Three guns up for the third time! This release by THQ and Volition is the third installment of the sandbox series that glorifies all things over-the-top. And it's this completely "zanny" approach that intensifies the awesome parts of the series, which helps to make this the best Saints yet.
*The following in italics is from a Saints Row The Third press release
Years after taking Stilwater for their own, the Third Street Saints have evolved from street gang
to household brand name, with Saints sneakers, Saints energy drinks and Johnny Gat bobblehead dolls
all available at a store near you. The Saints are kings of Stilwater, but their celebrity status
has not gone unnoticed. The Syndicate, a legendary criminal fraternity with pawns in play all over
the globe, has turned its eye on the Saints and demands tribute.
Refusing to kneel to the Syndicate, you take the fight to Steelport, a once-proud metropolis
reduced to a struggling city of sin under Syndicate control. Take a tank skydiving, call in a
satellite-targeted airstrike on a Mexican wrestling gang, and defend yourself against a highly-
trained military force using only a sex toy in the most outlandish gameplay scenarios ever seen,
igniting a city-wide war that will set Steelport on fire.
The sandbox genre is one that has become much maligned in the hearts and minds of gamers. The Grand Theft Auto III experience was amazing for most of us. Just (if nothing else) on the sheer novelty of "go anywhere. do anything" that hadn't really been completely fulfilled up to that point. Sure, the "open world" design in still a great idea and can be profitable, but it's evolved into titles needing to have some hallmarks of their own to separate themselves. Take shooters, for instance. At one time, it was acceptable to just have a reticle that worked and enemies to shoot. Now it must bring some of it's own delicacies to the table.
Volition understood this when making the Saints games, and the third installment has all of the basic "musts." The world itself is huge. So huge that it would take a concerned effort to walk/drive/swim/ect. every single part of the explorable world. Check. There are plenty of different vehicles to drive, customize, and save in your "garage." Check. Speaking of custom, all of the player customization options you would ever want are also here, from skin color all the way to space helmets and "Hulk" hands. Check. And a plethora of missions with action, action, and more action are all here as well. Check. So that is different about The Third? What gives it a unique touch that will make is stand out? The creators decided to try and do the above better than it has been done before, and do it in the most outrageous manner possible. And in large, they have succeeded.
The main objective on display is to take the city over and make all of Steelport Saint's territory. This ultimate goal is to be expected, but this ensures that the action intensive gameplay makes perfect sense at all times. I have played my fair share of action oriented sandbox titles (to say the least) but the gun play mechanics and driving design is probably the best I have ever experienced. No disrespect to Rockstar in anyway, shape, or form. They do nothing but make great games and compelling experiences. But one of the "knocks" against them in terms of their "bread and butter" genre is that the weapon wielding aspect is extremely basic, maybe even clunky in certain scenarios. The Third has solid mechanics that even come across as rich in the most tense of moments.
Each weapon class has a very distinct feel and function. Pistols are the foundation, and if used methodically, can really make the difference in a heated exchange. The two that are usually indistinguishable in other games are SMGs and assault rifles. Not here. Subs are great suppressing option for a large group of foes by just peppering bullets in a given area. Assault rifles are also bullet hoses, but are best used when taking nice, steady shots, preferably to the head. Shotguns and snipers also act as you would expect them to, as do grenades and other "explosive" selections. The arsenal aspects that make the selection in this game just awesome are the "special" arms. The airstrike missiles are sweet for two reasons. One: it's a fantastic way to shed a great number of enemies and vehicles in one fell swoop. Two: the first time you realize you just called in a missile from the sky in the middle of a sprawling metropolis, and this considered "the norm" is the moments that the vision for The Third comes into focus, and that lewd, crude, on fire fun is the name of the game.
The melee system is another bar raising component. Forget complicated button combinations or "degenerative" weapon choices, mindless mayhem is the reward for treating the firearms so seriously. Baseball bats, stun guns, and even over sized "pleasure devices" wrapped around said bats are the most fun way to send someone to meet their maker. The hand-to-hand combat action is so awesome, I even grin just thinking about it. With any weapon out, clicking down on the left stick engages a comical shot straight to the groin. Two of these whacks, and most baddies are down for the count. But with your fists out, pressing the left trigger engages a quick time style beat down with assorted punches and kicks. But the most sickeningly satisfying assault is combining sprint and melee. This unleashes A.J. Styles worthy turnbuckle moves on anyone that don't step correct! My personal favorite is the run up the back and using an elbow to ram their head right onto the pavement. Horrible: yes. Hilarious fun: definitely.
