Saints Row the Third (PC version)
1. Exaggerated publicity.
2. An expensive trailer depicting events that never actually take place in the game.
3. Deceptive marketing ploy.
One step forward, two steps back
Video games are not conceived and developed in a vacuum. Developers are aware they need to compete against numerous titles in the same genre of games in order to stand out. This is why every review of the Saints Row (SR) series made comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series—which since GTA III has become a ‘benchmark’ among open-roaming, ‘crime-spree’ sandbox driving games. Constant comparison to Rockstar’s flagship title, however, does not mean SR games are mere clones. Saints Row 2 (SR2) introduced some enhanced game-play elements poached from GTA San Andreas and a story driven by a thoroughly ruthless and unredeemable protagonist. While some referred to SR 2 as a ‘poor man’s GTA IV’ (with persistent post-patch technical issues that led to its moniker as 2008’s worst “console-to-PC port of the year”), others argued that SR2 was ‘original’, like an alternate track remix, which bears traces of its inspirational source but delivers its own rendition of urban mayhem, rampage, and unrepentant violence. As a sequel, SR3 not only has to stand out amid the rank-and-file of open-roaming ‘crime spree’ sandbox titles, it has to do it with more style than its predecessor. Unfortunately, this is where the game falters. SR3 is not a console-to-PC port, but simultaneously released on multiple platforms. The PC version of SR3 is reasonable optimized, and manifests far fewer technical issues than the PC version of SR2. But while SR3 is better than SR2 from a technical standpoint, its game-play elements are lacking. The sandbox is smaller, some of the activities from SR2 are absent, and it has a much shorter storyline than GTA IV or even SR2. SR3 still offers an addictive gaming experience, but lacks the replay value of SR2 and feels stripped down, simplified, and incomplete. In this sequel, Volition took one step forward, two steps back.
Unrepentant violence at its best
The Third Street Saints have come a long way from their days as a street gang battling for control over neighbourhood turfs and the local drug trade in Stilwater. After the events of SR2, the Saints are living their 15 minutes of fame and have their own corporate brand courtesy of a partnership with their former nemesis Ultor Corp., marketing Saints energy drinks, designer clothing line, and bobble head dolls. Strangely enough, in spite of being rich and famous, the Saints decide to rob a bank the ‘old fashion way’—with guns and masks, rather than with lawyers and investment firms. When the heist goes wrong, the Saints are forced to hide out in a new city—Steelport—that will become your playground in the third installment of the SR series. SR3 dispenses with an elaborate storyline and character motivations to focus on providing greater freedom for exploration and roaming, over-the-top game-play action, and laugh-out-out hilarity. In one story mission, your crew crashes a BDSM party, only to be overwhelmed by henchmen from a rival conglomerate of gangs known as The Syndicate. Amid the chaos, you hijack the nearest vehicle—a carriage drawn by a gimp slave—to escape the goons in pursuit. It is moments like this where SR3 shines, as you try to manage the game controls while laughing and snorting soda from your nostrils, when you realize that SR3 is just good, wholesome, gimp-headshot fun.
The main story unfolds through approximately 40 missions, and they are generally interesting and not repetitive. Unfortunately, there are fewer story missions here than GTA IV or even previous installments in the SR series, and at least 1/4 of the story missions are intended to unlock side missions referred to in the SR series as ‘activities’ and ‘diversions’, which are basically mini-games that will earn you money and respect. Many activities from SR2, such as ‘Heli-Assault’, ‘Escort’, ‘Insurance Fraud’, as well as the ‘Hitman’ and ‘Chop Shop’, return in this sequel. Other SR2 activities and diversions such as ‘crowd control’, ‘FUZZ’, ‘Septic Avenger’, racing, ambulance and fire truck missions, are all strangely missing (while I always found the last two to be more aggravating than fun, I do miss activities like ‘FUZZ’). There are also new activities like ‘Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax’, a gauntlet of traps and armed mascots which you must navigate within a time limit (or as one player described it, “arena deathmatch meets funky Japanese game show”), and an alternate version of SR2’s ‘Trail Blazing’ activity that is clearly a homage to Tron. Activities now start at the location in which they are activated, so you no longer need to drive across the city to start the timer after activating the icon, as was the case for some activities in SR2. Completing activities will give the Saints control over the section of the neighbourhood the mini-game is located in, which in SR2 was handled through the storyline missions and rival gang stronghold missions. This means your gang can conceivably own most of the territories in Steelport before progressing beyond the first few story missions. While you will periodically receive random cell phone notifications when a rival gang is attacking one of your safe-houses or is hosting a rave (which you are then asked to crash in the most abrasive way possible), these diversions are now completely optional and can be ignored without any repercussion.
Clearly, the intended focus of SR3 is on exploring the city and doing the activities and diversions, which you will likely spend far more time on than the story missions. However, this sense of freedom is hampered by a number of factors. First, while new activities and diversions have been added, many of the activities and diversions from SR2 have been removed. There is still a wide range of things to do in this sandbox aside from the story missions, but there are clearly fewer activities and diversions than SR2, where it felt like there were endless opportunity for profitable mayhem and destruction. Second, Steelport seems much smaller than Stilwater (the sandbox for SR2) and Liberty City (GTA IV). There are few landmarks to see, and when you do find a landmark, there is nothing to do. You can’t gamble in the casino (yes, there is one), and there are no bowling alleys or bars where you can play darts and drink beer (like GTA IV). Gone are the underground nightclubs nested away in seedy alleyways of Stilwater, the hidden mall and other secret areas, and the restaurants and liquor stores where you can purchase food and alcohol. Aside from searching for collectibles, there is little incentive for actually exploring every nook and cranny of the city. Third, Steelport lacks detail. The different neighbourhoods in the city are virtually indistinguishable. The architecture and the pedestrians do not reflect the economic segregation of modern urban environments that is clearly simulated in GTA SA and GTA IV. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic is incredibly sparse. Regardless of the time of the day or which part of the city you are in, you will never witness traffic jams—an issue from SR2 that the developers never bothered to remedy. In short, the city never comes ‘alive’ or successfully conveys a sense of immersion.
