Saturday, 21 July 2012

Review: Saints Row the Third

I got this game recently on the PC during the steam summer sale for a knockdown price of £7.49 and it has been worth every penny.  Anyone who has played a previous saints row title will know the kind of humour and gameplay this game goes for.  Newbies to the franchise though will find it to either be the kind of game that appeals squarely to fourteen year olds and annoy the crap out of them, or find it to be quite fun and a change of pace compared to the more serious GTA series.

The luchadores are the more visually distinct gang in game
The story is pretty much the same as Sanits Row 2 to be honest.  The saints have become the target of a new conglomerate of evil gangs who want the saints gone, especially since the Saints have now become bigger than jesus and megastars the world over.  So you lose all of your goodies and have to start from scratch, murdering your way to the top of the food chain once again, encountering different wacky and bizarre characters as you go, such as autotuned pimps, psychotic japanese gameshow hosts, luchadore gang bangers and giant naked russian men.

The new setting is steel port, this game universes version of New york.  Like stillwater in the previous title this city won't be all that different, since it looks like any other open world city game. But it does the job by having all the checklist items for you to run around, such as red light district, times square location, industrial, docks, casino, slums and high rises and more.  Its sort of a shame that the city isn't more visually distinct, because most of the time its hard to tell what district you are in until you check your map.

Unlike GTA which has a narrative built around a set protagonist, you simply the boss of the saints who can be anyone and anything.  For a start you can freely change your characters gender, age, build, hair and makeup anytime by visiting a plastic surgeon and paying a small fee.  So if you want to play the game as a fat, crossdressing gang banger in their 70's you can.  The game makes no issue of the characters appearance, nor does it have any gameplay effect, other than being fun.  The character will appear in all cutscenes the way you made it since they all use the games engine, and it can be funny to watch the characters reactions to your sometimes scary looking avatar.

There are no cover mechanics in game so don't try
That isn't the only level of customisation though.  Any car you steal during your run through steelport can be taken to garages called 'rim jobs' (yeah these kinds of names abound in these games) where you can pimp out your cars with new parts, nitros oxide, spikes, underlighting, tinted windows and even increase the cars damage resistance.  Your gang can eventually be customised to a lesser extent, allowing you to populate your homies with hookers, strippers, ninjas, animal mascots, gimps and several more.

The gameplay is very arcade like with your character being able take huge amounts of damage before going down.  Cars are extremely fast and when hitting another vehicle you will more often than not send the other car flying away.  Stealing vehicles has been made alot easier now thanks to a feature that allows you to sprint toward a car, press a button and you leap through the windshield or side windows, kicking the driver out of the vehicle and you driving away.  Cars, like your character, can take a huge amount of punishment before finally exploding, but more often than not you will reach your destination before it has even begun to smoke.  Navigation is made easy a simply right clicking any location on the map and a set of markers will appear to guide you there. 

Combat is also very arcade like, mixing in wrestling moves, gun fights and a scary focus on genital strikes.  Weapons range from the usual setup of pistols, machine guns and shotguns, to melee weapons like tasers, baseball bats and four foot long purple dildo's.....Yeah you can beat people to death with a huge dildo on a stick.  Shooting is simple and most enemies will drop with a few shots from conventional weapons, while larger enemies make take more accurate fire to the head.

The game does have a selection of over the top special weapons starting with a UAV drone linked to a missle system, allowing you to guide these shots or simply dumbfire them.  Other weapons include a device to remotely control civilian cars and use them as weapons, a gun that shocks all occupants of vehicles to death leaving the car intact and others.  These are your crowd control/brute killer weapons when you need them.

The dido bat is featured prominently in the marketing
Saints row focuses its story on the gang violence and turf control between the saints and these rivals.  In this game you will be facing three gangs, each taking a particular style visually.  The luchadores are a gang led by a mexican wrestler and thus all dress like lucha libre mexican wrestlers.  The deckers are a gang of techno hackers, dressing like characters from Tron, while the Morningstar is a high class european gang that runs the more reprehensible activities of all three gangs in the game.

Every gang has their own specialists, ranging from roller blading teen girls with dual smgs and a shock hammer.  Wrestlers with multi grenade launchers and snipers who fire from the sides of helicopters.  The most dangerous foe is the brute, who are huge enemies capable of smacking you across the street.  Alot of ammo is required to take them down.  The only way to beat the gangs is to play story missions, but also to capture turf which is done by purchasing stores, real estate and completing side missions.  As you take more and more territory from your foes, you will see your gang patrolling the streets instead and they will engage any foe that enters that territory. This can be a good tactic if you need to get to rid of your notoriety with a gang or the cops.

Like GTA the range of vehicles is the usual fare, featuring planes, boats and cars with a few rare vehicles that you would never see in GTA.  An example here would be piloting an A10 warthog attack jet or VTOL attack jet.  There are more available as you play through the story or complete side missions.

The saints are so popular that most clothing stores are theirs
On the point of side missions, this game loves them and really takes a more light hearted approach to these.  Escort missions see you ferrying a prostitue and her john around the city while avoiding the press, while also being asked to perform certain tasks, such as running over a target, driving to a porno theatre, hitting other cars and jumping.  A variation on this mission involves escorting a tiger which thankfully does not involve sex.  Instead you need to avoid hitting anything while the tiger periodically mauls you to fill a courage bar.

Another side mission series involves driving around the city on an ATV while wearing a fireproof suit.  Smashing into cars and people will add to your timer and you need to hit all the checkpoints.  Hitting cars will make them explode while hitting people sets them on fire.  The side missions expand the life of the game and unlock little extras for completing all of them in each category, such as new gang customisation, or a new vehicle.

There is plenty of DLC out already, some of it cosmetic adding new outfits for you to run around in, while others give you new weapons, vehicles and three packs feature new story based missions to extend the plot of the game.

Now I don't think the game is perfect in every regard.  The story and humour can be a little grating and frankly unfunny at times and feels like the developers are trying too hard at being different from GTA.  There is a lack of character customisation compared to the second game, such as a lack of new hairstyles, where in previous games you would go a barber shop, now you can only change your hair at a plastic surgery and never unlock any new hair or makeup styles.  The weapon selection is a little slimmer also and the side missions barring a couple are ported directly from the previous game.

There are range of costumes for furries to use in game
Graphically Saints row is nothing outstanding, but runs at a very solid framerate.  The game looks fine, but your character will look completely out of place compared to the rest of the characters in the game, almost having a sort of waxwork model look to them.  Hair will move as a solid item like its made of jelly, this being especially noticable with the beehive hairstyle.  The engine overall though looks like a polished version of saints row 2, which is good for running on a wide range of systems, but is showing its age a little here.

The voicework is still passable like the other titles.  But the most standout part of the sound is the radio stations when you use a vehicle.  Adult swim has a radio channel here that has some pretty funny segments, and plays music from shows like the venture brothers and aqua teen hunger force.  Other stations include a 80's/90's mix, heavy metal, nu metal, rap and hip hop, latin and classical networks.  Every station has its own DJ and all of them are amusing in some respect.  Vehicle and weapon effects are standard fair.

Overall I would give encourage anyone who wants a change of pace in their open world games.  Saints row is unique in that it only wants fun with the gamer and not put them through frustrating missions that only serve to turn off the player.  Its refreshing to see a game that enjoys being a game for a change, despite its few flaws.

SCORE: 8.1/10


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