The Saints are back in Saints Row: The Third, the next installment of Volition’s the wild and crazy sandbox series. Expectations are high for this title, as pre-orders have been reported to be the most ever for a Saints Row game. Who wouldn’t want to play this as it has been billed as an “over the top, do anything you want” kind of experience? Well, we had a chance to play through the retail versions, and after causing some virtual mayhem; I have to say that this game deserves your attention.
The Saints have a new and somewhat interesting story in this third game. They have dropped in uninvited to Steelport City and have proceeded to take it over. There’s a slight problem with that though, Steelport City is owned by the highly feared, and very much hated, Syndicate. As strong as the Saints are the Syndicate won’t let Steelport City go easily, which means a bloody and violent war is on the horizon. Mix in other smaller factions spread around Steelport and the fight becomes that much tougher. Luckily you will have the Saints at your disposal, and pretty much anything goes. With an arsenal of firepower and an intense hate for the Syndicate, Saints Row: The Third is probably be the most over the top and violent Saints game to date.
Saints Row: the Third is quite ambitious technically speaking. The series has never seen such a huge open sandbox type game until now. The game is comprised of eight different sizable areas, six of which belong to the Syndicate. The other areas are divvied up between three rival factions, the Deckers, Morning Star, and Luchadores. The Morning Star are a collection of high-class criminals led by Loren, and they prefer sniper rifles and SMGs in combat. Loren’s twin sister’s bodyguards, Viola and Kiki DeWynter, look as if they were pulled right out of a Bond film, but their Harvard educations prove that their brains are just as deadly as their looks and hands.
The Morning Star faction may make the big decisions, but it’s the Luchadores who enforce them. They are led by former Lucha Libre wrestler turned-murderer called Killbane. These guys are certainly bizarre; running around the city with funky masks and sporting their bulging muscles. While the larger-than-life Killbane uses his flamboyance to gain favour in the media, his gang of drug peddlers prefer to put their bulk to use toting heavy weaponry. Killbane, and former tag-team partner Angel De La Muerte, have had a falling out resulting in Angel losing his mask; the ultimate shame to a luchadore. Angel and the Saints share a common enemy, so an alliance may be possible.
The Deckers, who are captained by Internet guru Matt Miller, round out the greater system of gangs. Geeks they may be, but they usually deal in money laundering and can be just as dangerous as the rest of the gangs in town.
In order to progress through the world of Saints Row: The Third, you must complete mission-based activities throughout Steelport. One thing you will find is that missions are not for the faint of heart as they are of the “blow your mind” variety. Take the opening sequence for example. The Saints are conducting a bank heist of epic proportion. The primary getaway vehicle is a helicopter that also carries the bank vault below it. The game is full of set pieces like this, which really ramps up the fun factor as you move along. I really loved skydiving and jumping out of aircraft without parachutes, and more fun ensues when you begin messing in the virtual reality of Steelport. In between missions there are tutorials that outline the basics of the game, and let you replay any of the missions. Every mission it seems is designed with a holy-shit factor and it will have you clamouring for more.
One aspect of Saints Row: The Third is focused on making money when you are not on missions. You can buy all kinds of properties ranging from gun shops, drug houses, and even casinos to earn income. Another example is stealing a luxury boat full of drugs and you can opt to sell the boat back to its owners for cash or keep it and pimp it out with working girls for extra funds. The possibilities are almost endless. The more investments you have the more they will directly fund your bottom line and increase your respect level. The directions you choose and decisions you make ultimately dictate which of the multiple endings that you will see at game’s end. Saints Row: The Third is not all guns and violence as there is a real story here and the level of depth is quite astounding.
The game controls very well. I found that I am more partial to the Xbox 360 controller than the PS3 Dual Shock 3. Not only does it feel better, I do believe it may do a slightly better job of controlling whatever you are doing or driving. I also thought there was a bit of lag or delay while driving or controlling any vehicle. This is purely a minor gripe, and most gamers probably won’t even notice it.
The left bumper button will be the most interesting on any controller, as this is described by Volition as the “Awesome” button. The button is used to supercharge all your standard moves while on foot, and more importantly while sprinting. Why use the car door to open and highjack vehicles when you can simply dropkick through the driver’s window, sending the driver flying out the opposite side. Attack from the front and be prepared to fly feet-first through the windshield. It can take a bit of timing, but the games mechanic is forgiving enough that you should master it pretty quickly. Oh yeah, and that button, it is pretty “Awesome” when you use it.
As your Saints legend grows you will be able to recruit more and more allies. Press up on the D-pad to recruit new members and they will flock to join you and can be an asset in some missions where you are outnumbered or outgunned. You will also get the help of Hommies. They come in droves usually dressed quite strangely and have some kind of special perk or attribute. For example, some can have weapons like bats or guns of some kind. Hommies are an interesting lot and they add to the craziness of the world of Saints Row.
The first two games in THQ’s Saints Row franchise have had some sort of competitive multiplayer mode, letting players unleash chaos in the virtual world of Stillwater City against others. For Saints Row: The Third, Volition gathered feedback from fans and saw that the competitive multiplayer action was not all that popular. This time around, instead of full on adversarial mutltiplayer modes, Saints Row: The Third has an online cooperative mode. Every mission and activity in the game’s campaign mode can be experienced with another player, and the co-op mode has full drop-in and drop-out support. Volition is convinced that playing with another person will only augment the feeling of the gaming experience in the outrageous missions that are included in the single-player campaign. I played a fair amount of co-op and found that the fun factor is pretty high indeed. Once you get used to working as a team the game seems to open up into another level of enjoyment and I strongly recommend playing with another friend for even more fun.
