end of that pool head first, filled to bursting with complete, gleeful insanity as it gives the laws of reality a hearty punch in the balls.

As the game kicks off, the Third Street Saints are now the rock stars of the crime world. With their own brand of energy drinks, themed gift shops and a movie deal, they’re universally adored by the people they’re usually robbing and running over. Their first plan of action is staging a heist all dressed in oversized costumes of Saints frontman Johnny Gat (including Gat himself), but when the Belgian criminal who owned the bank kidnaps the gang and demands they start working for him, their natural response is to stage a mid-air shoot-out aboard a jet plane. After fire and destruction rains across the city, plane parts, cargo and bodies falling from the sky, the government soon issues a state of martial law and brings in high-tech, futuristic military faction STAG (lead by a military general clearly modelled after Stephen Lang in Avatar) to clean up the streets, wiping out gang violence and the Saints once and for all.
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For a game that starts out by having you gun down a gang of criminal henchmen aboard a plane before leaping out the back, shooting more people while dodging wreckage as you plummet through the air a mile above the city before parachuting in through the front window of another plane, shooting your way through that, then diving out again to pull a Point Break and catch your chuteless pal mid-air, it’s a shame that Saints Row then follows up such a barnstorming opening with the kind of standard ho-hum escort missions that weren’t really much fun in the last two games. Unfortunately there’s an early wall of mandatory familiar missions (like Snatch, which has you driving around liberating hookers from their pimps so they can come work for you, or bland drug dealer escort missions) that grind the game to a crawl after the taste of insanity you just received. It’s an awkward bit of pacing, but things soon kicks back into overdrive as the story turns into an escalating game of sheer ridiculous one-upmanship with itself.

Nothing much has changed about the core of the game – you’re still dropped in an expansive open world city with the ability to steal any car and shoot, beat or mow down anyone you happen across – but what is drastically different is the variety of tools the game gives you to play with and the unapologetically ridiculous nature of the missions you’ll face. Even amidst the slow start of quests, as fast as you can say “British jetskating cyberpunk street gangs”, the game dumps all manner of crazy toys into your sandbox for you to play with, and they only get more nuts and more fun as things progress. Whether you’re remotely controlling UAV drones to rain rockets down on the street, smacking someone to the pavement with a running clothesline, DDT or giant purple dildo bat, laser-targeting pedestrians to call in airstrikes on them, using the ApocoFists to punch people or cars so hard that they explode, liquefying people with sonic weaponry or taking to the skies with hover jets and rocket bikes equipped with laser weapons, the level of creative, destructive chaos at your fingertips greatly surpasses any other open world crime game you can think of.
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The missions follow suit, and while it’d be a crime to give away some of the sharp turns that the game takes in its latter half, Volition cram in some genuinely funny spoofs of classic gaming, pro wrestling and cheesy sci-fi built around phenomenally fun sections of outlandish gameplay. The story, much like the last two Saints Row games, is merely there to serve as a flimsy canvas on which to throw the daft gameplay, but it impresses by simply being so much more assured than its predecessors. After the series struggling to find its niche, aping GTA’s gangsters ‘n’ cops plot and risqué comedy to middling effect, the third entry feels like the franchise is finally comfortable in its own shoes. So much of the graphical glitchiness has been ironed out, the writing is smarter and funnier, and the voice acting is surprisingly sharp, too. There’s a choice of voices for your customised character, so mileage varies, but the default Caucasian Male voice for your unnamed protagonist features fantastic work by Troy Baker, who showcases perfect comic timing to compliment the laugh-out-loud writing. The supporting cast is great, too, with Hulk Hogan taking fun jabs at his wrestling career, Daniel Dae Kim yet again awesome as the unfortunately underused Johnny Gat and there’s an absolutely perfect reveal for the identity of the mayor in the last half.

There’s no competitive multiplayer, sadly, but you can jump into the online co-op campaign mode and play through the story with a friend (or just goof around running each other over and creating havoc). The unpleasantly named ‘Whored Mode’ give you a wave-based survival mode to play through, and is filled with almost as much silliness as the main game. You’ll get a lot of replay value out of the pick-up-and-play open world chaos of the core game, but the extras are nice inclusions to beef up the variety.
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If you’re more drawn to the gritty seriousness of the GTA franchise’s later entries, then you might be put off by the unapologetically daft tone of Saints Row: The Third, but if you’re a fan of Volition’s open world crime series, then this will please you to no end. It’s the same intensely enjoyable sandbox crammed to the gills with more tools for gleeful destruction than ever before and filled with some of the funniest, most ridiculous gameplay moments you’ll see this year. An early, unfortunate lull in pacing aside, it’s the sharpest, silliest and most splendidly fun entry in the Saints Row franchise yet.

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Saints Row: The Third is available to buy now on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
Click here to buy it from Amazon.co.uk.