Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saints Row: The Third (PS3, 360) Review

Saints Row was a new IP from this generation that has done well for itself. Volition, too, has done well for itself even with past rumors of THQ perhaps cancelling off its (THQ's, that is) 2014 lineup. THQ has commented and stated that these rumors are false, thankfully. There's been enough closures of studios thanks to the HD twins and the Wii (mostly the HD twins and the broken publisher/developer system). That said, this all-new review is based on nearly thirty hours of playtime, so I've explored the ins and outs of Steelport to the very best of my abilities. Let's see if it was worth it with my review of Saints Row: The Third.

The Secret to the Saints' Success

The sandbox genre was immensely popular last generation thanks to the help of Grand Theft Auto III. Since its release there have been plenty of imitators, some good, some bad, but they failed to capture the spirit of the original source. This generation we've seen Just Cause and Saints Row try their hand at the open-world formula to varying degrees of success. This time around Volition is at it again with the third installment to the popular Saints Row series. The Saints go marching in with their third outing, but should you go marching in with them?

The Saints have moved from the cramped city streets of Stilwater and have traveled to the expansive metropolis of Steelport. However, they have completely sold out. Members of the Saints appear in TV commercials, they have their names plastered on clothing stores, energy drinks-- you name it, and the Saints probably have their collective hands dabbling in it. When a bank heist goes wrong, a rival group of gangs known as The Syndicate move in while the Saints are at their most vulnerable. They kill off Johnny Gat, the face of the Saints, and proceed to make life miserable for the gang, cutting off their access to funds and much more. The goal is clear for the Saints: it is to get revenge for the death of Johnny, cause hell for The Syndicate, and take over Steelport in the name of the Saints. The story itself is completely off-the-wall and bonkers. It never takes itself seriously which is somewhat refreshing. Nonetheless, there are places in the story that I wish the developers didn't go. Without spoiling anything, most sections with Zemos, a pimp who always speaks with autotune, I found to be completely distasteful and almost embarrassing to sit through. Thankfully no one was around me when I was playing.

The gang's all here.

At first you create your character, choosing a sex, altering everything from the skin color to the shape of your avatar's nose. You can also select one of seven voices for your gang member of choice. One is your typical Anglo-Saxon male, another is a chick with a 'tude, another is Hispanic, while one just growls and moans for brains as the voice is called "Zombie." Several stores throughout the game allow you to purchase new clothing for the upper body and lower body (or you can forgo clothes altogether and go streaking), obtain new tattoos, or get some plastic surgery for a low cost. Character customization is paramount in Saints Row, and the tradition continues with this third installment.

From freaky to fly, outfit your character your way.

Saints Row: The Third begins with a bang. After the heist at the beginning of the game goes awry, you're blasting SWAT team members raining in through the windows with your firepower, using civilians as human shields, and aiming for head shots to take foes down in one bullet. Then comes a scene where a helicopter grabs the bank's vault while you're standing on it, it rises up, and suddenly you're doing battle while suspended in the air, hanging for your life from the edge of the vault. Other missions have you free-falling through an airplane's wreckage, stealing parachutes from unsuspecting baddies as you attempt to catch up with a fallen comrade. Some missions give you a choice of two options to decide upon. The rewards given differ for whichever choice you do, and sometimes they have dire consequences. You can choose to blow up a rival gang's building to garner Respect from your fellow gang members, or opt to keep it standing for yourself to earn a permanent cash percentage bonus for every mission you complete from then on out. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Who needs a parachute when I already look this good?

Unfortunately, throughout the story there are a number of missions that are simply there to introduce you to the many activities Saints Row: The Third offers. There are a myriad of activities to take part in in this game. There's Snatch, Escort, Mayhem, Tank Mayhem, Insurance Fraud, Heli Assault, Trafficking, and Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax. Snatch has you picking up hos from their abusive pimps and bringing them back to a specific location. Escort either has you driving around with a tiger riding shotgun-- yes, a tiger-- or has you driving two people exchanging pleasantries while dodging news fans who attempt to capture footage. Other activities like Mayhem and Tank Mayhem have you doing as much damage to vehicles, buildings, and civilians as possible before time runs out, while fan favorite Insurance Fraud gets you going limp in front of a car and being ran over by as many cars as possible. One of the newest activities in the form of Professor Genki's S.E.R.C. is a deadly obstacle course where killing mascots, hitting certain signs, and avoiding traps like flames and pulsating electricity awards cash. The goal is to get to the finish of the course without dying, with enough cash, and before the clock reaches zero. There are six instances of each activity, and they are spread out all over Steelport. For each activity finished, the Saints take over and occupy a small percentage of gang territory.

