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Saints Row the Third (Video Game Review)

It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And ever since it achieved tremendous success ten years ago, Grand Theft Auto III has been imitated by countless rivals. Some have fared fairly well, while others have tanked badly due to the fact that the developers simply didn’t “get it”. But no clone has managed to topple the king, and with Grand Theft Auto V looming in the distance, it almost seemed like no one ever would.Silly fools. All it takes is the ability to let go and give the player the ability to do everything they ever wanted – even stuff they never dreamed of – and you could have an experience that’s every bit as good as Rockstar’s legendary title. And it looks like, after various attempts with its Saints Row series, THQ has finally done it. The original Saints Row wasn’t bad by any means, but it took its gangster syndrome a little too seriously and, as a result, turned off a few players. Saints Row 2 was much improved, with a sense of humor and much more varied missions that made it a success.

But now, with Saints Row the Third, the developers at Volition have mastered the curve and provided a gaming experience that’s every bit as good as Grand Theft Auto’s. In fact, thanks to its constantly evolving – and overly threatening – storyline, as well as the game’s ability to make a passive wink at everything that’s happening – it’s more ridiculously fun. The game follows the Saints as they approach the point of oversaturation. They’ve effectively taken over Steeport, a city laden with crime and explosive personality types, and the other gangs have noticed. So they set up an ambush where one of the lead Saints take a fall, and the others barely escape, only to find their funds saturated and no answers. But that doesn’t stop them. As the lead character, whom you can design any way you see fit, it’s your job to help lead the Saints back to glory, taking on the rival gangs, the police, and, eventually, a military force that will go to great lengths trying to crush you flat. As serious as the story sounds, it’s anything but. Saints Row the Third has so many laugh-out-loud moments it’s insane. Early in the game, the lead character actually sings along to Sublime’s “What I Got”, even if the cops are tailing them or they’re plowing through a park full of people.

Later on, when you take control of STAG’s flying behemoth, the VTOL, your character can’t help but state, “THIS IS SO FUCKING COOL!” as they fly around and vaporize tanks with a laser beam. And these are just a couple of examples. How much you experience in Saints Row depends on how far you really want to go. Customization is a huge part of the game, as you could probably tell from the previously launched Initiation Station. You can literally dress yourself any way you see fit to give a look of intimidation, though how you dress won’t really affect how much Respect you earn. You could wear golf pants, a pimp coat and a helmet and still be considered one of the most feared gangsters in town. At one point, you even end up naked, wandering through a nightclub and attacking guards with up-close attacks, like a flying DDT or a full-blown face dive. (Granted, the naughty bits are blurred out, but that’s probably part of the joke.) You can also customize gang members however you see fit, even turning the Saints into a group of psycho clowns, if you prefer it. Beware the shoes!

The gameplay does borrow quite a bit from Grand Theft Auto’s sandbox-style free-roaming, as you’ll drive throughout the city to complete whatever missions open up. However, there’s a staggering amount of variety to these missions. From roaming undercover in a STAG facility to kidnap a movie star to destroying cars with a rocket launcher from a helicopter to hanging off the side of a building (in your lingerie, no less) using a sniper rifle, there’s no shortage of activities to tackle. The gameplay in each of these segments is terrific, as you’ll never run into a situation where the aiming is off or the controls are weird. There are times mid-air vehicles can get tangled up, but that’s your own damn fault for hitting a building or, like I did, switching flight modes on a VTOL without being clear of a skyscraper. It was funny as hell to watch anyway. Along with the single player campaign, which will take you several hours and features some of the funniest endings you’ll run across in a video game this year, Saints Row the Third also supports co-op, so you can work with a friend online (or system link) to complete missions. It’s cool to have a buddy along for the ride, especially in tougher missions like warehouse raids or, God help you, trying to maintain control of a tiger in a moving vehicle. (He gets angry when you crash – ouch.) Unfortunately, Volition decided to scrap competitive multiplayer for the game, but there’s so much happening, you may not even notice.

