Published on August 9th, 2013 | by Chris Scott9
Late to the Party: Saints Row the Third
With so many games coming out each week, there are often tough decisions to be made in terms of what we have time to play. One such game for me was Saints Row the Third. I had heard the praise from both critics and the general public, but for a variety of reasons I skipped out. And I shouldn’t have because Saints Row the Third is fantastic.
I have a mixed history with open world games. While I love the idea of running around in an open world and experiencing the unique randomness that such environments provide, in practice I often find myself quickly bored of the freedom. I can appreciate the craft of games like Red Faction: Guerrilla or Just Cause 2, they tend to be a little too open for my tastes.
I know I generally require a strong central focus, driving me towards an end goal. Having an open world and tons of activities to do in that world is great but I don’t want it shoved down my throat. If I want to mainline a game, let me mainline it. Saints Row and its sequel were competent Grand Theft Auto clones but they continuously locked me out of the main quest, forcing me to partake in their plethora of ridiculous side missions to gain reputation points so I could progress. As such, when Saints Row the Third was released, I avoided it like the plague. Sure it seemed like it had a ton of crazy fun in its little package but my time is valuable and I just didn’t want to get caught up in being forced to do things that didn’t necessarily push me towards the end goal.
I was content with my decision to abstain from the Saints Row franchise, happily playing anything and everything else in the time since its release. But something pulled me back, begging me to play. That something was Saints Row IV, which looked completely bonkers in all the right ways when I saw it at PAX East this past March. I couldn’t rightly jump into Saints Row IV having skipped the third installment of a series that has somehow managed to tie itself together consistently.
Jumping into Saints Row the Third, I knew from the get-go that I was in for an off-the-wall experience. Tossing aside any pretense at seriousness, my crew donned giant Johnny Gat heads as we busted into a bank to rob it, stopping to sign autographs along the way. The bank robbery sequence bounces between tutorial of the basic controls and snazzy visual framing that made it look like I was starring in my very own action film, nay, action-comedy, because the writing is downright hysterical.
The opening is gleefully absurd but is just a delectable taste of the craziness that is to come as the game tops itself time and time again. Each time you think Volition can’t push the envelope of absurdity any further, they find a way. Whether it be you driving a chariot pulled by a gimp, fighting zombies at the request of Mayor Burt Reynolds, or appearing in Steelport’s Wrestlemania-like event Murder Brawl as a masked luchador wielding a blow-up doll, Saints Row the Third pulls no punches.
Still, for as absurdly entertaining as the story is, I particularly enjoyed the way the game handles its rather traditional open-world gameplay by giving it all a twist. The first hours of any open-world game can often be a bit of a slog as the game slowly introduces you to its many side features and options. The Saints Row series has suffered from this very thing in the past, so I was delighted when this game blazed through the rote aspects of the game. All the side features and options are still in Saints Row the Third and you are forced to at least sample them. But the game introduces them in the context of the story, making you play short instances of these activities and then quickly moving forward. What’s nice about the way the game handles it though is that it never forces you to engage in any of these activities ever again if you don’t want to.
Even though these activities are one and done, introducing them is the prime directive of the opening act of the game. Without the breakneck pacing and continuously ridiculous narrative encounters, the first few hours probably would have been pretty dull. However, once the first act ends, the game starts revealing its secret: that each mission is designed to provide the least amount of frustration and the most amount of fun. If I needed something for a mission, the game either gave it to me outright or allowed me to get what was required easily. And when the mission was over, it was mine for the rest of the game, no strings attached. All the fun stuff was available right at my fingertips.
The key to the success of Saints Row the Third though can’t be placed in the lap of any one aspect. Sure, the game is designed around the idea of purely outlandish fun but its the perfect harmony that it makes with the racy humor, incredible use of music, robust player customization and warp speed pacing that makes Saints Row the Third something special. I fully regret missing out on the game when it came out and I won’t be making that same mistake with Saints Row IV.