Thursday 5 January 2012

Saints Row: The Third

Why do we play video games? Some of us play for an immersive experience, others pick up a pad so they can play with friends, but most of us turn on our consoles to have a fun time. Make no mistake, you won’t find a heart-churning story or thought provoking characters guiding you through Steelport City – rather Saints Row: The Third takes open world adventure to a whole new level with full emphasis on creating absolute carnage and having the time of your life. This is a game that knows exactly what it’s supposed to deliver and does so while ensuring at all times that you are having a lot of fun – so compare it to Grand Theft Auto all you want, but there’s enough here to nullify that comparison as Saints Row: The Third has a huge personality of its own.

Saints Row: The Third sets an over-the-top benchmark from the word go as your gang finds itself in Steelport City. No knowledge is required of Saints activity in previous games as this installment introduces Steelport as a fantastic new playground with three rival gangs to contend with. After an inventive bank heist goes wrong, you’re forced to battle for dominance against the Morning Star, a group controlling the sex trade and manufacturing superhuman thugs, the Deckers, a gang of money launderers and the Luchadores, who control the gambling scene. Each rival gang gleams with personality and cater nicely to their stereotypes. It becomes apparent very early on that Saints Row: The Third won’t at any point take itself seriously, which actually allows the story to be highly entertaining, introducing some great characters along the way and keeping things light-hearted and comical throughout. This is especially prevalent in your character creation segment where only your wildest imagination can act as a barrier between a scandalously dressed vixen to an absurdly dressed hulk-like man – however you choose to create and customize your character, the chances are they won’t come out as a serious protagonist.

While there is a certain element of structure in Saints Row: The Third, you are given enough freedom from the get-go to pretty much do whatever you want. In previous Saints Row games, players would approach individual gangs and tackle their particular missions, but here the story interconnects your enemies, creating a much more open-ended story. The way you choose to interact with each gang can have different results on how the story plays out, what missions become available later on and how territory and environments change across Steelport. While the main missions are important, you’ll be pretty caught up with the crazy carnage that is presented to you outside of the story in side missions. A variety of content including gang warfare, mini-games, conquering territory and let’s not forget Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax show, are just a few of the crazy things you can get up to in Steelport, and that’s not to mention the fun time you can have by simply causing havoc without a goal set in place.

Saints Row: The Third does an excellent job blending third-person action with driving and flying gameplay, ensuring there’s always something fun and different to do at any given time. Playing through the various missions and completing certain goals rewards you with respect, which are experience points. These points can be used to improve key attributes, unlock perks and increase your gang size, while the in-game money purchases clothes, weapons, cars, shops, properties and upgrades for all of the above, making your life as a gangster, that much easier and more fun. There’s nothing quite like piloting a fighter jet across Steelport and decimating everything in sight, or taking to the streets in a pimped out car that looks like it just came out of a Fast & Furious movie. However you go about your business in Saints Row: The Third, you will feel like a superstar.

For all the good that can be said about Saints Row: The Third, it’s surprising that very little actually flaws the game dramatically. Unfortunately in comparison to today’s technical masterpieces like Uncharted 3, this certainly falls down in the graphical department. Steelport is a pretty city, but lacks that certain personality required to really make it feel alive. The open-world environment is actually a false pretense, with many environmental features, vehicles and even people simply popping onto the screen as you draw nearer. The narrative and audio is rather hit and miss too, with some dialogue being incredibly comical, while at other times it’s just downright cringe worthy. The game has some occasional problems recognizing that you’ve completed segments of missions and the AI in general lacks any sort of intelligence. These issues are very small and don’t hamper the experience significantly, but they are prevalent enough to be noticeable throughout your time with Saints Row: The Third. That being said, the fact that the concentration is dramatically aimed at having an absolute blast, it makes it that much easier to overlook these niggling issues because really, they don’t stop you from having a brilliant time.

Emphasis on enjoyment isn’t made anymore clear than with the inclusion of a cooperative game mode. Saints Row: The Third allows you to bring a buddy along for the ride. Participating in missions or just causing mayhem on the streets, it doesn’t matter what you get up to because the results are always hilarious. This extra addition adds another dimension to Saints Row: The Third because being able to share the fun with a real friend makes it that much more entertaining. There’s even a competitive game mode called Cat and Mouse, forcing one player to try and kill the other before they get to an end goal. Again however, with great fun comes little issues that have to be mentioned – the carnage can cause some graphical hitches and for some bizarre reason, you can’t replay through missions you’ve already completed and both players have to be up to the same point in the story to play together.

What’s a modern game without a Horde mode these days right? Well Saints Row: The Third brings to the table, what it likes to call “Whored mode.” This aptly named survival mode doesn’t offer the same level of technical challenge that other high profile games may, but it allows you to hit people across the head with large purple sex toys, seriously what more do you want? Versatility in waves and an overabundance of absurd ways to complete them makes Whored mode a bunch of fun.

Ultimately Saints Row: The Third deserves a heap of praise because it knew what it wanted to achieve right off the bat and delivered it in spades. Here is an experience catered for an over-the-top and ridiculous time and you get nothing but that. They say knowing your weaknesses will make you stronger, well Saints Row: The Third completely omits that life lesson and smashes it over the head with a purple dildo (its in the game) – you want carnage, action and a whole load of fun, well Saints Row: The Third is home to that and more, so go grab a copy and prepare for a wild and hilarious time.

9.0 | Gameplay |
So much fun. A wide variety of content to get stuck into, plenty of weapons, vehicles and tools of destruction are present to keep you causing havoc in lots of fun and unique ways. An excellent level up and upgrade system consistently rewards you with really cool stuff for simply playing the game.

7.5 | Presentation |
Certain elements of Saints Row: The Third look great, but in general it doesn’t really keep up with the modern heights of gaming. The false pretense of a giant open world is slightly disappointing. But it’s rare to find time to complain about these little issues because you’ll be too busy engrossed in the ridiculous action.

9.0 | Replay Value |
There’s plenty to get your teeth stuck into here. Lots of side missions intertwine nicely with the main story. Cooperative is a real blast and Whored mode can keep you coming back for more long after you get bored of Steelport.

9.0 | Final Thoughts |
Respect is given when respect is due. Saints Row: The Third knows exactly what it isn’t and what it is. It’s not a technical marvel, it’s not an emotional masterpiece, but it’s heaps of fun and overall a testament that sometimes all a game needs to be successful, is utter chaos.

Igor Kharin.

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