Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: Saints Row the Third

I've always looked at the Saints Row franchise with a bit of disdain. To me it was the 'me too' game that THQ put out to cash in on the popularity of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. And I can't say that statement was too far from the truth just from looking at the original Saints Row. So I kept away. I also skipped Saints Row 2. I didn't care. Then I heard about this game and I was in a state of 'who cares' until I saw what you could do in this game.

Saints Row the Third is not a GTA clone anymore. It dances to its own drummer now and has taken ridiculousness to a level not before seen in a video game in my opinion. The introductory level has the Third Street Saints robbing a bank by using explosives to blast the roof off the high rise building to have a helicopter airlift the vault out only to be thwarted by the SWAT team when they brought out armored attack choppers. The player is controlling the leader of the Saints while hanging off the side of the vault while gunning down wave after wave of SWAT team members.

Eventually the Saints are bailed out of jail by the leader of The Syndicate (a conglomerate of rival gangs that want the Saints the hell out of Steelport City). After the ultimatum is given to the Saints (while 10,000 feet up in the sky in The Syndicate's private jumbo jet) you tell them to heartily fuck themselves and blast your way out of the plane which leads to a free-fall gunfight while trying to catch one of your fellow Saints (cause you have the only parachute).  And I'm not doing this sequence justice. I don't want to ruin all of it but I also still can't believe how damn batshit crazy these first 20 minutes of the game were.

The rest of the game is equally as insane with missions having you rescue a pimp who needs an auto-tuner to speak after a tracheotomy from an S&M compound called The Safeword. You find him in the pony play* stables hooked up to a carriage (complete with saddle on his back and ball gag in his mouth) and you have him pull you out of the complex while an ensuing gunfight erupts around you involving more pony play wagons loaded with gimps with assault rifles.

Or how about training to take on a lucha-libre champion and your training involves driving around town with a fucking TIGER in the passenger seat of the car and once in awhile it swats at you. If the SPCA-esque organization gets within range the tiger flips out and starts mauling you as you careen down the highway. The only way to calm the beast is to power slide.

This is a *VERY* small glimpse into the insanity that you can partake in. Also as crazy are the weapons as you level them up as well as some of the ones earned through completing story missions. Speaking of weapons....

This is the Penetrator. A 4-foot long dildo bat that swings and sways with shocking appropriate physics. The balls bounce too.

The main campaign will take a few hours to play through if you bypass the additional challenge missions through-out the map. You will want to complete these as you earn more money to upgrade your weapons, vehicles, strongholds,gang members and your own avatar.

For your avatar I commend Volition for just how damn excellent its character creator is. You can create damn near anything that fits your sick and twisted personality. And as the game progresses you earn more and more goodies to outfit your character. Hell if you decide you don't want to be a guy anymore you and go have surgery and get your wangus removed and re-do your character as a female. You can also upload your creations to the Saints Row website as well as download other peoples creations. I also appreciate that everything is done with the in game graphics engine and that your avatar is in the cinematics. This game is all about you (the player) having fun and being the center of the universe.

The soundtrack is also something worthy of this title. Its diverse and loaded with all sorts of good music. Just like most games of this kind, it uses fictitious radio stations to highlight different genres of music and then loads each station with songs & artists that are appropriate. From The Black Keys, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, DJ Benni Benassi, just goes on. Its a well thought out and well selected soundtrack.

The writing is also really well done as well. The story, for how crazy it is, makes sense and keeps you interested. You *LIKE* the Saints and care about them and what happens to them. Except Pierce....nobody gives a fuck about Pierce. Its funny, sharp dialogue that you really enjoy listening to. My favorite pieces are the non-story conversations between the characters, lets say in a car just driving around. Coming into Steelport my avatar and Pierce were driving around when "What I Got" by Sublime comes on the radio and they both start singing the lyrics. And there are more little gems like that through out the writing. It makes one smile.

There are some bad things with Saints Row as well. Mainly the overpowering enemy AI and the glitching (whether environmental or AI behavioral). On some of the harder missions the computer is just relentless on how hard and how many enemies you have thrown at you. There was a point when I was on a 'rescue mission' that nine rival gang cars all piled onto me before the passengers got out and (since I was pinned down) unloaded their SMG's into my skull. This kept happening especially on side missions labeled as 'hard'. Its not hard per-se its totally bad AI scripting. Other glitching are enemies getting stuck in walls, achievements not unlocking after requirements are made (X360) and the game has froze up about 3 times since I've gotten it.

The controls are also decent when doing average tasks but are not as responsive as needed when the action is ramped up to high action gonzo insanity of the harder missions. AI allies will also sometimes get hung up on the environment or decide to stand still and be shot at instead of getting into the get away car that you are already inside and there is a clear path to it. That said even with these flaws the game is 100% playable and you can complete it. And its still a boatload of fun.

So as you can see I'm recommending Saints Row the Third. I feel that's obvious by my babbling on about it. But I will share with you the exact moment when I completely fell for this title and embraced it.

I was on a rescue mission early on in the game to 'save' ho's from their abusive bring them back to Zimos (our pony-play* auto-tuned pimp friend) so he can 'watch after them'. These missions are appropriately called 'Snatch'. Anyhow I have a car full of hookers and I'm in a car chase to the safe house while a rival gang is trailing me shooting assault rifles and RPG's at me and all the while the song "I Need A Hero" by Bonnie Tyler is playing on the car's radio. Blissful irony.

I love this game.

*And if you don't know what pony play is go look it up your damn self cause I'm not going to try to explain that shit.