Regrettably, when it launched back in 2011, I let Saints Row: The Third slip right under my radar. Having not really enjoyed the two previous instalments, all I saw was an obnoxious, immature sandbox game lingering in the ever-present shadow of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto. How terribly wrong I was.
Although far from revolutionary, Saints Row: The Third serves up one of gaming’s most refined open world experiences, packed to the rim with diverse, enjoyable content. As for the comedy, don’t let the phallic objects put you off; Saints Row has some genuine laugh-out-loud moments bridged by tongue-in-cheek dialogue and some clever pop-culture references.
Without all the bat-shit craziness, Saints Row: The Third would only be half a game; a desolate sandbox devoid of character. Luckily that isn’t the case. Volition has somehow thrown dozens of tropes, archetypes and parodies into a melting pot without it blowing up in their face.
Characters come in all shapes and sizes, from Belgian masterminds and twin hookers, to washed-up actors and hulking clones. Most surprising is how fleshed out each personality is and the chemistry that exists between them. Perhaps even more kooky is the game world itself. In pursuing a life of crime and exploitation, the Third Row Saints have become global celebrities as well as the nation’s most-wanted crime syndicate. It’s a hilarious paradox that takes a step further in Volition’s upcoming sequel.
Where Saints Row and its follow-up were closely compared to Grand Theft Auto, The Third separates itself, though only marginally. Much of the core gameplay elements are similar, if not identical, though its tone is different. In adopting parody over satire, Volition has allowed itself swathes of creative freedom as demonstrated by the alien invasion in Saints Row IV. Comparisons are still inevitable though the developer has to be lauded for boldly steering the franchise away from mainstream conventions.
Scouring for faults is usually an easy task, even when playing some of the best rated game on the planet. However, the only sins Saints Row: The Third commit are those often shared throughout the entire open-world genre. From Prototype and Red Dead to the sublime Grant Theft Auto IV, games of such immense scale are usually burdened with pacing issues and Saints Row is no exception.
Though Steelport is stacked with side-quests and challenges, players will find themselves drawn towards the game’s story-driven missions. Often action-packed and fairly bombastic, these nuggets of gameplay help to establish many of Saints Row’s numerous features and mechanics. At first there is a definite, brisk pace as events unfold in rapid succession. The Saints’ frontman, Johnny Gat, is dead and you’re left to continue his legacy. Meanwhile, Steelport’s gang factions have come together to form a syndicate intent on wiping out the Saints once and for all.
However, after the first third of the game, things start to slow down a little. Mission structure becomes repetitive, acting as filler between story beats and it almost feels as though Saints Row is deliberately steering you towards the game’s open-world content. Challenges, turf wars, real estate and other secondary tasks start to creep into missions, breaking the sense of urgency surrounding the game’s plot.
As mentioned before, this is something most open-world games are guilty of and is less of a detriment to Saints Row: The Third. At its core, this game about messing around and causing havoc in the most obscene and bizarre ways imaginable. If you come into Steelport expecting a masterfully-structured crime thriller, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Saints Row: The Third bears the hallmarks of a fantastic free-roam experience and, despite being on shelves for almost two years, holds up remarkably well against what’s currently on offer. It’s one of those game you can keep revisiting time and time again, maintaining both its charm and playability.