Next week, Volition will release the third game in the Saints Row series, appropriately titled Saints Row: The Third. What started as a Grand Theft Auto knockoff that merely tided players over while they awaited a true HD GTA morphed into something entirely different: the psychotic, chaos-addicted Mr. Hyde to GTA's increasingly grounded Dr. Jeckyll.
After an exhausting, enthusiastic promotional campaign featuring strippers, rappers, penthouse pets, Burt Reynolds, E3 rim jobs (not that kind), and all manner of ridiculous trailer and promotional gimmick, the game's release is upon us. But does it live up to its own self-aware, ridiculous hype? Could any game? Time for a gut check.
Kirk Hamilton, who got surprisingly addicted to the first Saints Row and will be reviewing this one for Kotaku: How best to describe Saints Row: The Third? It's like... a supervillain acid trip; it's like an open-world crime game designed by Tracy Jordan. It's batshit insane. It's a total riot.
For a long time building up to its release, I didn't know what to think of Saints Row: The Third. Its ad campaign had been so ridiculous and overwhelming, and the ads' tone often lapsed into that certain type of calculated offensiveness that feels more offensive due its calculatedness than due to how actually offensive it is.
I've been playing the game for a week or so, and I'm genuinely surprised by how much I'm loving it. The sheer gusto with which Saints Row: The Third carries itself… the story kicks off with what is easily the most bananas opening sequence since Bayonetta, a bam-bam-bam series of building-destructions, skydiving shootouts, and parachute hijinks that culminates in... well... basically in a Kanye video.
And it just keeps going from there—it feels like this game will do almost anything to entertain. The writing, in particular, is a significant cut above its predecessors. Every scene is loaded with lowbrow comedy that is smart and funny, though in places the story and characters do still suffer from that trademark Saints Row misogynistic undertone. The gunplay feels good, the new graphics are solid, the arsenal is insane and hugely varied, and the explosions are as great-looking as ever. And I haven't even mentioned the other game modes, the cooperative play, and all the side activities I haven't unlocked yet.
You'll laugh, you'll cry… well, actually you won't cry. But you will laugh a whole lot, and blow up a ton of stuff while doing so. Yes.
I played through the initial missions of Saints Row the Third on the Xbox 360, chuckling at the banter between gang members as they struggled to be taken seriously in a world where their colors had become the international symbol for sell-out. I laughed out loud at the sheer ridiculousness of the oft-mentioned skydiving shoot-out, reminiscent of one of my guilty movie pleasures: Clive Owen's Shoot-Em Up. Once I hit the ground I had a blast flipping through radio stations as pedestrians bounced off the windshield of whatever stolen vehicle I was driving at the time. Before I knew it I had spent hours simply tooling around town, stirring up trouble.
This is a different Saints Row than the two that came before it. It's more ambitious, more outrageous, and a great deal wittier than its immature marketing stunts had led me to believe. As a man with dangerously little time on my hands lately, I'd avoid a game like this like the plague; productivity is at an all-time low as it is. If you've got the time, however, be a dear and run over some luchadores for me. Yes.
It's hard for me to say whether Saints Row: The Third is a truly intriguing game or merely a titillating one. From all that has been described, it seems like it offers a deep, open-world crime experience that is heavily indulgent of your taste for mayhem. Many, many other games available now also offer massive open-ended experiences—notably Skyrim and Batman: Arkham City, and both are sturdier Game of the Year timber.
How can I say this about a game I haven't played and hasn't yet been released? Look at its marketing, frankly. So much of the game's appeal is nakedly manipulative and unapologetically boorish, and being an unapologetic boor, I have no intelligence to insult, and can see the game for what it is. Sure, DLC with Penthouse Pets Nikki Benz and Shay Laren (so I know their names, what are you, my wife?) arches my ... eyebrows. But unless you have a burning desire to finish this series, I think you could put it on a Christmas list or wait to buy it with stocking-stuffer money when the price goes down. No.