One positive I did not expect was how good the vehicular aspects are. I've played some racing games that don't have the throttle control, brake physics, and just overall "feel" that this sandbox venture has. And it's not just that a "clunker" goes slower than the generic sports car. There are actual effects on the turning radius compared to the torque. Or that pulling hard on the handbrake won't make anything drift. Or how a chopper bike and a sports cycle are like night and day. All of this sweet stuff also translates to the more "off the wall" whips. While it may be a novelty to do a drive-by in a golf cart, don't expect to outrun members of the rival Morningstars in a souped up muscle car. Just because you're the user in the computer's world doesn't mean you get special treatment, such as a cart that will go 80mph. The one personal plus for me was how effortless it was to pilot the helicopter. While it won't be contending with the likes of the new Ace Combat, the controls are intuitive enough than you'll be able to fly it where you want and get pretty good shots with the machine gun and missiles on all targets.
One thing I will say that might be a little exhausting is that there is ALWAYS something going on. It is kind of difficult to just "take a stroll" to explore. The action never stops, with so much to do, and so much trouble to get into. But there are a few tools that will help make sense of all the chaos. The main HUD of assistance is the IllWireless cell phone (press Back to bring it up). This is home to all the "apps" you will need to manage your character and the game. the most pertinent is the Map. This is the standard, GPS powered layout that shows you all the roads as well as notable points like shops, properties, and so forth. Another "quick" one is Music, which allows you to customize the wide array of radio stations to your liking. The soundtrack has pretty good cuts and is the perfect companion to the events (try tuning to the Classical station when in the middle of a huge gun battle. Epic, but still comical). The Phone gives a quick rundown of notable "homies" which can be called upon to help with "holding down the block" and stores certain unlockable items like erasing gang notoriety. The Cash app will funnel money from Saints controlled business straight into you personal account. And Extras is the place to input the almighty cheats. Haven't seen any for this one yet on the InterWebs, but they are soon to appear at the cheat website nearest you.
While the ones just mentioned are the "quick hits," the others are the more sustaining "bulk" of the game. One sweet feature in this title is the fact that the Missions (those attached directly to the narrative) are accessed in the IllWireless menu. Just press A to select the newest objective. And although you'll probably have to drive to a particular place to "start" it, this gives you the flexibility of not having to trek across town to go to some person's "crib." The missions themselves are really quite fun, with being just challenging enough to be taken seriously. I won't get into too many details about them individually, but be prepared for a real mixed bag in terms of length, style, cast of characters, parameters, vehicles, locations, ect., ect. The second big single player construct are the Activities, or side missions that are quirky, and usually quick ways to earn money and Respect. Completion also gives the Saints a small percentage of control over the area the Activity is near. These are amazingly fun, with selections including: Tank Mayhem, Heli Assault, Trafficking, and more. My favorite is Professor Genki, that puts you in this "Murder Fun Time" game show in which you'll do your best impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger from The Running Man, trying to reach a finish line within a time window while dodging fire walls, hurdling electric floors, and having shootouts with lunatics in mascot outfits all while Hulk Hogan offers color commentary. And the award for most original way to fit a wrestler into a game he doesn't belong goes to...
Few more things. The presentation is really, really good. The Third offers slick visual style with great detail in all aspects of the city from the streets, to the buildings, to even the grass and trees. The character models are astonishingly strong for a sandbox game, with individuality and flair. The audio is quite strong. I played this game with my a40s, and sounded just as good as BF3 and CE: Anniversary in terms of spacing, power, and precision. Great voice acting from the aforementioned Hogan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sasha Grey, and others rounds out another (duh) winning aspect of this game. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the co-op to be had. The campaign can be played with a buddy system link or over LIVE. So can the Whored Mode. Yes, Whored Mode, which is a "continuing wave" mini-game in the vein of Gears' Horde and Halo's Firefight. But each round is completely different. One may have you blasting mini zombies with a shotgun, then clubbing through crazed gimps the next. Endless, crazy, hilarious fun. Which exactly encapsulates The Third.