Saints Row has always lived in the shadow of the Grand Theft Auto series. But with GTA IV decidedly more serious than previous entries, and GTA V having only just been announced, now seems like a perfect time to unleash a mayhem-happy game. Can Saints Row: The Third step in for Grand Theft Auto? Let’s find out.
The answer is a resounding “f*ck yes!” From your very first mission where you rob a bank using gigantic heads of the character Johnny Gat to tuning your character in the Initiation Station, it is very clear Volition, Inc. had over-the-top fun in mind when creating this game. That first mission involves robbing a heavily-armed bank, and by the end of it you’ve already killed hundreds of SWAT and Syndicate (your main rival gang/organization) members. Hell, this game is kill-heavy even for Grand Theft Auto. There are cutscenes for major missions and points in the story, which are genuinely entertaining. You start as the leader of the Saints, who at this point are a globally-recognized brand including your own energy drink and merchandise. Before long, you find yourself at war with the Syndicate, a multinational conglomerate. They knock you down a peg by emptying your bank accounts and offing a fellow member. But, this is Saints Row! So within only a few missions you’re back on top, with a penthouse to boot.
That penthouse overlooks the new virtual playground known as Steelport. It’s a massive, sprawling city that feels alive and dirty. Travel time can be a while by car, but of course there are other ways to travel, namely through the air. Jets, helicopters and more are unlocked as the story progresses, and you quickly find yourself in possession of an array of devastating, upgradeable weapons that would make any military blush. You earn cash through pretty much everything you do – killing people, completing missions, and especially from owning property. Every piece of real estate that you own, be it an apartment building or retail store, adds to your hourly wage. A nice bonus comes in the form of discounts on items when you own a particular store. However, this hourly income is not automatically transferred to your available cash. While that may sound annoying, it’s nice to think you are out of cash and cannot afford a new ability or weapon only to realize you have 15 grand waiting on you to transfer to your bank account via your cell phone.
Speaking of cell phones, remember how annoying the one in Grand Theft Auto IV was? How times have changed. The cell phone in Saints Row: The Third feels like an Android smartphone, and is quick and snappy. Using that to transfer your hourly income, set a waypoint, call for backup, upgrade your abilities, or any of the other numerous options available to you is a breeze. You also initiate all main missions, with only the occasional incoming call to you for a side mission, which you can easily ignore. No relationship management here either. The way cell phones have evolved in real life is reflected here, and in a good way.
Within the world of SRTT are three competing gangs besides the Saints: the Deckers, Morningstar, and Luchadores. Each have their own looks, weapons and cars that they use against you. This adds another indicator to keep track of – notoriety with each gang, represented by stars on the top portion of your HUD’s map. If you kill a gang member expect resistance to arrive shortly. Police have their own separate notoriety level for you, represented by shield icons on the bottom of the same map. This system makes sense, since now you can’t just kill a gang member, leave the area and not be pursued by his or her cohorts. Their gang will take notice, and they will be out for revenge. This makes going on rampages infinitely more entertaining, as gangs will really ramp up their defenses utilizing snipers, RPGs, helicopters, and more heavy firepower. The only way to clear your notoriety quickly is to visit a building that you own, which isn’t too much to ask, especially once you amass a real estate empire.
Beyond building a collection of estates, you also get to level your character up in numerous ways. Nearly everything you do results in earning respect. Many of these actions can be repeated in quick succession to build up a multiplier for the amount of respect you will receive when the combo is done. Whether that’s killing gang members, consecutive headshots, two-wheeling a car, or narrowly avoiding a nasty crash in an aircraft, you are constantly rewarded for being a badass. This is further enhanced with the “Awesome button,” which in its normal state is sprint. Combine this with jumping, hijacking a vehicle or tackling a person, and your actions are done with much more zaniness than usual. For example, if carjacking, it makes your character smash through a passing vehicle’s windshield or windows, kick the driver out from their seat, and take control. It doesn’t really get old, and is in fact quicker than the old, now boring way of hijacking vehicles.
The entire time you play this game, SRTT never takes itself very seriously. Some of the radio stations are actually pretty funny, including an announcer who scolds you for wasting your time playing a video game. There are commercials for movies and other things that are just plain absurd. Weapons are over-the-top, such as a gigantic dildo that can be used as a beating stick and a vehicle that sucks people up and uses them as ammo for a cannon. There are also a ton of side jobs to do, including one of the most bizarre and hilarious game shows you are likely to see. Oh, and you can do all of this in the nude if you so choose. Though with character customization this in-depth and the option to upload your creations to the community, why would you?
I cannot even imagine the number of possibilities available in SRTT when talking about customization. You can choose every part of your clothing, tattoos, accessories, and more, or simply choose a pre-made outfit if you are style-challenged or lazy. You can also upgrade and customize practically every part of any vehicle. The best part is that no matter what happens to your car out there in the wild world of SRTT, you can always respawn an identical clone from any of your strongholds. This is no doubt great news for those of you who struggle with driving, though the handling in this game is pretty serviceable and not hard to get the hang of. But if you thought you could only customize yourself and vehicles, you are in for a surprise. You can also customize your gang’s appearance and even your strongholds themselves!
A few issues do poke their way through in SRTT, though they are small ones. Occasionally, the physics in the game will go crazy, and what should have been a simple carjacking kills you inexplicably, though it’s still hilarious. Mission checkpoints can sometimes be hard to get to, and your homies’ AI could have used some fine tuning. Selecting weapons also takes some getting used to. Enemies feel a little overpowered in the beginning of the game, but perhaps this is to get you to explore the city and take on some of the many side missions and jobs offered to you in order to level up and acquire new abilities. Unfortunately, there is day-one DLC which is always disappointing to see.
Although Saints Row: The Third may be compared to Grand Theft Auto, as has indeed been done in this very review, a lot of that may be due to nostalgia over what GTA used to stand for. SRTT is a game that begs to be held to a different standard – that of no-holds barred, explosive, offensive, vulgar, hilarious fun. It never takes itself too seriously, and while there is a plot, you are entertained by it and not necessarily engrossed in it like in GTA IV and its expansions. This is a game you boot up when you just want to have fun causing as much mayhem as possible in almost any way you can think of. Throw in online co-op and multiple game modes (including one involving prostitutes that you have to see to believe), and you have countless of hours of fun at your disposal. Strap it on!
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Over-the-top world, scenarios and weapons are incredibly entertaining.
+ Multiple game modes and online co-op add to replayability.