Saints Row the Third begins in an absurd but explosive way. The Saints, a gang in the city of Stillwater, are robbing a bank, all dressed in large headed costumes of one of their members named Johnny Gat. They gun down cops, hostages and eventually lift a building sized vault out with a helicopter. You continue fighting the law, who is asking you politely to stop because their daughters really want the Saints’ autographs, but eventually get taken down and tossed in jail.
After this bizarre but humorous opening, you are tossed into a very robust character editor. You choose a gender and voice, but you can also alter just about every single detail about your character’s body. Want a woman with a beard and lower lip that sticks out? Do it. Want a guy with purple skin and the voice of a zombie? You can make that happen. The editor is loaded with options, which means that no two characters are going to look the same.
After another over the top introductory mission, you are placed into the new city of Steelport. You can run around and cause a good bit of mayhem, but it’s not until two or three hours in that you are truly given free reign over what to do. Thankfully, the first few hours are anything but boring. As already stated, the first few missions are actually very fun, thanks in part to their over the top nature. If you’ve ever wondered what a gun fight would be like while in free fall thousands of feet above a city, the second mission will answer that for you.
The fun remains throughout most of the campaign, too. There’s always a steady stream of new missions to play, and they have enough variety so that the going never gets dull. Granted, some of them are just introductory levels for side tasks, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable or ridiculous. For instance, in one mission you will be tasked with driving safely for a set amount of time. The catch is that there’s a tiger in the car with you. The game frequently tosses ridiculous scenarios like this at you, which means you never quite know what to expect from the main missions. There is the occasional stutter in the fun, but it’s usually more than forgivable since the rest of the missions are so great.
Thankfully, the absurdity extends to the rest of the game. There’s plenty to do in the city and lots of ways to earn both money and respect. Respect is basically a way to unlock upgrades available for purchase. These range from wielding two pistols to never going ragdoll from explosions. The upgrading works well; assuming you have the cash, you’ll pretty much be earning an almost constant stream of new abilities. You can get the cash to purchase these in a variety of ways. For instance, purchasing property increases your hourly income. It’s a “spend money to make money” system that gives incentive to travel all around the map.
Arguably the best way to make money, though, is by completing side activities. There are something like eight in total, each with several different levels and difficulties. One activity, known as Insurance Fraud, has you deliberately harming yourself in order to make back some insurance money. Another, called Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax, is a game show where you run through a small gauntlet, shooting enemies dressed in furry suits or food costumes. It’s an almost surreal mini game that’s a lot of fun to play due to its arcadey nature. There’s enough variety on tap so that you’ll undoubtedly find some favorite mini games, but they are all worth playing, if for no other reason than to get a chuckle.
Completing the mini games earns you money and respect. It’s a never ending cycle of earning money to upgrade yourself so you can go and earn more money. Thankfully, though, there is more to spend your cash on. You can go shopping or clothes to outfit your character as you see fit, or you can take a car to the garage and trick it out. You can upgrade your guns, too, enhancing their combat capabilities, or you can get plastic surgery to completely change the look of your character. There’s no shortage of things to spend your money on, and it’s a lot of fun to constantly chase after a new reward.
Better than anything else, though, the game understands how to give the player a good time. Messing around in the world is easy thanks to the unrealistic but entertaining driving and shooting. It’s not uncommon to have both gangs and cops on your tail, but the simple fact of the matter is that blowing up your enemies never gets old, especially when you get infinite ammo upgrades late in the game. But the game also wisely streamlines many aspects of the open world genre to give as much joy as possible. You can create a custom play list of songs you like from all the different radio stations, and staying in the water for more than five seconds prompts a “return to shore” button to appear. A press later and you’re back on land, ready to wreak more havoc. Little touches like these go a long way to making the game a lot less clumsy or irritating than other games in the genre.
There are a few faults in the middle of the fun, though. For one, the story is half baked at best. Characters come and go with little rhyme or reason, only seeming to show up when the plot calls for it. The dialogue is well written enough, but the fact is that none of the characters really connect in any meaningful way. There are also some annoying enemy types, such as hulking brutes who can rag doll you by sprinting right at you, then burn you with their flamethrowers. Additionally, the game is a bit prone to glitches at certain times. They usually aren’t game breaking, although I did have it freeze on me one time. The game is also a bit on the short side- I finished the campaign in under 20 hours, with 80% completion.
None of the problems really end up mattering, though. The game knows that sometimes, you need to stop taking life so seriously and blow up some cars while dressed as a cartoon dog. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, whether it’s playing one of the various activities, participating in the ridiculous story missions, or just causing mayhem on your own.
If I had to choose one thing about the game that summed it up perfectly, it would be the Apocafists. These are giant hands you can equip that can be used to literally blow people up when you punch them. They are completely ridiculous, over the top and a ton of fun to use. Sure, by the end of the game, you will probably be more or less invincible and have infinite ammo for your guns. Some may see that as a lack of challenge, but why does that matter when you can fly around the city on a hoverbike and sky dive into the streets to cause havoc? The game is pure fun for most of the time, and that’s really all that matters.