Of course you are going to need to do something with all the cash you accumulate in-game. Saints Row: The Third houses one of the strongest customization modes seen in the series to date. The amount of custom choices available to you is astounding, whether it’s choosing what weapon to wield, how to break into a car, or how to customize your character and weapons. For the first time in the Saints Row series, you will be able to level up your character beyond just your appearance. As you complete missions you’ll earn XP that can then be used to purchase abilities such as how fast you can run or how accurate you are with a weapon. In addition to improving your base character’s attributes, the XP points you earn can also be used to make your character look different. So if you want a portly character, or one that’s ultra-ripped, you can use some XP and change your character’s appearance. You can also go a bit wild and make your character nude, or very close to it. Don’t worry, your naughty bits will fuzzed out but most will get the general idea. The character customization tool is quite intuitive and deep, with virtually limitless options.
The choices you have in Saints Row: The Third don’t stop with the character choices as you also have new options for car customization (rim jobs) in addition to being able to don suits like ninja costumes or a furry animal outfits. Car customization has been present in past Saints Row games, but in this newest entry into the franchise there are more options like adding an under glow to your car (which has to be purple of course) along with the ability to add new items which improve the overall stats of the car such as better torque, top end speed or overall mass to increase ramming effects.
Your stronghold, or base of operations, can also be augmented to your personal taste. Throughout the game you will take over Syndicate buildings and make them your own. These bases have the standard ‘crib’ options such as a heliport and a garage. You can save cars you have stolen in these strongholds. Be sure to steal a cop car, as it is very durable and fast. Eventually you will be able to upgrade your crib into a towering skyscraper, earning you even more cash and respect.
Speaking of Respect, this is another form of currency in Steelport. With it you can unlock various upgrades like a longer sprint time or taking no damage when falling. Activities are one of the best ways to accrue respect points, and there are several that you can participate in. Mayhem is one of my favourite activities; it is a kind of free for all in the streets all over the city and you inflict as much monetary damage as possible in a set time limit. It is as simple as that. Insurance fraud is another interesting activity as well. You rack up bogus claims and medical expenses by throwing yourself out into traffic and try to collect as much money as you can.
One mode that I really found pretty neat is the Initiation Station. This tool allows you to create your own character and up load it to the community site. Once the game goes live you can share your creations with friends and or use them when playing in co-op mode. The initiation station will be live on PSN and XBL at the games launch.
Saints Row: The Third also has its own version of a horde-like mode called Whored. When whores attack the Saints will rise up and kill them. You must withstand 30 crazy and increasingly difficult waves of enemies, which is also fully playable in co-op mode. Watch out for the 24 sex slaves that are armed with a giant purple dildo bat, it is definitely a tough one.
For those looking for even more, Volition has promised us a whole slew of downloadable content in the coming future, so you won’t get to bored and new content is around the corner to continue to let those who want to play on and on again.
For Saints Row: The Third, Volition has stepped up its’ game with a fresh new visual engine, and the result are such that the world of Saints Row looks more dynamic than ever. The game has a high level of detail where ever you go in Steelport. I found very little signs of clipping or any major graphical issues. I really enjoy open sandbox type games and there’s plenty of room to roam here. Saints Row: The Third runs smoothly no matter what you’re doing or where you are going. The graphic violence found throughout the game is the real star here. I remember cringing a few times as I took out people with dropkicks or curbs-stomps, sending blood splatter in all directions.
For me I would say the Xbox 360 version looks a bit better overall, as it outputs at a higher rates than the PS3 version, but not enough difference to put anyone’s nose out of place. Regardless of which version you choose though, the game looks great, from the crazy characters of Steelport to the city structures themselves, you won’t be disappointed.
The games musical selection consists of mostly hip-hop and hardcore rap tunes. While not particularly my cup of tea it is subject appropriate and quite serviceable for the games visual content. I ’m sure some gamers will recognize the more famous artists; I for one have no clue. There are some really good groves that I found myself bopping my head too though and I think many who play this game will find themselves doing the same.
Much like previous Saints Row games, several celebrities voice characters in the game. This time around Daniel Dae Kim reprises his role as Johnny Gat, while Sasha Grey voices Viola DeWynter, Hulk Hogan voices professional wrestler and Saints ally Angel De LaMuerte, and Natalie Lander voices ex-FBI agent and Saints ally Kinzie Kensington. Game designer Tomonobu Itagaki also stars in the game as a playable character.
The PS3 outputs the game in DTS Surround, whereas the Xbox utilizes Dolby Digital Surround. Both formats sound fantastic and really have no noticeable sonic differences. Both sound formats also do a great job of the sound effects. I like how cars and guns sound different from each other; it shows me the developer cares about the gamer. I also loved the surround sound use in the game. I could clearly hear bullets whizzing by, or the blast of air as I jumped out of a plane at high altitude. I’m not even mentioning the sound of teeth scraping pavement, bones breaking under a car, or the screams of agony permeating through the city. Overall the sound is quite fantastic.
Saints Row: The Third is my first in-depth taste of the Saints Row franchise and I came away wanting more. This ain’t no GTA I can tell you that, as Saints Row: The Third is the most crazy and insanely violent game I’ve played in years, perhaps ever, but it has a story to go with everything else and a very well implemented cooperative mode. The game is a well-done piece business, with obvious detail and care oozing out of every sin soaked pore. It definitely deserves a play or two, as it is one wild ride that no gamer should neglect.