Take a moment to picture this scenario; you’re in a helicopter hovering above the roof a several-story tall penthouse that’s currently owned by a rival gang of yours. You then leap out, skydive downwards and release your parachute before finally landing and beating up everyone with a ten-feet long, pink dildo. And yet that’s only a sparse indication to just how ludicrous and over-the-top Saints Row 3 truly is. Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone who played its precursors, but irrespective if you’re familiar with Saints Row’s crazy antics or not, the third iteration is unlike any other game this year – and it’s playful tone and hysterical characters will have you in stitches.
Saints Row 3 still centers on a small gang of violent, yet eccentric criminals who go by the name “The Saints”. But after a ridiculously crazy opening (in the form of a bank heist gone wrong), the Saints find themselves in the troubled town of Steelport and are poised to overthrow a notorious crime syndicate called, well, “The Syndicate”. The premise is incredibly straightforward, but it’s the cast of characters and sublime dialogue that really makes Saints Row 3 so memorable. Riding shotgun with you throughout the game is a mash-up of crooks, gangsters, computer nerds and a pimp whose voice may or may not be auto-tuned. The story takes a while to get moving, but getting wrapped in Saints Row 3’s narrative is not mandatory in order to enjoy the game.
In case you absolutely haven’t heard or seen anything with the name Saints Row on it -- it’s a sandbox, open-world experience. You’re set loose in a madhouse of a city and free to tackle missions, side activities, cause some serious commotion or regain control over large chunks and city squares of Steelport.
The game also features some fairly basic third-person shooter mechanics. There’s no cover system in place, but you can shoot up enemies with a massive selection of firearms and gadgets, perform dive rolls and rush in and take out enemies using hand-to-hand combat. Little has changed from Saints Row 2 in that regard, but the combat is still satisfying nonetheless and you’re slowly given more and more devastating weapons to utilize at your leisure.
Saints Row 3’s design is heavily focused on advancing your character and your supremacy over Steelport, since completing missions grants you money which you can spend on a huge selection of attributes and skill-boosting upgrades. Also, completing vital story missions unlocks “cribs” (essentially safe-houses) where you can customize your load out and much else. This all feeds into the Reputation system, which allows you to level up and get access to more powerful abilities. Completing missions, killing enemies or pulling off other death-defying stuns nets you with reputation-points and these serve as the game’s dangling carrot -- motivating you to keep playing to further develop your character.
Another strong component of Saints Row 3 is the mission variety. While some objectives boil down to kill x, escort z or defend y, there are still some very enjoyable missions and set-pieces that punctuate important story moments. You’ll get to infiltrate nuclear plants, man a good number of ground and aerial vehicles to carry out large-scale assaults, defend a freighter from incoming enemies and much more. The missions are mostly easy and feature a generous checkpoint system, and you can always take on a good number of side missions for extra cash and rep.
The AI of your friendly gang members –aptly called “homies”– was one of the biggest complaints leveled towards Saints Row 2, and though it’s not perfect here, it’s still been improved significantly and gang members now drop enemies at a more consistent pace.
Adversaries on the other hand are about as inept and dumb as they can be; not running away from grenades or failing to respond as you fill them with lead. To make matters worse, you face an extremely small number of enemies -- there are standard goons, more armored ones, and gigantic, hulk-like enemies dubbed “Brutes”. As a result, the combat loses some its luster after a while, so the real variety comes from the vehicle or on-rails-sequences you’ll infrequently take part in.
Saints Row 3 looks good for an open-world title, with excellent animations and colorful explosions – which is a good thing since you’ll be seeing tons and tons of explosions – and the game also has one of the deepest character customization editors I’ve seen all year, and your custom appearance is reflected to a hundred-percent in the cut scenes. The game also scales itself well to lower-end machines, and features support from Direct X9 to Direct X11.
The world, however, still looks slightly dull here and there, and the physics are often sporadic and glitchy from time to time. Load times also come in a large abundance and on the whole, Saints Row 3 is pretty, but still has a few too many rough edges.
Saints Row 3 is a long game and the entire game can also be tackled with a friend by your side, though it’s recommended that you’re roughly at the same part in the story. Then, there’s a mini-game dubbed “Whored mode” (Yes, that’s EXACTLY what it’s called) where you’re given a purple dong and have to beat up waves of incoming enemies. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a legitimate bullet-point of the game, or if it’s meant to poke fun at similarly themed modes in other games, but it’s a rather pointless and stupid feature that doesn’t really give the game any added value.
With excellent writing, strong variety, lots of stuff to do and an incredibly fun and endearing attitude, Saints Row 3 is one of the most quirky games to come out in 2011. The combat could still be deeper and the AI is still noticeably weak and coupled with some technical deficiencies and a disappointing extra mode, Saints Row 3 strictly settles for being great, but it that’s more than enough to warrant a recommendation.