I never feel comfortable writing a full review until I’ve played an entire game. On the other hand, I’m actually pretty comfortable writing an almost-review about Saints Row: The Third now. I can’t really call this “first impressions,” because I have seen a lot of Saints Row: The Third. Since buying it, I’ve watched both my husband, and a mutual friend, play pretty big chunks of the game. It’s actually one of last year’s games, contemporary to Skyrim, but since I had to wait my turn, I just started playing it this week myself. Here are my thoughts.
It’s great! I love it.
Wait, you were expecting an article of some kind? I guess I should qualify that opinion, then.
It’s great if you’re a person like me: a horrible jerk who likes doing horrible things to people in video games. This is not a game for people who want to play as a hero. It is not a game for people who are offended by juvenile jokes about adult situations. If the best part of GTA: San Andreas for you was the part where you could steal an ambulance and then serve as the emergency driver that got people to the hospital (admittedly, cool and fun), there is nothing so pro-social in Saints Row: The Third. Even when you do something sort of helpful, it carries the taint of sin, like a mission to rescue prostitutes from a rival gang.
I personally feel that this kind of irreverence has its place, though. What Saints Row: The Third does right (that GTA IV did wrong) is that the tone is consistent. In the first mission of the game, your avatar – the Boss of the Saints, before even going through character generation and wearing an oversized, hilarious facemask – robs a bank by shooting all the guards in the face, fights off a SWAT team, airlifts the bank vault out by helicopter, then, dangling off the hanging vault, shoots out other helicopters. The game only gets crazier from there. The game is just wacky and surreal. It never takes a break from being rude and crude to talk about how crime is wrong and bad and, like, totally changes a man.
Another thing Saints Row: The Third does better than GTA IV is the driving. It is actually fun and handles well.
This is my first Saints Row game. Here’s what historical context I know for the Saints Row series.
The first Saints Row game was a sort of awkward clone of Grand Theft Auto. It had a fairly robust character creation system, but the game overall hadn’t really found its groove, I guess. Saints Row 2 seems to be a sequel to Saints Row in the sense that Evil Dead 2 is a sequel to Evil Dead. Technically, you play as the same character, but there’s a “plastic surgery” sequence at the beginning of the game to indicate that it doesn’t matter much. From there, the game creeps up in to intentionally over-the-top humor and wacky hijinks.
This is what I know from watching YouTubes of the first two games, as opposed to playing them myself. But by the looks of it, Saints Row: The Third is the Army of Darkness of Saint’s Row. It seems to work pretty well as a standalone, since I don’t think that introduction or context would make any of the things that happen in it make any more sense anyway. You start the game as the Boss of the Saints street gang, with two “homies”: Pierce, and Shaundi. A third gang member, Johnny Gat, starts out captured (killed? Everyone says he’s dead, but I don’t count things out in video games) by the bad guys. …The other bad guys. The badder guys, who aren’t you. From there, you can collect lots of other allies throughout the game.
The game character generator allows you to make a male, or female boss with lots of options. The facial sliders are robust enough to create lots of different-looking people. I always get addicted to a good character generator like this; it’s almost so distracting I forgot to play the game. Here is where I break the flow of my writing to link you to a YouTube channel where a brilliant person shows off the slider’s ability to make tons of real-world celebrities. Seriously, check that out.
You can also pick from a selection of different voices depending on how you want your Boss to deliver his or her dialog. At the end, I went with a sort of punk-rock looking woman with bright red lipstick and spiky hair streaked red and purple. My husband is essentially playing the game as this guy. Yes, Steampunk outfits are in the game.
Our friend also played a female, but maxed out the “boob slider,” which is actually labeled “Sex Appeal.” I would not recommend that you do this. The breast physics on the protagonist, if female, are painfully bad: two half-filled water balloons jiggling independently all over the place. You can buy bras in the game, but, like the goggles, they do nothing. Meanwhile, standing to the right of your jigglemonster Boss is Shaundi, who has what appears to be an actual bad boob job, even in the game’s promotional art. Her breasts move not at all. Now that I’ve spent an entire paragraph confessing I’ve been staring at video game breasts, maybe more game artists should look at real ones more, in motion. For the good of us all. I’m sure they won’t really mind.
In a bid for gender equality, the “Sex Appeal” slider also works on male characters. It increases or decreases the size of underwear bulge. I say hooray to this. Perhaps they can, next time, also add physics.
(If your thought, as a man, is that that sounds sort of painful: now you know how the boob physics make me feel.)
I know that in Saints Row 2, the character creator was perhaps more progressive, treating gender as a slider rather than as a binary. Probably, one reason to set it to binary this time around is so that that particular slider can properly do its two different things. Men are at least free to wear women’s clothing, as well as vice versa, since no items seems to be locked by gender. You can also play a metal-skinned woman with a man’s voice or whatever kind of combination suits your fancy.
The game for the most part treats your character the same regardless of which gender you choose. This means for the usual awkwardness where a female character is enacting a script mostly written for a male one (this is a thing in Mass Effect for example). Still, I was mostly pleased by this. Watching the game played with a man, I wondered how it would handle a sequence where the main character was asked to carry Shaundi around for a little while, when the main character was also a woman. The answer is that it doesn’t handle this differently at all. Shaundi also still calls the Boss an “asshole” when he inevitably drops her, even if the boss is a she.
The game uses a few repeatable mission types to pad out the story mode a bit. These include several different driving games, some games focused on wholesale destruction, and a particularly entertaining “Insurance Fraud” game where you’re tasked to bounce your character from car to car, ragdolling dramatically, to build up cash in fake insurance claims. However, you may get to the point where these feel repetitive. You might also get the urge to grind on them a little bit for cash.
For more cashflow, the game allows you to become a bit of a gangster tycoon, by buying up different properties in the city that give you an hourly payout. The properties range from legitimate businesses like hotels and tattoo parlors, to the not-so-legitimate local meth lab. You’ll want to do this, since level-up bonuses are purchased with cash. Pay the game so many dollars, and it gives you more health bar. Reasonable, I guess.
There’s also some stuff I haven’t tried yet (co-op), and some stuff I’m not sure where to weigh in on yet. The radio, for example. I’m not sure if it has enough variety to sustain the entire game, but some of the music choices are great for their individual missions, when hand-picked. You’ll probably get tired of some songs pretty quickly, but racing from the cops to the tune of the Venture Brothers theme song is definitely fun the first time.
For now, I think Saints Row: The Third is a blast, but it might be a little thin. I know a lot of people on Tap are playing this; I’m just the first to write many words about it. So what are your thoughts? And who’s your Boss? (I mean other than Tony Danza, to save you the easy joke.)[Sadly, I’m only including promotional images, a few cropped from Game Informer, this time. We have the game on the 360, so no personal PC shots. I notice that most of the promotional art uses the blandest-possible looking main character! Shame.]
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