One of the problems with having this Monday blog spot is that it’s nigh impossible to do a quick turnaround on a review, what with everything releasing on Tuesdays (except movies, but the hell with those). The flip side is that it gives me a chance to dig deep into a new title and give it more than just a cursory look.
Saints Row: The Third is no exception.
In the last six days, I’ve put in somewhere around 25-30 hours into SR3, which allowed me to get through the game and also finish nearly all of the activities and other side missions. As such, I can tell you this much: If you enjoy games that don’t take themselves too seriously and are fun to play, you’ll enjoy Saints Row: The Third.
SR3 gives you a taste of what to expect with its outlandish opening mission. As teased in a number of different trailers and preview videos, you start off with the usual gang of Johnny Gat and Shaundi as you’re about to rob a bank. By this point, the robbery seems like another run-of-the-mill day for the Saints, as everyone chats about how the gang has become commercialized and sold out. But out of nowhere, all of the tellers bring out pistols and open fire, sending the game into a frenetic pace that rarely — if ever — slows down.
Before you even have a chance to explore the open world, you’ll already be shooting dozens of people who get in your way, hanging from a bank vault as it flies through the sky, engaging in a rail shooter as you fall from an airplane, and saving a damsel in distress — twice. And all of that is just a sample of what SR3 has to offer.
In the middle of the opening madness, you’ll have a chance to customize your character with the series’ most robust creator yet. There’s more options than ever before, and almost all of them are unlocked from the word go (before, you had to purchase the majority of outfits and clothes in the game). Adding to the individuality of each character is the choice between seven voices to choose from — three male, three female and one zombie.
From there, how you play SR3 is entirely up to you. Unlike the previous game, where you were forced to complete side missions to earn enough respect to open another chapter in the main story, you can tackle whatever you’d like. Want to focus just on activities? Go crazy with some fun new ones like Professor Genki’s show and Tank Mayhem, or stick to tried-and-true favorites like Insurance Fraud. Interested in raising a bunch of money by buying up properties early on? Not a problem; your investment early will result in a lot of hourly income. Just want to drive around, check out the city and mess with people? There’s no time limit on that.
THQ has given you plenty of new tools to play with in the sandbox. There’s plenty of new weapons to choose from. You now have the ability to upgrade most of your weapons and vehicles to make them better. Rather than having to do activities to improve your character, you can now purchase things like unlimited sprint and more health for your homies with your hard-earned cash. And the entire process is streamlined by your phone, which gives you quick access to all of those abilities and missions without having to pause the game.
And best of all, you can take on Steelport with a friend with online play or system link — although there’s a catch (see below). Earlier in the series, the second player was able to do most things that the leader could, but there were some notable exceptions like buying property or simulaneously doing some side missions. Those problems are gone in the third offering — all missions, activities and collectible pick-ups are available for each player.
Unfortunately, SR3 isn’t perfect. There are a few regrettable omissions from the second game, like some of the better activities (Septic Avenger) cheats (angry pedestrians), and fighting styles that were available. Likewise, some elements of SR2 that should not have made the journey into the sequel bog down the pacing if you played other games in the series. Snatch and Escort are two side missions that I wasn’t really eager to see again, and your character still turns into a ragdoll whenever he’s grazed by an explosion (although you can eventually unlock an ability that prevents this).
But the biggest problem in Saints Row: The Third isn’t even something within the game itself. That honor belongs solely to THQ for bastardizing local co-op for the sake of protecting against used-game sales.
In case you haven’t heard, SR3 requires an online pass to access most of that part of the game’s content, a unique code that you can find inside each new game or download online for $10. Unfortunately, system link is inexplicably lumped in with the other online features, even though it has nothing to do with online play. So if you’re looking forward to playing this game with a friend in the same room, be prepared to either shell out for a full-price new copy or add $10 on top of a used version. The whole fiasco is a black mark on what should stand as one of the best releases of 2011.
Saints Row: The Third succeeds in spite of its minor flaws, and THQ’s colossally short-sighted wound on the gaming industry should not be counted against it. The game is fun from start to finish and is all too aware that it’s not taking itself seriously. If you’ve ever enjoyed a GTA/SR sandbox type of title, then pick this up immediately.
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