So gloriously over-the-top that the top is barely even visible anymore.
It's all in a day's work for a Saints Row, uh... saint. Skydiving in a tank while shooting other skydiving tanks, invading a virtual reality as a toilet bowl, driving around with a clawing tiger strapped in the passenger seat, streaking to lure an orthodox catholic out of hiding or throwing yourself into oncoming traffic to scam the insurance company are just a few of the things that fill your to-do list. Saints Row: the Third is tailor-made for anyone craving an "anything is possible"-nonsensical adventure and it's hard not to revel in its complete lunacy.
The story is about shooting people in the face. Well, that's the gist of it anyway. The Third Street Saints gang now has its own emporium with licensed merchandise, billboards across entire skyscrapers and even a movie in the works. But you can't run the show without stepping on some toes and soon enough they draw the ire of the Syndicate, a brotherhood of gangs that wants to conflate the profitable Saints into their organisation. Saints refuse, egos get inflated, faces feel the ensuing gunfire and you ride the bullet plane to Steelport, a four-district city that's under tight control by the Syndicate. The idea, as you can undoubtedly guess, is to annex Steelport. By shooting people in the face.
Though, truth be told, taking over the metropolis requires more than oversized sex toys and pistols: each of the four gang-controlled districts has activities, properties, cribs and gang operations with a percentage of territorial control assigned to them. Gang operations require you to kill all enemy gang members within a small area, properties are stores or buildings you can purchase that generate more hourly revenue for you and allow you to buy their goods at discount prices, cribs allow you to manage your gang, garage and wardrobe, and activities are scenarios with specified variables. A combination of sidemissions and minigames, let's say.
The downside is that, while there are plenty of these activities, a lot of them feel very similar. The Guardian Angel activities for example, require you to protect one of your friends from a helicopter as enemy vehicles chase him. Heli Assault requires you to protect one of your friends from a helicopter as he drives around town stopping at various spots. Trafficking requires you to ride shotgun with one of your friends, providing protection as he stops at various spots in the city. Snatch requires you to drive around town, stopping at various spots to pick up allies and return them to your base.
It's not even because they're so similar that they're bad, it's because you're dependent on an AI that simply isn't good. Trying to get an ally in a car so you can escape a hellish gunfight only to see her break into a dance amid the explosions, or seeing your allies get their vehicles stuck in the geometry turn your smile upside down when they cause your mission to fail.
Not every activity is a bust though. Mayhem turns you into an invincible destructive force tasked with causing as much environmental damage as possible, Professor Genkhi's Super-Ethic Reality Climax is a sports-commentated game show wherein you go through a maze-like area killing mascots for money, and Trailblazers gives a fun spin on the typical gate-race mode wherein more time is earned by bumping your burning quad into pedestrians and other vehicles. There are ten different activities, each having about five scenarios that get progressively harder, with more money and respect awarded accordingly.
Respect is the game's equivalent of experience: you can gain up to fifty ranks, unlocking more skills to buy as you rise, such as pickpocketing, being able to recruit more gang bangers into your posse or increasing your stamina and health. Pretty standard stuff, up until level forty, clearly the point where the developers wave their middle fingers at game balance by allowing you to become impervious to all damage, get infinite ammo and ditch reloads altogether. By the time you're done, you'll feel like a superhero. Except, you know, the jerk kind.
Of course, such upgrades carry a hefty price tag, although it won't take you too long to meet it if you indulge in one of the many side-activities; you can try your hand at one of the thirty-six assassination missions in which you're given an area and a clue to lure your target out in the open, steal cars for one of your associates or answer a companion's call to arms in a gang war. Or simply hunt the city for collectible drugs packages, money stacks and blow-up dolls.
Getting around the city is easy and enjoyable thanks to the wide array of customisable vehicles you can store in your garage, ranging from simple motorcycles and military tanks to VTOL-jets and hoverbikes, and the controls are smooth and responsive so that you'll never struggle for grip. The so-called Awesome Button (sprint-button) takes your actions up a notch by letting you jack cars via a two-feet dropkick through the window, and pester any pedestrian with all sorts of ill-conceived harassments like bunny-hopping over him, then knocking the confused sucker out cold. By air, by sea or by land, there's never a dull moment when you're moving through the world, a hallmark of a great sandbox game.
It's clear that a lot of care went into the PC-version: it's heavy on features and options, and it runs like a dream if you disregard some lag spikes when the action gets heavy. The particle effects, use of blur and lighting are amazing, and there's a terrific fluidity in everything you do. It carries a slightly cartoonish style that I appreciate with bright colours, impossible shoulder widths and exaggerated bounce in curls and girls.
Part of that depends on how far you let yourself go in the character creator, which allows you to coat your character in solid gold, max out the useless-but-why-not Sex Appeal-slider and pick one of seven (!) voice banks; three male, three female and one zombie. Having the entire player script read by so many different actors is a staggering feat on its own, but having it be as fantastic as it is, is mind-blowing. The voice actors obviously had a ton of fun in the recording booth, and their enthusiasm is very infectious.
In fact, the voice acting is the sole reason why I'd recommend getting the DLC-pack "Gangstas in Space" since the horribly forced acting on your character's part makes it worth going through. It's not long nor engaging, but I've had some of the most laughs in the entire game wringing my scolded but determined co-star through the megalomaniacal director's absurd feature.
Your adventure through Steelport will take about thirty hours all-in and although some of the bigger story missions end with a choice, they grant you an instant bonus instead of a branching path. For example: keeping research into monstrous thugs will earn you a wad of cash while destroying the research boosts your respect significantly. There is also no real head-to-head multiplayer, all you have is co-op which is the exact same game as the single player but with two, and a weak four-player horde mode.
Out of fear of having missed anything else, I'll mention a few other note-worthy things that got my attention during the game, things that didn't fit anywhere else in the review; you can set a basejumping target during a parachute jump for extra respect when you land in it, you can surf on cars for respect, you can get a pair of glove that makes people explode into bloody bits with one hit, there's an integrated video recorder, there are mini-challenges such as travelling x amount of miles and using x amount of human shields, there's a no-penalty warp to shore-option when you land in the water, guns are upgradeable up to four levels, etc...
There is so much to do and to discover in Saints Row: the Third that you're better off playing it yourself. The crude humour will be too juvenile for some, but those who can stomach a dose of tongue-in-cheekiness will happily keep dicking around in Steelport long after the credits have passed. Warmly recommended.