Here comes Saints Row the Third, walking down the street without a care in the world, waving its giant purple schlong about for the whole wide world to see. Why is it in such a good mood? Perhaps the assembled game reviewers have the answer.
Okay folks, it's getting old now. As Kotaku's resident Frankenreview crafter, I'm responsible for building all of these charts, making sure they're eye-catching without being too garish, and that they maintain a certain design symmetry. All of these perfect 100 scores are ruining that. Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, Super Mario 3D Land, Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Skyward Sword; it's a cavalcade of perfection, and it's getting on my nerves. I figured I was safe with Saints Row: The Third. We suggested you buy it, sure, but it's a game marketed with sex toys. Surely it won't get a perfect score anywhere.
*eyes the chart and sighs* Oh just go read your damn Frankenreview.
Saints Row 2 is one of my favorite games of this generation. Taking the silly violence of "Grand Theft Auto III trilogy" and ramping it up to near-farcical degrees, Volition created a game that was like nothing else out there, despite resembling every other sandbox game on the surface.
One of its most compelling aspects was the playable role of an irredeemable villain whose sociopathic treatment of others made for a truly vile character. A real scumbag, yet one that we couldn't help rooting for due to the sheer magnificence of his or her bloodthirsty antics. It was a game about being evil, and not in the pussyfooted way that other games present playable villainy. It was pure, malevolent, all-encompassing turpitude, and it was spitefully good fun.
Saints Row: The Third aims to top the outrageous behavior of the last game, and it certainly manages that in several ways. In a few others, however, it seems to have taken a drastic step back.
The Third Street Saints are sitting on top of the world, with lucrative licensing deals, major motion pictures, and a very active finger in the crime pie in the city of Stilwater. Since there's little conflict in being number one, a shadowy syndicate moves in and kicks the Saints down the social, economic, and criminal ladder. That's the gist, and it follows an outline not unlike earlier games in the series, getting exponentially more absurd by way of hulking clones, Belgian bankers, and rival gangs that are also populated by walking stereotypes. The story doesn't pretend to aspire toward realism, with humor trumping structure, lessening the effectiveness of plot curveballs.
BSDM clubs that give way to auto-tuned pimps in pony suits set the level of narrative and trots on out from there. Offensive jokes, flashes of skin, and pretty much anything crude and rude run the show. Its cheap jokes get cheap laughs, and while there's nothing wrong with Saints Row not taking itself seriously, the game is also constantly stroking its own ego, combining pride and profanity, resulting in an obnoxious bit of mediocrity.
It all begins with the character creation tool. I don't think it should be understated how awesomely democratic this feature is; you can be anyone, and I mean anyone, you want to be. The fact that your character talks and engages in cut-scenes makes each player's experience unique, and almost gives you the impression that you're taking part in the game's design. That's a pretty cool concept that was satisfying to see in action, especially as the story continued on. It was for me, at least.
The evolution of the character you play as — "The Protagonist," as he or she is referred to — doesn't end there. Saints Row: The Third is practically a role-playing game with all the ways you can enhance your character through personal upgrades, not to mention the system for upgrading your weapons and cars. As much as the open world contributes to the variety you'll experience in the gameplay, the customization options are another layer that enriches the entire experience.
When you're not taking part in one of the ambitious story missions, the series' trademark activities are scattered all over town. New distractions involve keeping a tiger satisfied while it sits in your passenger seat, riding a cyber bike through a computerized world, sniping enemies while rappelling down the side of a building, and participating in a televised deathmatch that feels like a cross between The Running Man and a Japanese game show. While most of the distractions are fun, some tedious activities like Trafficking, Snatch, and Escort make their return instead of more entertaining alternatives from Saints Row 2. That game's Fuzz, Septic Avenger, Fight Club, Demolition Derby, and Crowd Control activities seem like a natural fit for this sequel, but they're surprisingly absent.
Regardless of a few omitted favorites, Saints Row: The Third features no shortage of activities, side-quests, collectibles, and humorous distractions. Between them, the wealth of new upgrade options, co-op play, Whored mode (a Horde mode clone), and the explosive story missions, there's no shortage of content. It's also good to see Volition continue to make the series less buggy with each installment. Occasional glitches will rear their head as you cruise around the new city, but they're rarely more than cosmetic. Taking over Steelport as the 3rd Street Saints feels like a more focused effort than its predecessors' campaigns, and it'll keep you laughing throughout.
The Gamer's Temple
As you play the game you'll have to face more than your share of gun battles with police, rival gangs, and even the military. The gun battles are fun, not just because of the variety of weapons and explosives at your disposal, but also because the controls don't get in your way. The controls are tight and responsive, and you'll be able to take on hordes of enemies without taking on the controls as well. If a battle has you overmatched, you can call for backup from either random flunkies from The Saints' rank and file or from some of the NPCs you've forged alliances with. The NPCs each have their own special skill, so calling in the right person to back you up in a pinch can make your job easier for you. The AI of your allies is pretty good and they're there for more than show, doing their fair share of the work in taking out the enemies. The enemy AI isn't quite as good - their attacks tend to fall into patterns that you quickly learn to recognize and it's pretty easy to flank and take out an enemy hiding behind cover. Most of the challenge you'll face will come from the sheer number of enemies the game can throw at you at once. This can sometimes be frustrating as a near endless stream of enemy reinforcements can come streaming at you until you're overwhelmed. Luckily, death just means a trip to the hospital and some medical fees conveniently deducted from your bank account.
Saints Row has always been seen as something of an also-ran, but The Third finally says, in no uncertain terms, that it's just as big and even more fun than its more serious competition. Some might be tempted to dismiss the game because of its extreme wackiness, but know that at its core, the game is incredibly well crafted and ceaselessly fun. While the comedies typically lose out to the dramas come awards time, none of it changes the fact that Saints Row: The Third is one of the best games of the year, and given this year's competition, that's no small compliment.
Did the gang just jump from Third Street to Main Street?