Review: Saints Row: The Third (PC)

The first Saints Row was thought to be a rip off of the Grand Theft Auto series, but where it stood out was in the graphics and multiplayer. The addition of multiplayer to an open world allowed gamers do some over-the-top activities with a friend, but they did it without sacrificing the core gameplay.

Saints Row thrust you into the middle of a gang war, where you were a crew member of the Third Street Saints trying to take control of the city Stilwater. Saints Row 2 saw your rise to power. Now you’re king of an empire, and the Saints are a name brand with a movie made about them. Then your world is turned upside down where you have to go back to basics and to your roots in order to take back everything.

Saints Row: The Third
Systems: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Mushkin Enhanced Radioactive 12 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI with Nvidia Surround Enabled, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard and Logitech G19 Keyboard
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: November 14, 2011
MSRP: Standard Edition $60 (PC, 360, and PS3)

Starting up a new game begins with character customization with the generically named Boss because the Boss could be a male or a female. The options given are not as many as offered by the initiation station that was released before the game was, but these options are offered in the game from various vendors. Once you’re done with this, you find yourself taking part in a bank robbery. The primary crew includes Johnny Gat, Shaundi, and an actor named Josh Birk.

The robbery starts off pretty easy, with Gat mentioning that the Saints have gotten soft and that there’s no real challenge in what they do anymore. This quickly changes when they realize that everyone in the bank is armed to the teeth. They’re now in the fight of their lives with no back up, limited ammo, and carrying along an idiotic actor. They do their best to get away but are eventually caught. When things start to look grim, they’re mysteriously released by the police and taken to Phillipe Loren, the head of the international crime organization known as the Syndicate. Phillipe makes a proposition to the Saints: give over two-thirds of their profits from Stilwater or be executed.

The Saints refuse this offer, and then a massive fight breaks out. Upon being separated from Gat, you and Shaudi manage to make an escape from the aircraft in mid flight. The Syndicate doesn’t stay idle; after your escape, you quickly find that you’ve lost all of your money and property. The first order of business is to get a new crib; the second is to call in another team member Pierce, who the Boss seems very chummy with; and the third is get revenge on the Syndicate. This is where you begin your journey in Steelport to take back everything and give back some of the pain that you’ve been dealt.

The three primary gangs of Steelport are the Deckers, the Luchadores, and the Morningstar, all of whom are run by the Syndicate. There’s also a military and local law enforcement as well, and they like to get involved with the trouble that you stir up. The world is open; there’s no one way you have to progress through the story, so if you want to complete any side mission or just perform random acts of violence, go for it.

The way to get back what you lost is to take it from the local gangs and the Syndicate itself. This is accomplished by eliminating gang groups, buying property, completing side missions, and the main story missions. The more of an area you own, the more money you make. The main story missions sometimes give you choices to make, giving the game a bit of a moral conflict with them. The choices will pay off one way or another with either money, increased threat of military personnel, a new homie to call, and of course favors from the mayor. At these points, you could do something else, but this just an example of how I went.

Collecting your hourly income, looking at the map, starting a new story mission, calling for back up or a vehicle, purchasing upgrades, and whatever else you might need is handled by your smart phone. The games upgrade system is chalk full of options. The way to unlock them is with your reputation level, after which you purchase them with in-game cash. The upgrades aren’t limited to just your weapons and your personal abilities; you can also increase your crew’s abilities and weapons. The cribs serve as a place to change your clothes, store and retrieve vehicles or aircraft, customize your Saints crew, and to save and load your game.

A bountiful amount of customization options exist for your clothes, tattoos, and vehicles. There’s a wide variety of colors you can choose from; you can mix and match your outfits; and the vehicles have many visual options for them, some of which you don’t see normally unless you’re playing a dedicated racing game. The world is broken up into small islands, but getting around doesn’t take forever and a day. There’s even a time when you’re in the car with Pierce and you start singing along to a song because the developers had accounted for the length of time you’d be travelling.

