And the Saints go marching on.
If Grand Theft Auto is drama, then Saints Row: The Third is comedy. Both are entertaining, and both hinge on our desire to break the law, but where GTA takes itself seriously, Saints Row shoves its finger inside seriousness until candy comes out. Yummy, bloody candy. Its sugary taste will no doubt remind you of Saints Row 2, perhaps in more ways than you would like, but it's hard to deny that Saints Row: The Third is crazier, more over-the-top, and uncompromisingly delicious.
By the end of the last game, the Saints have splashed their purple brand all over the world, becoming international stars with crazed fans and even a Japanese commercial featuring their Saints Flow energy drink. (You don't want to know what's in it.) But in due time, their newfound fame catches the attention of other rival gangs. Cue the Syndicate, headed by a group called the Morningstar, clad in sleek orange and black suits outfits, who decides to get a taste of retribution after the Saints raids its bank in the opening scene. The Saints don't back down without a fight, and after several stunts of shooting, sprinting, and skydiving, they find themselves in the city of Steelport left with nothing but a few dollars to their name.
This plot for revenge might sound like a solid description of what the story is about, but in Saints Row, the story is just a vehicle for one thing and one thing only: unadulterated fun. It's about firing headshot after headshot into stripper assassins in a swanky penthouse. It's about running over a hot dog mascot and two furries in your stolen police car to the dulcet melodies of Chopin. It's about whacking a gang of mask-wearing, grenade-launching, muscle-bound Luchadores with a long, jiggly purple dildo dubbed "The Penetrator" to Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero". And then twenty hours in, realizing that you're not fazed at all by the absurdity. Oh, the things Saints Row: The Third will do to you.
Since the game doesn't have any dramatic depth, it throws everything it can imagine as plausible plot points and activities—freefalling from the sky, dodging cars as a tiger claws at you from the front passenger seat in Tiger Escort, conquering a mascot shooting gallery in Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax game show, driving into oncoming cars and pedestrians to earn extra bonus seconds in Trailblazing, firing missiles from a V-TOL fighter jet, and hacking the cyber emo-punk Deckers gang by virtually projecting yourself into a TRON-like world. And I haven't even gotten to the major plot twists yet. Suffice it to say, Saints Row: The Third will keep you entertained with something fresh at every turn.
Near the beginning of the game, you can craft your character and transform him or her into whatever you want, unless you've already done so in the Initiation Station. I created a shirtless British cowboy hunk (surprise, surprise…). My roommate made a Latina punk chick with a hot red spiky mohawk, goth pants, and steampunk vest. My favorite creation, though, has to be pairing the zombie voice with the Michael Jackson taunt, in part because the character's dialogue is replaced by undead mumblings that everyone in the game understands but you.
Though more than half of the activities come straight from those in Saints Row 2, plenty of gameplay changes have been made. Respect is no longer a requirement for accepting missions and has been turned into a simple leveling system. Gain enough respect and you'll be able to purchase progressively better perks, like damage reduction, quicker health regeneration, larger magazine sizes, and additional slots for homie support. Every piece of property can be acquired as well and will provide hourly income that you can collect easily from your in-game smartphone, which acts as an uncomplicated menu screen. Certain pivotal point in the story will now branch and give you two options, though apart from the ending, most of it boils down to picking between two different rewards and is of little consequence.
Overall, Saints Row: The Third is more approachable than its predecessors, as earning all of the Achievements and 100% completion isn't difficult. That can be seen as a flaw, but it allows you to continue playing without getting stuck. Playing cooperatively with another fellow Saint is also as easy as ever, be it in the main campaign or the points-driven, free-for-all multiplayer
Horde Whored mode where anything goes. Pummeling giant, G-stringed skanks with a steel warhammer? +1,500 points, please.
As incredibly fun as Saints Row: The Third is, though, it feels more like "Saints Row 2.5" than a brand new installment. The graphics and animations have been improved dramatically and there are plenty of added elements, but that's really just embellishment. The game is still about conquering three borroughs controlled by three gangs with distinct stereotypes and exploring an open-world that is meant only to give you opportunities to earn respect by driving recklessly. Just because there are collectibles and activities strewn about Steelport doesn't mean that the city has any meaning other than being an exceedingly large canvas with the same buildings, the same streets, and the same shops. Steelport needs more landmarks, more distinct neighborhoods, and more interactive buildings to give the city more vitality.
Saints Row: The Third doesn't give a crap about precious modern design with its storyworlds, complex strategy-based gameplay systems, and magniloquent commentaries on the state of humanity. All it cares about is showing you a good time—how you want it, when you want it, and where you want it. It's instant gratification for days on end. I don't know about you, but I'm already sold on Saints Row: The Fourth.
Review based on X360 version. Copy provided by publisher.