rating: 4The Saints' third outing is lewd, sexist, prurient, unnecessarily violent and utterly flippant in its approach to wanton destruction. This is of course, the point. When trying to pin down Saints Row: The Third to examine it's finer nuances of plot, atmosphere or characterisation, things can me made very difficult. This is due purely to the fact that there isn't any. This is certainly not a game that aspires to narrative greatness, two dimensional characters come and go with as much passing note as a fart in gale. Nor is this a game that reinvents the open world wheel, offering players a fairly standard mix of driving, shooting and side mission diversion. But then Volition, the makers of the Saints Row franchise, aren't trying to give Rockstar a run for their money. I spoke in my previewabout the Saints' intent to reclaim the open world as a setting for the hysterical cartoon murderfest of the PS2 era, (see Grand Theft Auto 3). Whereas Rockstar are too busy these days concerning themselves with earnest games that tell sweeping stories of crime, identity and morality; not so here. Here there are gimp suits and weaponised farts.
Volition and the Saints aren't out for grandeur or even necessarily to provoke a single thought, instead they're out for one thing: fun. Or to be more specific, carnage. Here is a game that revels in it's own hyperbolic absurdity. You will jump out of a plane, dive a seemingly impossible distance without seeing a glimpse of the ground beneath, murder a swathe of goons mid air and then slot quite neatly back into the plane once more (all the while with the game banging on the fourth wall with snarky, self aware dialogue). You'll batter prostitutes with sex toys, fly hover bikes into choppers, shoot mind controlling octopi at the populous and take part in Japanese murder gameshows. Saints 3 embraces its own nonsense with virility and aplomb. The real problem however is that this self aware orgasm of utter ridiculousness is both the game's greatest strength and it's largest weakness. If you like the sound of the action movie 'gansta' fantasy then stop reading, go and play it. It all works pretty well and the AI isn't absolutely brain dead (though there are frequent instances when you'll genuinely question this). But if however you're not convinced, wary perhaps of whether or not the game can sustain the constant onslaught of chuckles and thrills it promises, then unfortunately you're right to be sceptical. The game looses steam and disappointingly isn't as riotous as it thinks it is.
Credit where it's due: the game focuses it's destruction fantasy sharply, allowing a huge amount of player customisation from character models, weapons, vehicles and even the gang you roll with. The trouble is the game puts it's eggs all in one basket, it relies on you finding every childish joke utterly hilarious to the point that there really isn't any narrative pull whatsoever if you don't. Moreover enjoying every over the top mission can be a chore because although those found at the start and end of the game are great, a large number in the middle are utterly inane. In short, if you don't take Saints Row: The Third by the hand with enthusiasm from the first moments, chances are you'll be very unimpressed and bored before the last. Unfortunately the same too is true of the game's side activities. The first time you drive a car with a tiger in the passenger seat, trying to race up to speed without crashing so as to appease your feline friend, things definitely are what a character might call 'balls to the wall awesome'. After the second or third time however, the thrill wears thin and you'll probably find yourself only indulging in each side activity once or twice as a result.
It's also very small for an open world game. Perhaps it feels this way due to the speed of the late game vehicles (jets, super cars etc.) but in truth it doesn't seem like there's all that much to see in Steelport. You'll likely have 70% odd game completion at the end of the story and feel little incentive to mop the rest up. Sad then as most players will be coming to Steelport for the sandbox, in order to indulge in their own bizarre destruction fantasies, and will need to churn through the story in order to unlock enough cash and respect to get their hands on the really interesting late game weapons and vehicles. That's to say if you simply want a rampage the starting weapons are extremely weak so you'll be forced to grind through the story to back you equipment wise. On the presentation side of things the game is not ugly but then it's hardly remarkable. A competent hyperrealistic wash of bright colours, this isn't as stunning as other contemporary games such as Rage or Skyrim but then considering the subject matter, the graphics are competent and apt. On the sound side again things aren't revolutionary, there's a good selection of music here to choose from and the news updates between missions are genuinely amusing. It's just a shame that the game couldn't be more ambitious, investing in more well written radio dialogue Though this is Saints Row: The Third's final nail in the coffin, for all it's conviction and idiosyncrasies it's hard to recommend Saints Row: The Third over it's rivals. Nothing here is as funny or as poignant as a character in a Rockstar game (think Liberty City chats shows or morally complex cowboys) and for all the diving out of planes you'll do and all the rockets you'll fire, you'll never feel quite as empowered as you do in say Crackdown.
If you care about the Saints and have been following their progress then don't let any of this deter you. You've probably already made your mind up about this third outing and clearly the franchise has already reached you in concerns to humour and mechanics, (though be warned the versus multiplayer component from Saints Row 2 has been scrapped and 'Whored Mode', a repetitive survival mode gimmick, is hardly a worthy replacement). For those on the fence however the choice really comes down to how much you enjoy an open world playground. If you're turned on by driving over the speed limit, taking over the hood and dick jokes you'll be right at home here. If not, Saints Row: The Third won't be the game to change your mind. Saints Row is released on Friday 18th November on XBox 360, PS3 and PC.