Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Athens, Greece
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Please Rate This Review- "Saint's Row: The Third"
Remember back when sequels were supposed to be bigger and better than their predecessors? What a magical time that was, when PETA didn't care about your furry-fetish and licking a unicorn's horn was a favorite high school past time. But sadly things have changed and in this boring reality, sequels are shorter and hide away half the content to show only to those with too much disposable income.
"Saint's Row" was a game that tried so hard to be Grand Theft Auto, it ended up being entirely forgettable. But they made another one and it exploded, because Yahtzee said it should, so they made a third as well and this time, to thank everyone who made them big and rich, they locked half the content for the DLC. Thank you THQ!
So, an undetermined amount of time after the end of “Saint's Row 2”, the Third Street Saints (the protagonist gang) have taken over the city of Stilwater and are a media sensation, well-linked to society's everyday life. But then another gang shows up, they kill someone they kind of like and it's war now. So they temporarily wreck things in the city of Steelport in the name of revenge.
The story is good. It's funny, silly and self-aware and I'd go as far as saying the game has some of the best writing I've seen in the medium, for what it is at least. It is very much helped by the fact that it's a clear three-act-story that escalates evenly and reaches a fantastic and fitting climax. The old characters have all grown nicely and the new characters are every bit as likable. My favorite is Kinzie, a former FBI nerd, who can be part adorable and part surprisingly creepy. The rival gangs introduced are very colorful, though they feel less defined than gangs that have appeared in previous installments of the series.
I should point out here that if your perception of the game comes from the countless trailers showing off purple dildos, you have been deceived. While those are certainly present, the game is much smarter than it lets on. For the most part the story serves as a critique of pop-culture and how the public psyche is formed around it. This becomes particularly obvious half-way-through when a military outfit shows up and you start thinking that somebody's way too late on the “stop the war in Iraq” bandwagon, until you realize that their leader looks a hell of a lot like that one crazy marine guy from James Cameron's “Avatar”.
The gameplay is fine. The basic mechanics carry over from the second game, but they've been considerably polished. Most of the time is spent shooting through dozens upon dozens of enemies and it's as satisfying as ever. Your arsenal ranges from regular handguns to laser rifles and pulse-cannons. These are fun, but the most useful weapon is the regular pistol. Enemies have the nasty tendency to perform a little dancing animation if they get hit with anything else and while that's going on, you may as well be shooting at the clouds, because hits don't register.
People who've had a problem with the low difficulty in the previous game won't be changing their minds with this one. It's quite easy to annihilate an entire platoon of enemies on the normal difficulty, but I personally wouldn't have it any other way. Few do cathartic violence as well as “Saint's Row: The Third” does and I've always found the idea of super-masculine power-fantasy inversely proportional to the that of legitimate challenge.
Another area that has noticeably improved are the vehicle controls. Unfortunately there is still no in-car camera for driving, which annoys me personally, but for the first time since the sandbox genre started, jets and helicopters control great.
The biggest problem is that the game designs lacks structure. I spent the first four of my twenty-hour-game-time just driving around Steelport and doing random mini-games (the so-called “activities”), so I couldn't help but raise my eyebrow when, once I got on with the story, my contacts spent an hour showing me around those same mini-games I've played a hundred times already. Speaking of which, most activities have made the cut from “Saint's Row 2” and they occasionally come with a variation. If you aren't familiar with those, they involve driving a buggy covered in flames straight onto cars and watch them blow up, provide cover from a helicopter or with a sniper-rifle for you 'hommies' and you even get traffic drugs or hookers. There is a hilarious Japanese TV-show where you have to kill mascots, you can rack up kills and destruction points with a tank or attack chopper and you'll be called to throw yourself in front of moving vehicles for insurance frauds. One that stands out is the Escort activity, where you get to drive whores pleasing customers at the back of your car, or just take a tiger sight-seeing around Steelport. The only thing that'd make this even better would be a little bit of both; like Tigerhoe, queen of the Thundercats!
But while the activities are very fun, they aren't necessary to do! They used to be the means to gain “respect”, so you can proceed with the story missions, but this time you gain fifty times more respect by doing those instead! In fact, the entire respect system has no practical use in this game. A lot of the sandbox component has actually been cut down. You can no longer buy music or cars, you can't customize your crib, the zombie mini-game is gone, the sex mini-game is gone (even though it was pretty inconsequential in the first place) and even assassination and chop shop missions spell out the instructions for you. The only thing left in this sandbox is breaking up repeatedly-respawning gang operations or collecting sex dolls for achievements.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does show that the developers thought what made Saint's Row 2 successful was the ability to blow things up with no rime or reason, which I'm not sure is enough to carry a game this big on its own. If you don't see an issue with this, there is a lot of fun to be had with the story missions. It's a shorter campaign that takes place in a smaller city, but not two missions are the same and none of them are in the least bit dull or repetitive. Sure, if you break them down, most of them will be about shooting and maybe driving somewhere as well, but they are fast and constantly shifting, with the occasional set-piece thrown in that makes them all very exciting to play.
In terms of presentation, the game is average. Technically speaking, it's not the prettiest game out there and unfortunately it uses the same buggy engine from the previous games, which leads to quite a few glitches. But the visuals themselves are rich and varied enough to make up for the lack of raw graphical power. The character customization level is still very in-depth and allows for crazy combinations. Additional looks range from simple T-Shirts and jeans to super-hero and mascot costumes. Steelport is diverse enough to be interesting and even its smaller size compared to Stilwater has its merits, as it makes it easier to memorize and navigate through, like Liberty and Vice City from GTA3.
The sound is solid too. The voice-cast, in particular, turns in strong performances in its entirety; yes, my little perverts, that includes former pornstar Sasha Grey as Viola DeWynter, who's about as good as her co-stars. Now you can pretend you no longer care that in her previous line of work purple dildos were being handed out with the morning coffee.
The music stations are present and while there is a fine variety of songs for all tastes, I'm still somewhat bothered that Volition has yet to realize that the best thing about the radio feature in GTA are the talk-shows. For the PC version, I also very much miss the MP3 Compilation station. The game allows to make a “mixed tape” with the steep selection of songs from the pre-existing stations, but I'm pretty sure the feature is broken and the game loops the same five or ten songs over and over.
Whether “Saint's Row: The Third” is superior to “Saint's Row 2” will be determined from the number of hours players have logged into each game. Technically speaking, SR2 was probably the better game; it was well-structured, the overall design had some direction and it was much bigger. But “The Third” features the superior campaign, both in terms of story and mission content. The basic difference between them is not really a matter of quality, though. In the end of the day, “The Third” may not point to many things you can do in its open-world, but it gives you a great selection of toys for you to use as you see fit, even if half of them are useful for the same thing: blow sh*t up. I had a great time with it and it seriously flirts for my GOTY spot, so take this as you will.
PROS: The culmination of all that transpired during the story mode, in the form of a heavy moral choice leading to the climax.
CONS: The AI in scripted missions or when driving fast down a bridge.
WTF: Hitting the side-walk at rougly 40 mph with a car and getting launched over a building. Or is that really a “PRO” in disguise?