Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Saints Row: The Third

Post-Launch Review
Saints Row: The Third
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Released: November 2011


Saints Row: The Third is an open-world, third-person action game that follows the Third Street Saints. Since Saints Row 2, the Saints' street gang has become a media empire. The top members are famous and recognized wherever they go, and organize PR stunts to supplement their income from energy drinks, clothing lines, toys, and more. But after a bank job turns bad as the employees fight back with military-grade weapons, the Saints find themselves under assault by the international criminal organization known as the Syndicate. With their assets and accounts drained, the Saints find themselves in the Syndicate-controlled city of Steelport, determined to fight back.

At Launch

SR3 was well received, earning average review scores of 84%. Reviewers enjoyed the action gameplay, the open world, and the over-the-top humour (though some felt the humour was too much or offensive). Criticisms were few but included a lack of flexibility in story missions and a perceived weakness in some of the empire-building mechanics, as well as technical issues in the PC version.

Post Launch

A bunch of patches were released to fix bugs, improve performance, and add a bit of free content (a new homie and TF2 masks).
The game received a ton of DLC. Genki Bowl VII, Gangstas in Space, and The Trouble with Clones each include about an hour's worth of story missions.  I'm not going to explain the contents of all 15 (!) packs because this is a review, not a store, but: the Horror, Genki Girl, Witches & Wieners, Penthouse, Steelport Gangs, Special Ops, Nyte Blayde, Money Shot, Shark Attack, Invincible, Z Style, Explosive Combat, Warrior, FUNTIME!, and Bloodsucker packs include themed customization options, weapons, vehicles, and abilities. I'm not going to explain the contents of all 15 (!) packs because this is a review, not a catalog.
Silliest chase scene ever? Quite possibly. The carts explode, because WHY NOT

The Good

Completely Ridiculous
The humour is constant, and completely absurd stuff happens all the time while no one bats an eye. It's a world where a man in a beehive hairdo, a bikini, and high heels is taken seriously by everyone, nobody thinks a zombie apocalypse is particularly unusual, and blowing entire streets to hell with a tank is all in a day's work. So many of the things you do would be far too over-the-top for a Hollywood action movie, but in the game's universe they're just normal occurrences.
Also, Steelport's mayor is awesome. I won't spoil that for you.
Story & Escalation
For a game so focused on absurdity, I was surprised to find that the story is actually pretty strong. A lot of characters get actual development, and it isn't afraid to suggest that a criminal takeover of a city isn't as simple as blowing a few things up and buying some property. The best aspect is that the Saints have a lot of enemies - many games and movies only have one bad guy or evil organization, whereas the Saints face opposition from multiple gangs, the police, and the government through the various plot arcs and developments. Things escalate quickly and crazily, and things just keep getting bigger and bigger, but it all makes sense based on the actions of everyone involved.
One aspect that I thought was a little weak: many points give you a choice between two options, and your choice determines which unlocks you do or don't get. But some of the choices seem like they would (or should) be major points of contention for the plot or the characters, but are never mentioned again. For example, at one point you kidnap the PR guy for an organization brought in to fight the Saints, and you have to choose whether to keep him or give him back. Your choice only determines which favours you can call in during open-world gameplay and has no effect on the plot, which is kind of disappointing.
Also surprisingly given the genre, most of the characters are quite likeable with interesting quirks and even some depth to them. Example: Pierce, for all his love of partying and strippers, is also a businessman who enjoys a good game of chess (and interrupting those chess games is a running gag). Cyrus, an antagonist and head of paramilitary organization STAG, actually seems like a decent guy who hates violent crime and is doing his job to the best of his ability, rather than an evil militaristic psychopath who loves murder (as you often see when a military organization fills the antagonist role).
I had a pretty strong dislike of Shaundi, though. I feel like she's a character who must have had more depth in Saints Row 2, while here she's just angry and violent all the time.
Can't miss that photo.
Customization & Unlocks
There are A LOT of purchaseable customization options and upgrades. Each weapon slot has at least two or three options to choose from, and each weapon has four upgrade levels. There are dozens - maybe hundreds - of abilities and upgrades, ranging from personal benefits (like health, sprint, or reload upgrades, or the ability to dual wield certain weapons) to gang boosts (improving health or firepower of followers) to quality-of-life improvements (vehicle deliveries, item finder). And there are hundreds of customization options for your character, including clothing, tattoos, and even plastic surgery to redo your face or body. The clothing ranges from normal stuff (jeans, jackets, nice shirts) to the ridiculous (samurai armour, bobblehead masks, B-movie sci-fi costumes). You can also customize your vehicles to a ridiculous degree - there are dozens of different vehicles, and you can paint and style any of them by bringing them to a garage.
I designed an appearance I liked and stuck with it for the whole game, but you could easily make your character look like a whole different person every mission.
I like this game's car physics. They're not realistic, but I think they're fun. Most notably, there's no brake button - only a power slide button. Awesome.
Anyway, each vehicle has its own specifications, like turning, top speed, acceleration, etc. The sports cars tend to handle and slide very well, and it's a lot of fun to drift around corners.

