Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Throwback Review: Saints Row the Third

Sandbox games are a mixed bag for me.  The freedom in the actions that you have to choose from is fresh and exhilarating, but the missions that further the story and open up more options are a little too boring, blah and formulaic.  There was never really any reason for me to trudge through the story.  Grand Theft Auto is a perfect example of this.

An average playthrough of GTAIV consists of getting into pointless scuffles with the police, wasting ammo, almost dying, then finally getting to a destination where the missions are just... ok... and then starting it all over again.

Granted, I could mix it up by "going to see some teeeeeeeeties" with my cuuuuzzin, play darts, bowl, or even watch some television... but after that, I have to get to the story to open up more options.

Saints Row III showed me just how crazy that formula could be shaken up.  Watching ads for previous installments, I always thought that the games were a little more focused on gangbangers.  I'm really not interested in working the 'thug life'.  You can do that again in Saints Row III, or...

you can just turn the game upside down and have an absolute blast!

The Story:
The Third Streets Saints are looking to expand.  Deciding to take over the city of Steelport, however, was a poor business choice. The local gang, the Syndicate, doesnt appreciate the competition, and does a pretty good job of removing you as one.  Its now your job to build up your empire from the beginning all over again. Simple premise that won't win any awards, but it does it's sandbox job.  See, building up your empire is pretty much entirely up in the air.  Do you want to steal a penthouse from one of your rivals?  Thats great, lets parachute into their rooftop pool.  Now you have a base of operations.  The set up allows the creators to be a crazy as they want.
This completely removes the monotony of the genre and all the problems that I ran into with similar games!
One of the early missions has you tearing through a sex-slave house, freeing hookers and trying to help a pimp named Zimos out of captivity as a... how do I put this delicately... pony cart worker that will... entertain you for "eighty an hour".  This is a main story mission and one of the most tame in the game.  They become more ridiculous as you go on.  These are the missions that I was more than happy to play through to get to the rest of what SR III has to offer.

What else can you do exactly?
Well, you can just drive between missions a la GTAIV, you can fly a hoverjet, or you can hijack a moped and pimp it out (my particular favorite ride was an ATV with green under-glow and spikes that popped out of the tires).  There are 500 stunt jumps hidden throughout the city, I saved up enough money to make my gang all wear hot dog costumes, threw 'fart in a jar' grenades to make my opponents puke, and then finished them off by beating them up with a giant dildo.

All of this, plus much more is way more satisfying to discover as you drive around the city of Steelport.
Side missions have their own flair to it as well, where you are slowly trying to take over the city by accomplishing tasks.  Maybe you will commit insurance fraud by throwing yourself repeatedly in traffic.  Sometimes you will take part in Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, a murderous game show where you make 'ethical kills'.  All activities give your gang clout, and more importantly, money.
The customization doesn't end with your gang and your rides.  Your character can basically be whatever you want it to be.  I ran through my first play through as zombie Hitler.  Yup.  With green scarred skin, blue eyes, and even a zombie voice to accompany it.  There are chrome skins available, hooker outfits, mascot faces, even a giant toilet form if you wish.

So the answer to that question earlier really is: anything you want.  You can do anything.

So what could possibly be bad about a game such as this?
Once you get to fly one of these babies, you will never need
another car.  Ever.
If you are savvy about what to buy in what order, say, saving pennies until you can buy the highest earning properties first, and then whittling down the rest of Steelport with your vast riches, you can easily earn a hefty sum of money.  With this money, you can buy upgrades to your character, eventually enabling it to withstand any damage at all.  The game almost breaks itself with its 'do what you want to' attitude.  This may be late in the game, but knowing that you will become so powerful the game becomes less fun.
The difficulty curve is a bit extreme as well.  The game starts out OK with the first mission, making sure you are well equipped and ready, but when you are taken down a peg, the difficulty spikes.  You really do feel like you've lost everything, and it takes a few missions to get back on your feet. This all goes away though, once you do.

This game is immensely fun. The characters, story, and game play provide such a unique blend. After sinking hours into it, I can honestly say it's an experience that I've never had with any other game. I can't recommend Saints Row the Third more. This is definitely a buy and one that just can't be passed up.

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