I am probably one of the few people on earth who was never much of a fan of Grand Theft Auto games or similar titles. I don't know why. There is just something on it that doesn't appeal to me. Even though it should considering I like sand-boxish games. But while reading some previews on Rock, Paper, Shotgun about Saints Row: the Third that game just somewhat grew on me. There was a certain charm about a gangster game that not only doesn't take itself seriously but also try to go as over the top as it can.
So, in a move of pure impulsiveness and pure boredom I decided to buy it. Why did I do that with a game like Saints Row: The Third where there would be a big chance of me not liking it, thus wasting my money, and not with say..... Skyrim, which is much more my alley, with actual good reviews about it? Well, not buying Skyrim is easy to explain. I know Bethesda will eventually release a special edition with all the DLCs. So I figured I might as well wait and save some money. In the mean time I am pretending really hard that the world is suffering from some kind of mass delusion. They think Skyrim was released! But no! I know the truth! It wasn't released yet! It will only be released when they make some Game of the Year Edition or something like that containing all the DLCs. Yesss.... I am the only sane person in the world! *adjusts his tin-foil hat*
Ah-hem. Please, pardon that small outburst of sanity. Now, to explain why I bought Saints Row: the Third is a bit more complicated... Part of it, as I explained, is because the previews made the game look really charming somehow. The other part is.... I guess I just wanted a non-fantasy game as most of the games on my pile of "To Play" are fantasy. More than that, a game where I can just run and go cause some mayhem without worrying about the morality of my character, the "seriousness" of the world/story or anything like that. Lastly, it is probably because I wanted to stretch a bit my comfort zone and play a game in a genre that, in the past, I didn't enjoy.
I must admit though that until I got a chance of actually playing the game I did feel some regret. Thoughts about how much of an idiot I was for wasting money in a game I most certainly wouldn't like, how I should have spent that money on Skyrim instead if I was going to do something stupid, etc. Fortunately, once I got to start playing the game, all those thoughts quickly vanished and I spent some solid fun hours playing the game.
Since just saying that doesn't make for an interesting post, let me try to tell you what makes this game so good.
Just one caveat though. I am pretty terrible at these kind of games. If you think that invalidates all my experiences with the game then feel free to stop reading here. Personally I think it just makes a for a better case for the game. It is already pretty hard to make a game that can please a broad range of people with a straightforward game. To do it in a game with activities as diverse as this one then, I would say, it is near impossible. Yet the people at Volition did it pretty well! My virtual hat is off to them!
Alright. There is a lot to cover. So where to start... Hmmm... I guess I should start by the premise of the game. Apparently after the end of Saints Row 2, the street gang known as The 3rd Street Saints, aka the Saints, not only got got a de facto control over the city of Stilwater but also became some sort of celebrities with their name on every product imaginable. They even have a deal to make a movie about them. Of course, such fame doesn't attract only the attention of adoring fans. An international crime organization known as the Syndicates wants a part of that action. Of course, the Saints don't like this one bit. So they do the logical thing for a gang in this situation: the Saints go on to take over the city of Steelport, where the Syndicate has its HQ, and then kill all their leaders. That will teach others to not mess with the Saints!
The gameplay is also pretty well over the top. Starting with the selection of weapons that goes from ye-olde guns to.... missile drones. No, I am not kidding. You can get those missile drones pretty early in the game. Though admittedly I haven't found that much use for it yet as it leaves me pretty vulnerable. Still nice to wipe a rival gang operation in one go.
The main missions work both to introduce new mini-games as well as to move the story forward. Most of them introduce the mini-game seamlessly while the pure story parts are the most over the top parts of gameplay that you will only experience once (or more than once if you replay the game). For example, one of the most pure story parts early in the game has your character and one of your named gang members jump from a plane to escape from the Syndicate. All the while mooks from the Syndicate are jumping after you. Which naturally leads to shooting while free falling.
If it was on an action movie this would be boring. However it just works in Saints Row the Third for some reason. I guess part of it is because the player is the on in the role of the action hero doing the absurd scene. The other is because the gameplay just feels right. On that example, you never feels like your character stopped falling. Yet, like in an action movie, they can still aim perfectly fine or rotate to shoot at more mooks just falling after you.
