Blog 512: Saints Blog: The Third

I heard a lot about Saints Row: The Third being wonderfully ludicrous at the time, but I passed it by because I wasn’t interested enough to pay full release price for it (like the sucker I have been for some poor prequels/sequels of late). But then I was in HMV and I saw it for £12 and thought to myself — why the hell not?

I have to put this blog in some context. I haven’t actually played a game of this ilk since Grand Theft Auto 2, and that was just deathmatch against my brother using the serial cable from the original Lego Mindstorms, so you may need to excuse me if I start to gush about things that are in fact genre conventions the rest of the world has been taking for granted since the dawn of the new millenium.

Vast Open-World Conspiracy

So, take a huge, seamless wide-open area with no limits, but still with enough detail to be engaging (especially destructible detail), and put objectives in it. It’s a bit like taking Baldur’s Gate, expanding the city itself and canning everything else. And giving everyone horses?

Okay, scratch that, it’s nothing at all like Baldur’s Gate.

Stop lion to yourself, that’s definitely a tiger.

There’s something to be said for the simple joy of tearing down the wrong right side of the motorway at stupid-miles-per-hour, swerving wildly to avoid other cars. Vehicles deform beautifully, with doors going from swinging open to being bashed off entirely and bonnets crunching and crumpling as you mash into the on-coming bad guys. Sending some nearby punters flying is also nice, though a part of me would prefer them to disintegrate into spluttering giblets UT-style (there might be plenty of blood in the cinematics, but it’s curiously absent from the day-to-day mashing (unless I’ve just got Particle Effects on minimum)).

I call shotgun! Look, I’m actually using a shotgun! Not by choice, mind you — I was out of spray-and-pray SMG bullets.

Luckily, you get points for driving down the wrong lane and narrowly avoiding on-coming cars. You get points for powersliding and narrowly avoiding crashes. It’s almost like Bulletstorm but with gangsters, except instead of spending points on ammunition you get RPG levels in the form of “Respect”. Sadly, although Respect unlocks new perks, you still have to buy them with actual money (just like real life).

Look ma, it’s top gun!

Pretty Pretty Dress-Up

I love pretty pretty dress-up games as part of my actual games, but as a man of robots and knights in shining armour I don’t often get to indulge myself. This is basically the whole reason why Project Y4‘s AP-AM is composed almost entirely of bolt-on attachments. I just want to be beautiful!

Obviously, lacking in imagination as I am and never one to back down from a power-trip fantasy, I attempted to construct myself in the game.

Maybe I made me a bit more buff in the game.

Hmm. Not sure if it beats me in Alpha Protocol or not.

Well, at least he’s got my dance moves.

HUAH!

… and my dialogue!

Mini-Game Central

There are mini-games everywhere. I would say that it’s far exceeded Sonic Adventure levels of mini-gamery, but then I remember that the mini-games here actually just riff off the game’s actual mechanics rather than turning everything on its head.

“Tank Mayhem” gives you a tank and tells you to blow up as much as possible in the time limit — fairly self-explanatory. “Vehicle Surfing” can be done on any car as soon as it starts moving, and involves balancing for as long as possible. “Streaking” can be done anywhere as soon as you take off all your clothes (you can only abandon your clothes at a crib (fo shizzle) or a clothes shop, though, rather than tearing them off in the middle of the street)

And while “Professor Genki’s Super Reality Ethical Climax” does a better job of being The Club than The Club did, “Insurance Fraud” (my favourite so far), tells you to throw yourself under cars to rack up personal injury claims — it’s like it combines social commentary with fun gameplay or some meta shit like that.

The wrestling commentators add that extra dimension of fun.

The list goes on with a whole ménagerie of little twists on the central mechanics of beasting around town and painting it red. My world-map is slathered in icons for all the difficulty-variant instances of each activity. None of them lasts particularly long, though, so there’s not much chance for a session to get stale before it’s time to cool off with some more story missions. Which are in themselves very varied in the same manner.

Outside these games, of course, I can do the same things — just without the rewards (or the invulnerability of Insurance Fraud). The standard gameplay doesn’t jump off a cliff during a mini-game in the way Sonic Adventure‘s snowboarding or Twinkle Circuit do, it just gets an objective framework and slots you into a self-contained mission microcosm.

This is why I always wear long-sleeved T-shirts… Except when I’m prowling the mean streets of Glasgow after dark.

Is There Something Missing?

When you’re not in a story mission, the colourful cast of characters is totally non-existant. I was expecting them to hang around their respective cribs, but Kinzie’s warehouse, for example, forlornly plays electronic music out of a tinny radio to a totally empty suite of rooms. There’s evidence of habitation, sure, but no visible life. Larger cribs sometimes get generic saints followers floating around, but the actual ringleaders are nowhere to be found and you still rarely get a response even from complimenting them (huah!).

I don’t expect to be able to talk to anybody in the entire universe (considering people, like cars, come into being at my passage and disappear as I leave), but some kind of conversation system (maybe even romance options?) would bring the characters to life beyond the missions. There are numerous bonus objectives that can be accessed via the telephone (and without going into self-contained-mission-mode) given by characters you never actually get the remotest whiff of in-game, so it would be nice to, say, maybe have to meet these people before getting to go after their objective-chains.

The game does have an incredible breadth, but a little bit of depth would really make it shine.

This is precisely what it looks like.

Overall

“The absurdity of a sex toy with the lethality of a baseball bat” pretty much sums it up. Saints Row: The Third is both a good game and a riotous ten-car-pile-up of classic cartoon ultra-violence fun. Witty dialogue, colourful characters and… Hell, I’m not much into cars but even I couldn’t resist finding a Lambourghini-a-like, souping it up and cruising the streets like a total boss.

You know what’s even better, though?

It has a decent crosshair.

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5 thoughts on “Blog 512: Saints Blog: The Third

  1. I loved Saints Row when I played it through, but afterwards found replaying it was kind of… eh. The problem is that the game is fun when you still have objectives or side-missions to complete, but I’ve maxed it.

    You’d think a sandbox game should be fun to just mess around in, and Saints Row really tries to sell itself as that, but missed out on a vital flaw: Interactivity. As you mentioned, you can’t do much with anyone or anything when out of a mission. Sure, you can blow stuff up, but it’s pretty generic. All the explosions look the same, the pedestrians reactions are the same, so it all gets boring pretty early on.

    Grand Theft Auto 4, on the other hand, while having a PAINFULLY slow campaign pace, is a lot more fun to just mess around in, because the world behaves realistically. Drive past a burger joint in the late evening and you’ll see workers sneaking outside for cigarette breaks, or coffee store workers sweeping the outside in the morning before their days work. Fights tend to be radically unique each time because of the wonderful physics and I’d really recommend it if you liked Saints Row. It is a lot more realistic which means slower gameplay, but that also means every reaction feels much more unique.

    Like

    • Maybe a slower campaign pace would have suited SR3 anyway. It escalated mad fast from having a single bummed-out flat for a crib to having two skyscrapers and a nuclear power station; the game might be mostly insane but there was room for more in there. According to the stats I took about 18 hours to finish the campaign, and that was with rather a lot of activity padding in between. (There are also no actual basic *racing* type activities???)

      It’s probably a matter of taste. I think I want everything to be a full-on RPG these days, so I should probably buy some full-on RPGs rather than buying pseudo-RPGs and wishing they were deeper. Mind you, if Saints Row had an editor…

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