Saints Row: The Third doesn’t hold itself to being serious; in fact, the game encourages you to go out and do whacky and silly things. There’s a store called Let’s Pretend that has many costumes like a pirate, a superhero, a sex slave, and many more. The weapons are also given the same treatment, especially if you purchase the appropriate DLC. One weapon that stands out to me is the Shark gun, where you shoot chum at an opponent and then a huge shark jumps out of the ground to eat them. Traditional outfits and weapons exist, of course, but there’s nothing like beating up a rival gang member with a purple dildo baseball bat while dressed like a furry animal.

The game doesn’t stray from its roots with multiplayer. I played approximately 50% or more of the main story with my twin brother, whose character doesn’t look anything like mine. We played the game all the way to the end. He has a similar computer, but we would constantly run into lag when driving in cars. Besides that, we didn’t notice any other issues even when there was massive explosions or while we were in a VTOL jet. The co-op might be problem with some players, though, because you may want to make one choice while the host wants to make another. Unfortunately, the host is the only who can make this choice, and thus it’s chosen for the both of you. This wasn’t a problem for me, but it might be for others and seems very short-sighted.

The DLC proved to be another issue. My brother just has the base game and I have all the DLC, so certain bits of content wouldn’t be available because he didn’t have it. This has to be the stupidest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Really, there’s no better way to promote DLC content by having others see it in your game and then be inspired to buy it. They should make the game download all the DLC so it’s available in game for them to see but not use until they unlock it with purchase.

The graphics are well done for an open game world. There were times I would run into the occasional texture not loading or it would stretch in weird ways. The draw distance was a lower than what I’d thought it would be, but that probably has more to do with the multiplayer component than anything else. This is the first new game that I haven’t had to tinker with one way or another to make it work with my Surround setup. The HUD is on my center monitor, and there’s no major performance hit or other graphical problems, like being zoomed in on the phone. This maybe a multi-platform title, but they gave the PC a fair bit of consideration and is greatly appreciated. I hope more developers follow suit in the future.

The sound effects had a few bugs; for instance, hearing voices loudly at first and then softening abruptly as you move farther away. More specifically, when you have a crew member in the car and hit an object hard, they would stop talking to say the hit dialogue, and you’d miss that other line of the conversation. All of the voice actors give superior performances; e.g. when I heard Shaundi sounding heartbroken about Gat, I believed it. The humor also carries with it many adult jokes and puns. Not all of them are great, but for the most they’re funny. The music was the only problem I had with this game because the pieces chosen would get repetitive, and I couldn’t set up a personal radio station with my own music to play while in a vehicle.

The game never suffered from any control issues; in fact, the vehicle controls in both cars and aircraft are the best I’ve seen in a long time. There wasn’t a moment where I felt the need to pick up a controller; I was always comfortable playing with a keyboard and mouse. Again, they’ve given the PC a fair bit of consideration I appreciate that greatly for my platform of choice. I noticed a few bugs that are related to the physics of the game, but for the most part, it’s far better than the Havok physics engine.

The story isn’t going to be considered a masterpiece, but it does a good job of setting up the characters and the world. The side missions are also unlocked by doing missions for your crew, giving you just a taste of what’s to come. The humor is where many might be turned off because it’s very adult orientated, but I for one particularly enjoyed the break from reality that sets this game apart from Grand Theft Auto. The gameplay may be similar, but this isn’t a serious game. It’s about having fun, and this game gives it to you everywhere you go. The vulgar dialogue and the jokes did wear thin as I neared the end, but I did play the majority of the game in one shot, so it might be best to take this game in smaller doses.

In the end, Volition made a game that has few bugs and adult humor, which makes for a mostly stellar game. The game is rated M for good reason and I whole heartedly agree with it, but it isn’t a game I think anyone should miss if you like open worlds and causing massive amounts of in-game carnage. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go use my purple dildo bat to evict a few more gang members from my soon-to-be territory.

PROS
* Size of the world
* Co-op works well
* High quality voice acting
* PC features implemented well
* Adult game that isn’t afraid to give you adult content

CONS
* Co-op story choices
* Some graphic bugs
* Some audio bugs

FINAL SCORE: A-

Disclosure: The writer purchased the game through Steam. At the time of press, the writer had completed 76% of the game’s total content on Normal difficulty.

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About Brandon Mietzner