The mini-games follow the same pattern. You can find their icons in the city map with different difficulty ratings. You go there then start it to try to earn money, more control over that area of the city and reputation. Most of those are introduced during the main missions. While others are just there from the start without any relation to anything. My favorite one of those are Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax. It is a game show where you have to go through a stage filled with traps and people wearing animal costumes trying to kill you. To win on it you have to earn a minimum amount of money before the time runs out. You earn money by shooting those guys in animal costumes, avoiding the traps, shooting tiger card boards and card boards with bonus money. Just don't don't shoot the card boards with pandas on it. That will give you a penalty. Plus it is unethical.
Those mini-games you can repeat as many times as you want. Though I think you only earn more money and reputation by repeating them. Honestly I haven't really repeated many of them yet to remember correctly. Although I will probably end up doing it with Professor Genki's one as I already completed all the ones available and they are just plain fun.
Outside those there are the optional missions, which are divided between assassination and stealing vehicles. You can check those through your in-game cell phone where one of your contacts will give explain their reasons for asking for it as well as where to find the target. Assassinations often also come with instructions on how to bring the target out. Once they appear in the world you can proceed on eliminating them in any way you see fit. Stealing vehicles is a little more tricky. Your contact you will ask for you to retrieve a vehicle type in a certain area. Most of them can be pretty much any of that vehicle type as long as it is in the specified region. A few are for very specific vehicles. Once you are in the marked region though they appear as an icon on the mini-map so all you have to do is steal them and bring them back to a specified location. Only problem is that stealing the specified vehicle will always put the police or a rival gang after you. So you have to speed up as fast as possible to the delivery location while trying to not damage the vehicle much.
Of these two I like the assassinations more as they are usually a lot more reasonable and straightforward. Vehicles hijacking though has been at times extremely frustrating or easy enough to earn some cash and reputation. Usually I can finish all of the assassinations missions pretty fast. While the vehicles ones it takes a lot more tries. But with a bit of patience I have been able to complete these as well.
If that still isn't enough for you there are different activities you can do that doesn't do anything besides earning reputation and some in-game achievements, from what I could gather. For instance, you can go rob a store, go car surfing (hard than it sounds!), streaking naked, etc.
Character creation and customization is, of course, just as diverse as the gameplay itself. It can also be pretty absurd too. Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, let me show you my character...
This is Bob Z. I decided that his story is that he loved his gang so much that even after being killed he came back as a zombie to help his gang. Fortunately he didn't lose much during the zombiefication process. It was mostly his ability to speak like a normal human being. Yet somehow everybody understands what he is saying. Well, everybody but me. With the exception of a few cutscenes there is absolutely no subtitle about what he is saying. Even that is because I am playing with subtitles on. Otherwise not even in those situations. So most of the time I am just guessing what the conversations are about by what the other characters are talking.
Just in case anyone thinks I am lying about it, here is a promotional video where the character is a zombie. And yes, that scene does happen in the game. The difference is that I was with a different car and didn't customize mine as much since I was broke from doing stupid stuff.
Why is he wearing an animal custome? Hell, if I know. I guess at the time he was trying to channel the channel the power of the animal through it. Though what kind of power he could get from a rabbit I don't know. By now he moved back to wearing a nice suit though.
Unnecessary to say, the character customization options aren't limited only to zombie and non-zombie. You can choose body build, gender, age, hairstyle, change facial characteristics, add special characteristics, skin color, tattoos plus a plethora of clothes and jewelry for your character to wear.
That pretty much covers it for the good stuff. The bad stuff is actually pretty small compared to all the good parts. Besides my frustration with the vehicle stealing missions, that I mentioned before, some of the mini-games have also been frustratingly hard. For example, trail blaze which has your character playing a tron like video-game where he has to race through a tubular level while avoiding literal firewalls and hitting tanks made out of very crude CGI. In that particular one I found it way to easy to avoid control of the bike. Plus avoiding some of those firewalls feel pretty close to being impossible.
My other complaint would be with the vehicle customization. You have a ton of customization for cars and bikes. However you have absolutely none for water crafts, helicopters and planes. I would like to at least modify the color of those to match the one of my gang. You also don't have an ability to add a decal with your gang symbol with any vehicle which was also something I found missing.
These are minor issues however compared to all the good parts of the game. All in all, I loved it, don't regret one bit the money or the time I spent on it. In fact, I haven't finished this one yet but I am already looking forward to the next iteration in the game series. Volition promised that Saints Row 4 will be even more over the top than Saints Row the Third. How they will accomplish that I have no idea. Maybe aliens will invade earth and then the Saints will have to fight them back? Maybe they will fight to take control over the aliens base on Mars? After this game, I could see that happening!