This is how you roll
Like SR2, the Saints’ accomplishments in SR3 are measured by two things—‘money’ and ‘respect.’ You can earn money by completing missions and activities, robbing stores, and investing in real-estate property (which generates a steady income every game day). Unlike SR2, most of the real-estates are purchasable from the beginning of the game, and the story-line mission can be done in sequence without having to reach certain ‘respect’ levels. ‘Respect’, instead, determines which special abilities become unlocked and purchasable, and is earned by completing missions and activities, killing rival gang members, or just passing closely to cars as you drive throughout the city. Special abilities range from increased resistance to various types of damages (bullets, fire, vehicle)—which can eventually be upgraded to the point of making you character invulnerable to them—and the ability to arm your gang members with better weapons or increase their health.
Combat in SR3 is slightly more sophisticated than GTA IV and completely over-the-top. Like SR2, you can grab bystanders and enemies and use them as human shields. You can also pummel them with special wrestling moves and kick them in the groin. Aside from the standard weapons for games of this genre, you will eventually have at your disposal a number of rather unorthodox weapons like aerial ‘reaper’ drones, ‘Apoca-Fist’ that turns your opponent into a bloody mess in one melee blow, or the ‘Mollusk Launcher.’ Once you have unlocked and purchased high level upgrades for damage resistance and unlimited ammunition types, you will feel like a walking god. Yet the game is already fairly easy on normal difficulty level, where your character can take an inhuman amount of punishment. Enemy damage is doubled on hard difficulty level, which raises the challenge significantly to the point that I had trouble even passing one of the prologue action sequences.
You have a range of vehicles that can be stolen and driven in this game, including attack helicopter, APC, hover jets, and finally the addition of tanks (which were missing from previous SR games). Vehicle handling in this game is less ‘realistic’ than GTA IV (for good or for bad), and vehicle damage is no where as detailed. Driving to marked locations on your map is aided by flashing arrow markers on the road in addition to the standard mini-map that shows your waypoint routes.
Pimp your game?
One of unique feature of SR3 is the wide range of customizable options available in the game. Unlike GTA IV, in SR3 you can choose to play either a female or male character, with 3 different voice sets for each character (as well as an additional ‘zombie voice’). There are an enormous number of clothing items that you can purchase from the different stores in Steelport to style your character. Like SR2, you can also visit plastic surgeons to completely rebuild the genetic appearance of your character, right down to her/his sex, body shape, voice type, and gang sign for compliments and taunts. The character models here are more life-like and their movements more fluid than compared to SR2 (where your character’s running animations were downright horrid).
You can also customize the look of your generic gang members by selecting from a number of templates, as well as the cars they drive. Gang members play a prominent role in the game. There are the ‘homies’ who are the unique characters that make-up the inner circle of the Saints (or will join once you complete certain story missions), and the generic gang members who will start to appear in the streets and your safe-houses after you gain control of more territories in Steelport. Increasing your respect level will unlock special abilities that allows you to recruit more gang members (up to a maximum of 3). They’ll man the machine gun turrets on your tank (when you steal a tank, and you know you will steal one eventually), or ride shotgun and shoot at the rival gangs that are chasing you. Likewise, the unique ‘homies’ can also be called upon to join you through your cell phone. Some of them will even show up in their own custom vehicles. Your personal vehicles can be customized with improvements, new paint jobs, rims, and an assortment of car stuff that I know nothing about, in your safe-house garages or the various mechanic shops found throughout the city.
Some safe-houses can be upgraded, but the level of customization is severely stripped down from SR2. The ‘pimp your cribs’ contest from SR2 is a thing of the past. In SR3, only a couple of safe-houses can be upgraded, and the only options are to upgrade or not (unlike SR2, where you could select different templates). Upgrading them will change the outward appearance of the buildings and yield some game rewards like increased daily income.
There are 7 radio stations which cover the standard range of music genres from classical to hip-hop/RnB, with each station cycling through 10 to 12 songs. There are occasional brief interludes by the station DJs, but unlike GTA IV, there are no subtle social commentaries disguised as commercials or conversations between the station DJ’s and callers. You can customize a ‘mix tape’ by adding individual songs from any of the default stations, but unlike GTA IV, you cannot add your own MP3’s and listen to Justin Bieber as you cut a swath of destruction throughout the city.
Unlike SR2 or even the PC port of GTA IV, SR3 comes with native gamepad support. I play using my Logitech Dual Action Controller, without having to resort to anything like an X360 Controller Emulator.
There is no online multiplayer mode, but there is a storyline coop mode for internet or LAN.
Retail and Steam download
There are already several player-made mods released for the PC version of this game, including camera mods that centers your character on screen, that allows you to recolour outfits in your wardrobe (where by default you can only do so when you buy them from the clothing stores), that let’s you to keep some special NPC weapons (where by default you can only wield them temporarily), and yes, several nude skins.
- Smaller sandbox than GTA IV and SR2.
- Normal difficulty level too easy, hard difficulty level too deadly.
- Too few story missions.
- Overall fewer activities and diversions than SR2.
- Better looking graphics than SR2 or GTA IV.
- Fun gameplay, if you are into sandbox mayhem and carnage.
- Extensive character, gang and vehicle customizations.
Grade - B+