Saints Row: The Third takes the open-world genre and improves upon it in such a meaningful way, that some will find it hard to go back to the traditional formula.
Saints Row: The Third is the open-world action game for people who have grown tired of the genre. From the moment it starts, the game explains its bizarre plot in a few seconds, at the same it parodies some of the most popular movies of all time (Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Heat and so on,) setting the tone for the rest of its ridiculous adventure. The game follows the titular Saints Row gang from Third Street after the events from the previous games which, by the way, you don’t need to be familiar at all to understand the story. In the Saints Row: The Third, Gat and his buddies are so famous that they are about to release their own film, but rival gangs are jealous and they will try to steal your crown which means that you have to defend your privileged position from them.
At first sight, you might think that Saints Row: The Third is another Grand Theft Auto clone and while there are obvious similarities, the two franchises couldn’t be more different. If anything, Saints Row is more similar to the GTA games back when Rockstar’s free-roaming series didn’t take itself too seriously. So what sets them apart? Saints Row: The Third is packed with references to games, movies, music and other pop-culture media in the most in your face ways possible (you can make your character throw hadoukens of emulate the act of masturbation if you want to.) A juvenile sense of humor permeates the campaign, the gameplay isn’t exactly challenging and believe it or not, that rarely detracts from the experience. Whenever I think of The Third, I feel like this is a ridiculously over the top sandbox game that’s not afraid of being part of the joke.
Saints Row: The Third never shies away from jokes, even if they involve serious subject matter like human trafficking, sex workers, exhibitionism, police brutality, gang violence and the list goes on and on. The game’s sense of humor will definitely rub some people the wrong way, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t laughing most of the time.
At almost any point in the game, you can press select to use your smart phone to access your map, missions, upgrades, music, bank accounts, call your buddies, toggle cheats on or off and more. The most important app is arguably the upgrade menu where you can purchase abilities, bonuses and skills that affect how you perform in combat. Abilities allow you to highlight collectibles, dual wield weapons, sprint faster, regenerate health, reduce the damage you take, carry more ammo and reload faster, among others.
But upgrades would be meaningless if the assignments you accept were tedious and monotonous. The varied mission design has you doing something different all the time: you might be falling from a plane and shooting bad guys one moment, but you’re taking over an armory or attempting to shoot down helicopters the next. It also helps that the entire game is in favor of entertaining the player, so while this is a fun game to play, it’s rarely a challenging or a difficult one.
As you progress through the game, you receive respect (read: experience) and you do so by completing missions and side-missions. You can get respect in a variety of ways: you can use a nude character and streak random people on the street and your indecent exposure will be rewarded with respect points. The more respect points you get, the more skills and abilities you can access. But then there’s crib management where you can customize your gang, wardrobe, garage, weapon or properties and a handful of radio stations to listen as you wreak havoc which include everything from modern rock to urban latino.
In a way, I I feel like The Third is the open-world game for people who usually don’t like open-world games. Most of the problems with the genre are either gone or minimized here and this is a game that doesn’t waste your time in any way: missions are short and fun, getting from place to place is delightful, there are enough distractions for those who enjoy side-quests or exploring giant virtual cities, the abilities and skills are a blast to use, the soundtrack is put to great use and I could go on and on.
Once you’re over with the main campaign, you can go back to Steelport and clear all the activities you might have missed over the course of the story. The problems with some of the side missions is that not all of them are creative and entertaining and the ones that are don’t give you that much trouble for your efforts. Side-missions include tank mayhem, trafficking, professor Genki’s courses, escort and assassination missions.
There’s also “whored mode” which is the traditional horde mode which you can play on your own or with others online and the only fresh thing about it is that you can use all the weapons from the campaign and the vehicles. Although there are some changes to the formula, such as the pickups, enemies that are bigger or smaller, but this is still the traditional score-based mode where you defeat wave after wave of enemies.
In conclusion, Saints Row: The Third takes the open-world genre and improves upon it in such a meaningful way, that some might find it hard to go back to the traditional formula. The game achieves this through a unique sense of humor, vehicles that are a blast to drive, weapons that are fun to shoot, varied mission design, a story campaign that never takes itself seriously and insane levels of customization when it comes to your character. On their own, none of these elements feel particularly refreshing, but when it all comes together, the experience of playing The Third is eminently entertaining and hard to get away from.