SR3 has very good music. There's a lot of stuff outside my preferred genres, but I ended up liking a few of those tracks. The in-game radio stations are also pretty good.
The best bit regarding music was right at the end of the game. I chose to save my homies instead of going after the bad guy, and the track that played for the duration of the mission was just classic. Highlight for what some might consider to be a spoiler: Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler.
You don't gain experience to level up. Instead, your actions earn you varying amounts of respect, and the amount of respect you've earned determines which abilities and upgrades you can purchase. You can gain respect by pulling power slides or driving in the oncoming lane, through fancy combat maneuvers like headshots, by killing enemy gang members, customizing cars or buying clothes, completing activities... all kinds of stuff. The biggest boosts come from story missions, which makes sense because that's where you tend to do the craziest stuff.
It's a neat label (disguise?) for an XP system, and makes perfect sense for this type of game.
Mission Complete Screens
I really like these. I guess it's the music and the stars and the purple overlay over the last image of the mission. I don't know, they're cool.
DLC Missions
Genki Bowl VII is kind of fun - you participate in a murderous game show for fame and prizes. It gets a little repetitive, but it's fun enough.
The other two, though - Gangstas in Space and The Trouble With Clones - are great. In Gangstas in Space you're selected as the star of a crappy science fiction movie where it turns out the director is completely insane and using live ammo to make it seem real. 
And in The Trouble With Clones, a nerd fanboy attempts to clone Johnny Gat, but of course things go horribly wrong and the clone is a monster and the military goes after it. This one was my favourite - insanely over-the-top with explosions and superpowers and monster movie references.
DLC Items
All the items are actually pretty fun, and some are amazing - like the shotgun that does no damage, but coats its targets in fish guts to attract the elusive Steelport sewer shark, which bursts out of the pavement and tears them to pieces. The problem is that the items are all available pretty much from the beginning, and some of them will severely unbalance the game if you choose to use them. The worst offenders are two vehicles: the Saints tank and VTOL, both equipped with incredibly powerful weapons and high durability.
Most of the stuff, like the clothing and weaponless vehicles, is perfectly fine. But wow, dat VTOL. I think the weaponized vehicles should at least not be active until the point in the story where you unlock the generic versions of those vehicles (ie, no Saints VTOL until you unlock STAG VTOL).
I didn't try it myself, but you can play through the entire game in co-op. I can only imagine how much more ridiculous this game would get with two players instead of one. You can also play horde mode in co-op (see below).

The Neutral

Whored Mode
Yes, this is a horde mode. It exists. You fight waves of enemies. You can play it co-op. That's fine. But that name...

The Bad

Most of the time if you abandon a follower, they'll grab a car and stick with you. That's fine. But some missions require you to get your follower(s) into the same vehicle as you, and more often than not, your follower will take forever to get into the damn car. I've had occasions where I've sat waiting long enough for an enemy to run up and pull me out of the car, or even worse, had a brand-new car take so much damage waiting that it exploded.
Why won't you just follow the big straight roads?
Annoying GPS
You can set your GPS to show the route to an objective of your choice. It'll map out a route on your minimap and put arrows in the world to help you out, which is fine. The GPS uses roads only by default, and you can unlock GPS shortcuts by driving through hidden routes, which is actually really cool.
The irritating part is that the GPS route will frequently zigzag. For example, if you're heading 5 streets north and 5 streets east, it'll tell you go east, then turn north, then turn east, then turn north (etc) rather than to drive 5 streets north and then turn east until you hit your destination. It's annoying because you can't always just drive straight to your marker - sometimes there are curvy detours or roadblocks in your way, so you need to trust the GPS to get around those, but always following the GPS' exact directions can really slow you down by having you turn constantly instead of powering down a straight line.

The Weird

Treatment of Gender
This is in its own weird section because I think it's genuinely strange.
You can create a male or female character, and there's no romance so it has no major impact on the story (I don't know if or how much dialogue changes if you play a woman). More interestingly, there are no "male" or "female" hair or clothing options - anyone can use any styles or accessories. Enemy gangs are composed pretty equally of male and female members (except for the Luchadores), and there are plenty of women in positions of power. This is all surprisingly egalitarian - but here's where it gets strange.
Of the women with power, none of them are actually in charge of anything, they're all seconds-in-command. Any time your gang members are kidnapped, it's always the women, and for some reason never Pierce, the guy who actually runs most of the Saints' day-to-day operations and whose absence would actually cause problems.
And even more noticeably, while there are technically male prostitutes in the game, you almost never see them. And when you deal with female ones, they're not even treated as people. For example, there's a mission where you "rescue" (the game's word) a group of prostitutes from the Morningstars, and then you get to choose to either sell them back to the Morningstars or put them to work for you. They get no choice.
And, of course, terms like bitch, pussy, whore, etc are constantly being tossed around, primarily as insults directed at male characters.
So to summarize the weirdness: Saints Row has a lot of surprisingly egalitarian aspects in terms of customization and the world in general, but at the same time tends to step back and enforce stereotypical gender roles throughout the story content. It would have been so easy for the game to be completely egalitarian - in such a ridiculous, clearly made-up world, there's no reason to mimic gender roles in the real world, because realism is right out the window anyway.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
This game is hilarious. Absurd, silly things happen all the time, but all the characters tend to play it straight, which makes it even better. If you're easily offended you'll find plenty to be upset about, but for the most part it's all in good fun. Shooting and driving are solid, and the city is pretty varied with lots to do. And the plot and characters are surprisingly good - much more than I expected from a crime-focused game like this. Absolutely play this game if you're a fan of over-the-top hilarity.
In terms of the DLC, the story content is worth getting, and the various packs are all optional and mostly cosmetic - though I highly recommend the shark attack pack. 


  1. Maybe they used the treatment of women as prostitutes and mission objectives is used to highlight the women in power? Could be "Oh, we are used to seeing women as being the one we rescue/kidnap ourselves, so when a female power-player walks into the spotlight you take notice."

    Haven't played it but picked it up from the THQ Bundle, so glad I didn't waste money.

  2. The whole gender role and treatment of women in that game is more tongue-in-cheek than anything. The fact that the woman always gets kidnapped is just a silly throwback to the whole "Kidnapped Princess" thing.