Still want more, though? There’s Whored Mode, which, yes, is pronounced just like “horde mode”. This ridiculous set of side missions will keep you busy as well, ranging from zombie bashing to punching out mascots to driving around in a tank and blowing up crap. There’s literally no end to these missions, though they do get progressively tougher as you proceed, meaning you will die at some point. Maybe. Same goes for Survival mode. It’s as you expect, with waves of gangsters and enemies showing up and leaving you to survive any way you can see fit. They get more difficult as well, so make sure you have a homie standing by. These offer a humorous distraction from the main game. With Saints Row the Third, Volition has really bumped up the visual quality of the game. Are there blurry textures and camera issues at times? Sure. One running DDT left the camera needlessly spinning around them, distorting the view as a result. But, man, does the rest of the game look nice. Character models are hilariously goofy, whether it’s the mighty Professor Genki (an anime style character in a cat mask) and his awesome human-launching cannon, or Oleg, a big, mutated dude who’s actually naked the first time you meet him.

Most of the gangsters are standard issue, though their outfits do deter from one another, ranging from red leather get-ups (Morningstar) to cool Tron-like get-ups. The STAG soldiers look bad-ass, too. But nothing will impress more than the city of Steelport itself. You can literally run from end to end in this city and not have to experience any painful loading times. It bustles with life, with citizens walking along the streets, waiting to get mown down, and a constant barrage of vehicles, from motorcycles to garbage trucks. In fact, one of our favorite things to do in the game is to hop in a garbage truck and just go to town on traffic, exploding cars like crazy as we move to our next objective. Volition has gone all out on the engine this time around, as Saints Row the Third provides the most territory to roam that we’ve seen to date. And just wait till you go jetting through the city in a VTOL. Music is a key part to a game like this one, as it helps to listen to various stations while you’re wreaking havoc and taking back the city. Saints Row provides a plethora of great tunes to listen to, from crazy death metal to ear-popping gangster rap to a Latino station that actually didn’t get on our nerves.

The highlights, though, are the pop and classical stations. It’s funny how well you can blow stuff up while listening to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero”, or racing through squad car blockades while listening to a marching song. And that one dive you take out of a plane while Kanye West’s “Power” blares in the background is INSANE. Sure, the song has been overplayed, between Saints and Forza 4 ads, but here it has tremendous impact. The music’s only part of the package, though. THQ has also added some voice acting that raises the bar for the series. Like we said, there are key moments in dialogue that are laugh out loud funny, and each of your characters is a believable part of your team. Our personal favorite is Zimos, a pimp that speaks strictly in Autotune. One would think that joke would grow old over time (especially after T-Pain wore it out), but Volition makes it not only a worthwhile gimmick, but one that makes you think, “Damn, I want to hang around this guy.” The celebrities are great too. Sasha Grey is quite game as Viola DeWynter, while Hulk Hogan adds plenty of gruff as Angel. (We’d play this over Hulk Hogan’s Main Event anytime.) And when you hear Burt Reynolds explain how he’s the mayor of Steelport, it’s a gaming moment for the ages.

One more thing to note – the cheat codes in this game are ludicrous. While we can’t reveal what they are just yet (we’re sworn to secrecy, THQ even threatened us with dildo bats – yes, dildo bats), they add a generous amount of chaos to the game. Just keep in mind, though, that if you activate them, you can’t earn Achievements or save your game. Use them when you need to blow off steam. Stay tuned for the full list shortly. So that’s about it, really. While Saints Row the Third isn’t a game that’s about reinventing the wheel, it does reformat it with flashy rims and a few people under it, so we’ll definitely take it. Volition has fully released grips on this one, letting the player do literally whatever they want as they complete missions and wreak havoc in the city. The presentation is the best yet for the series, and though the lack of competitive multiplayer may be a turn off for some, the inclusion of Whored Mode, Survival waves and co-op more than makes up for its omission. This is one of the wildest gaming experiences you’ll have this year. Don’t miss out, or we’ll send THQ to your house to smack you in the face.

Game Information:
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Platform: Reviewed for PlayStation 3
Release Date: November 15, 2011

Score: 7 out of 10
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