SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD Hits Like A Slap From A Dildo Bat

Alex blows some stuff up in SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD and reports back.

In the first hour of Saints Row: The Third you will rob a bank dressed as a big-headed sports mascot, blow up the building to expose the vault, fend off dozens of attackers while precariously balancing on said vault as it’s airlifted via helicopter, get arrested, break your way out of the cargo plane where you’re being held, grab a parachute and skydive all the way to the ground, killing enemies and dodging debris as you plummet to what counts as safety in this world.

It’s insanely fun, so incredibly thrilling that you’ll wonder how the rest of the game could possibly keep going like this- and then the pace crashes to a halt. Oh. It couldn’t keep going like this. No game could.

When the first Saints Row came out for the Xbox 360 in 2006, it had the whole place to itself. With no Grand Theft Auto installment to compete against, gamers ate up the open world adventure, eagerly completing missions to satiate Keith David, purple-clad gang leader of The Saints street gang. It was a fairly straightforward GTA clone, but it had next-gen graphics and a better aiming system than GTA ever did, and the game did well in an unchallenged market. Things were about change, however, with Rockstar Games about to unleash Grand Theft Auto IV on the world. Saints Row developer Volition Inc. likely knew they couldn't compete with the game on a story or realism basis for their sequel, so they did the next smartest thing- they went completely over the top.

Featuring missions that allowed you to literally spray a neighborhood with shit in order to decrease property values, Saints Row 2 managed to gain quite the following from people who were put off by the fact that GTA IV lost some of that manic fun that the last three installments had. It found its niche and exploited it well. (Some folks even preferred Saints Row 2 to the tragic story of Niko Bellic, but these people are obviously crazy.)

In that vein, Saints Row: The Third is even more ridiculous. You’ll wield weapons like the floppy dildo-bat, the deadly fart-in-a-jar, and giant fists that explode people into little chunks. Click in the right thumbstick and you’ll hit an enemy in the balls in a myriad of ways. You’ll face furries, luchadores, hooker assassins, even zombies. You’ve got tanks to drive, fighter jets to pilot... a deadly chase involving rickshaws being dragged by people clad in s&m outfits. The sense of humor is as sexist and juvenile as can be, the kind of game that Beavis and Butt-head would cream themselves over. This will likely be the sticking point for most people. There’s no clever satire, just heaps and heaps of dick jokes. Speaking on behalf of my huge-breasted, green-pigtailed Asian in a Bavarian beer girl outfit character, sometimes that’s all you need.

But the sad fact is that the game doesn’t do anything new. Whereas in the first Saints Row you were taking over a city by eliminating each gang’s territory and in the second you were retaking it from the gangs who crept back in after you were put in a coma for a few years, in the third installment... well, you're taking over gang territory once again by buying up locations and completing activities. At least this time it's a brand new city.

In the last couple of years The Saints have become reality stars, putting their images and brands on everything from movies to comics to soft drinks, and you’ll see stores for their clothing labels and ads for their products all around town. The city sure is pretty and fun to explore and the GPS system is great, putting arrows in the streets for turns so you don’t have to keep travelling by looking at dots and lines on a little map. The problem is that there’s not much to do in it. Every few blocks there’s a territory for you to purchase that will net you an hourly income or an activity to partake in, but it doesn’t really feel like a lived-in world.

Walk around a game like Mafia 2 or GTA IV and you’ll feel like the people in it are part of the world, with jobs and lives outside of what you see. In Saints Row: The Third they’re just there for the killing, and there just seems to be an expanse of nothingness in the world between each of your owned locations.

The main story sees a city that’s torn between throwing the Saints out or hailing them as heroes, and eventually the military is called in to put a halt to their shenanigans and restore order, which as recent real-life events show ALWAYS works. While most of the story missions can’t even begin to compete with the ones from the opening, they’re a varied bunch and there are some definite standouts, such as a Tron-inspired level that sees you fighting a computer hacker who messes with your avatar, turning you into a toilet and a blow-up doll. But in between those missions there’s not much to do but drive around the world from point to point completing activities. The shit-splattering minigame is strangely absent, although old favorites like Heli Assault and Mayhem return, as well as some new modes like Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, a Running Man-inspired gameshow. Most of the activities serve to just slow down the pace of the game, though, like the boring Snatch missions which see you trying to steal prostitutes and Insurance Fraud, which makes you get hit by dozens of cars trying to rack up insurance money.

As you complete missions and activities you’ll earn money to spend on various unlocks that begin to make the game easier and easier, eventually getting to the point where you can buy a bonus that allows you to take no damage from being shot, or run over. Never mind unlimited ammo and all the various vehicles and characters you can call in to help you out. There’s no real challenge in this game.

There’s no more competitive multiplayer online either, so your multiplayer options are limited to co-op and a new game called Whored Mode. The latter is obviously a riff on Gears of War’s Horde Mode which sees you facing increasingly tough waves of enemies, although of course Gears of War didn’t let you battle nuns and luchadores.

But the compelling gameplay, excellent controls and fun weapons will keep you going through the campaign. Did I mention you can call in airstrikes and use laser rifles? While the middle of the game just lags and threatens to drive you away entirely it starts to pick up in a big way near the end as the military ramps up their presence, with a great last mission that offers you a choice of two endings (as do a few other missions throughout the game). Once you beat the game you can try the last mission again to see what else could have transpired. Both are memorable and oddly poignant in a game filled with literal toilet humor.

I managed 100% world completion in 19 hours, with no real desire to go back to it again for the few remaining achievements. While mostly entertaining, Saints Row: The Third is like a great one-night stand, a fun and shallow experience that’s best kicked out in the morning. 

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