Posted by John on January 18, 2012

PS3 Review - ‘Saints Row: The Third’

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed readers of this wonderful site: I have excellent news for us all.

Saints Row: The Third … is a video game.

That may sound like quite the obvious statement, but during a time when developers and publishers are looking to make “profound statements” with their “interactive experiences” and sell as much recycled content as possible at the highest of prices, Saints Row: The Third instead turns the sandbox genre into a toy box, stuffed to the brim with diversions for even the hungriest of players. It puts aside all pretentiousness and instead focuses on player enjoyment.

The story technically doesn’t matter here, but for those who’ve been following the series: The Third Street Saints have gone from an upstart gang to a multimedia franchise. There are powers that do not like this, and those powers end up relocating our “heroes” from the city of Stilwater to the brand-new locale of Steelport — with something catastrophic happening to a fan-favorite character in the process.

From there, it’s up to the Saints’ boss (the player, equipped with a character editor rivaling the last game’s but now with more fun outfits) and his/her homies to do what they do best: make alliances and slowly take over a city that’s run by a far quirkier bunch of gangs than were in Saints Row 2. Prepare to butt heads with the likes of the Deckers, a bunch of cyber-criminals with TRON-reminiscent gear; the Morningstar, a more sinister and professional amalgam of usual urban-game gang tropes with resources and firepower to spare; and the Luchadores, who require no explanation whatsoever.

The story and gang takeovers unfold over a series of hilarious and outlandish scenarios, which are expertly written and directed and allow the player serious power from the get-go while constantly upping the ante until the climax some 20 hours later. As mentioned above, all of this mayhem takes place in the open fictional city of Steelport, where players are invited to craft craziness whenever they wish. Given all of the circumstances that take place in the city (brute-force corporate espionage, game shows, superhero spoofs, wrestling matches, and other things that I am purposely holding back for fear of spoiling it for some of you) and all of the freedom and tools handed to you, the possibilities are sky-reaching and dwarf anything made in urban free-roaming games up to this point. Steelport changes as you wreak havoc in it (such as a borough of town eventually transforming into a zombie playground), so when players are done with the main quest line, they are left with both a sandbox and a toy box.

Previous Saints Row games were needlessly padded by way of progression being tied into minigames, which gave you both cash and enough Respect to move through the story. The Third, however, keeps the story separate from the minigames, which still reward you with cash and Respect. However, cash and Respect points now funnel into a level-up system that seems basic at first, but as one progresses, he’ll realize that if he plays long enough, he will be granted the power to break it as he sees fit. Players can upgrade guns to the point of ultra-power; they can turn on or off certain game physics; they can be upgraded to not take damage; give all cars in the city nitrous; or summon any vehicle they wish, including attack helicopters and jets. Players are also given, during the game’s beginning hours, free use of weaponry and tactics that almost any other title in this genre would save for its endgame. Commodities such as airstrikes, futuristic tech, helicopters, tanks, VTOLs and the ability to parachute from any point in the city are just the tip of the iceberg. This shows that all previous rules of the series have been wiped clean except for one: Have fun.

All of this takes place within an upgraded graphics engine. It’s not a huge step up from Saints Row 2, but it’s more than enough for the game’s purposes. Right now, the visuals stand in between Saints Row 2 and Grand Theft Auto 4. Given the amount of action that can happen in this game, even higher graphic fidelity probably would have caused some massive hardware strain, so it’s understandable. However, it’s the audio that makes this game. Between a torrent of well-acted hilarious dialogue to a licensed soundtrack that is a massive upgrade from the previous game, there’s really not much need to turn down the volume this time around — so crank it up.

Normally, this would be where I talk about flaws, real or perceived, but I can’t think of any aside from the game being too much fun, which is more of an honor than anything else. Volition has created a city where anything can happen and where I, as a player, want to spend even more time. However, even with the large campaign of display here, I’m left wanting more when it’s all over. If there’s one thing the game is sorely missing, it’s a “New Game Plus” mode, which would’ve given the game even longer legs. Imagine the opportunity to relive the game’s hilarity but being able to make different choices, all while being equipped with a selection of new powers. Here’s hoping Volition patches something like this in the future.

Saints Row: The Third is a video game, and it revels in that fact. Along with providing one of the best story modes of this hardware generation (complete with co-op), it comes with near-limitless ways for players to make their own fun when that story is exhausted, or when they want a break from the rollercoaster. These days, most video games do not live up to their original asking price. Saints Row: The Third does, and then some.

Score: 9.0/10

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