Completing activities is just one way to take over gang territory in Saints Row 3. Hidden throughout Steelport on the various islands that make up the metropolis are gang operations. When found, the objective is to eliminate all gang members with a red icon over their head to gain that section of Steelport. Additionally, there are a plethora of properties that can be purchased for a set price. New cribs can be accessed where you can park vehicles, change clothes, and escape police and/or gang notoriety. Establishments such as clothing stores, plastic surgeon offices, car customization garages, tattoo parlors, and gun shops give discounts for stores you own. As more sections of Steelport are owned by the Saints, less rival gang members hang out and more Saints arrive, mingling on the streets.

Grab a civilian and use them as a shield.
This is a turf war we're talking about!
Speaking of guns and vehicles, there are a vast variety of weaponry and rides at your fingertips. As you complete missions you earn new goodies such as tanks, VTOLs, and bizarre weapons like a Mega Man-styled hand cannon, a giant fist that punches people across long distances, a shock hammer that sends ripples wherever it is slammed on, a fart-in-a-jar which causes opponents to gag, throw up, and become dazed as you off them, and yes, even sex toys. Stay classy, Volition. Weapons can be upgraded at any Friendly Fire location. For instance, a normal everyday wooden baseball bat can be upgraded to have barbwire encircling it.

Decidedly, Saints Row: The Third is not grounded in reality.

While we're on the subject of upgrades, these are dealt out differently than in past Saints Row games. No longer do you obtain them from completing activities. Instead, you gain them from purchasing them via your phone. You just need the right amount of Respect (received from completing missions, activities, and doing odd tasks like power-sliding, nearly hitting other cars, popping a wheelie across a long distance, vehicle surfing, killing cops and rival gang members, etc.) to buy them. Your character can obtain higher stamina, more health, and when you reach level 45 Respect or higher, unlimited ammo. You'll be able to feel free to pop a cap in someone's hind parts as often as you like!

Take it to the fuzz with an attack chopper.

Aside from the 47 missions and 60-something instances of activities, there's still a lot to complete in Steelport. The city might not be as ambitious as say, a San Andreas, but it has a fair amount of stuff to offer. There's assassination missions where you follow instructions to lure out the target and then kill him or her, vehicle theft missions that have you going to a certain part of town to steal a vehicle and bringing back to a marked location, survival missions that happen randomly as you play, and challenges (reaching a set amount of streaking time, big air time, travel distance, boats/cars/aircraft/tanks destroyed, and so forth). You'll be spending plenty of time in Steelport-- over thirty hours if you plan on achieving everything there is to accomplish.

The gameplay mechanics of Saints Row 3 are relatively top-notch. The driving controls are some of the genre's best. Of course, a truck doesn't have the agility and swiftness of a sports car, and that is to be expected. One thing that did bug me was how slow rising and lowering in a helicopter felt. It took far too long for it to rise and sink in the sky. Meanwhile, being on-foot had its ups and downs. The game utilizes a stamina meter and a regenerating health system. Occasionally I'd get caught up on the geometry of a fence or building and be a sitting duck to fire or explosions. Thankfully, if my character got caught under an insurmountable object or obstacle, the game would instantly refresh and put my character out of harm's way. If this wasn't done, I'd have lots of frustration and anger, for sure. Gunplay in Saints Row: The Third feels tight enough. Pulling off head shots (and the sporadic nut shot) is a breeze, and close encounters never were irritating either. Holding a button popped up the weapon wheel which made exchanging weapons beyond simple. There would be nothing worse than trying to shift weapons in the middle of a firefight and being unable to do so.

Saints Row: The Third is an above average-looking open-world action game. As you would expect with a game of this magnitude and scale, there is a large amount of graphical bugs and glitches such as pop up, pop in, and every type of pop except soda pop and popcorn. Characters can glitch through walls, sometimes making completing missions an impossibility. I've had it where I had to restart a mission because the game glitched and wouldn't allow me to progress. Other times the game froze and I had to hard reset my system. These problems aside, Steelport is a living, breathing city, and while not as memorable as Vice City or Liberty City, it invites players to explore every nook and cranny. The level of detail in Steelport is phenomenal even with all of the graphical bugs. Characters animate well as evident by the various taunts your character can do. Shifting to sound, the voice acting is incredible. Each line is delivered convincingly, and the soundtrack was something I came into hesitantly. I'm a classic rock kind of guy, but some of my favorite tracks on Saints Row 3's many radio stations came from The Mix, Gen-X, and the classical music station. Also, after each "big" event in the game, a news broadcast would chime in chronicling what had just occurred making for a greater sense of realism in an otherwise totally surreal game.

Obviously not dressing for the occasion, is she?

Saints Row: The Third might just be a title that-- at least for this gen-- out GTAs GTA. It harks back to a less realistic open world experience that focuses more on fun than "how serious can we make our game be." Although there are plenty of distasteful moments and sophomoric humor (the kind you see on an average message board) and there are a grand amount of glitches to be had, the good far outweighs the bad in this third outing of the Saints. While the main campaign may be short, Saints Row: The Third manages to somehow be entertaining for the majority of the wild, wacky, and whimsical ride. Suit up and strap it on. The Saints are back and they mean business.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

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