Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saints Row: The Third - Open World Gaming On Steroids

Open World games aren't a genre I usually play. They require you to dedicate a lot of time, the distractions are numerous, and it's possible to never get around to finishing the campaign and subsequently forget what the story was about. While I did end up playing a couple later on, like Assassin's Creed II onward and Batman: Arkham City, I never thought I would ever play a Saints Row game due to my unfamiliarity. However, a demonstration of the game at the last San Diego Comic-Con (2011) managed to capture my interest. The video I saw demonstrated that not only could a game in this genre take place in a brightly colored world, but it could also have the capability to not take itself seriously. The mixture of adult humor, spontaneous urban chaos and destruction of high magnitude, vast customization, and intriguing pre-order bonus took my breath away and instantly encouraged me to not only buy the game (as designed of course), but also become a fan of Saints Row and its shift in tone from most other open world games out there. Playing about half of Saints Row 2 soon after the convention really got me excited for the potential of this game, and after spending over 20 hours already with Saints Row: The Third, I am mostly pleased with how it turned out.

With so much to talk about, I suppose I should start with the story. After the events of Saints Row II, the Third Street Saints have become a worldwide media icon, hocking energy drinks, clothing stores, and even have a movie deal lined up. After a heist falls through however, they find themselves face-to-face with The Syndicate, a corporation that wishes to take advantage of the Saints' fame to control the city of Steelport. Naturally the Saints refuse, crash landing into the city as felons. The rest of the plot is focused on them taking down three rival gangs under The Syndicate and reclaiming control over Steelport.

The execution of this plot is actually pretty well handled. Taking out the gangs one rung at a time reveals more about the relationships between the characters and just what they're willing to do when their turn comes to take down their biggest competition. The story also moves at a good pace to keep the player invested and throws in a few memorable twists and lasting events to ensure that no matter when you pick it up again, you'll know how to feel. Perhaps the most memorable characters in the cast are cyber punk Matt Miller and masked wrestler Killbane, who both want the same result, but only the latter is willing to put literally everything on the line to do it, even his own crew.

Near the very beginning of the story, the look and personality of the player character is left entirely up to you. Unlike other character creation aspects of games however, what you see is merely a small taste of the game's astounding customization abilities. During development, Volition reported the game to have 2 Googols worth of combinations, and from the amount of clothing and colors available to pick from, it seems to be completely true. Being able to wear cardinal robes, a stunt suit with a Professor Genki head, be a toilet, or even run around naked brings an element of surprise and merriment to the city-wide destruction capable of the player.

The tools available to do so is another highlight of this game. While other games like Grand Theft Auto limit you mostly to the conventional weapons of the genre, with special weapons used in specific circumstances, Saints Row: The Third allows access to an RC Drone, Fart in a Jar, a dildo bat, and even an Air Strike virtually at will. Some of these weapons can also be upgraded to insane degrees, from a pistol using incendiary rounds to a a shotgun having three barrels at once. No matter what combination of weapons I carried into battle, even if I only used a pair of fists capable of reducing someone to a cloud of meat, I had a feeling of glee as I decimated anyone in my way. With an arsenal as unique as what this game provides, it's hard not to have any fun or find a favorite.

While combat arsenal is exceptional, the controls themselves are incredibly easy to use and smartly applied to the controller. Weapons are easy to switch on the fly and aiming and shooting feel very fluid and tight. The same can be said about the vehicle control, although the only vehicle that felt awkward at first was the tank thanks to how tank controls normally operate on a single stick. Getting used to how each vehicle of each type works is also key to navigation, since just about every one is unique in handling. On another note, the ability to jump into a vehicle through the windshield or side window always felt good, soon becoming my exclusive form of entry. My other favorite ability was finally being able to hit someone in the crotch at will, and the fact that every weapon has a unique animation for trying it is also very humorous.

Of course, if you're going to be driving around a city like Steelport, you'll need a place to go. If you're running away for instance, you can simply go into a shop or crib you have purchased and your notoriety will simply vanish, also granting an opportunity to change outfits, get a tattoo, or mess around with your guns and vehicles. Owning shops, cribs, and strongholds also gives you an hourly income from the particular building or area, which you can spend on upgrades as you level up by earning Respect. Respect in turn can be earned by doing just about anything, from certain actions in combat to just performing a powerslide in a car. One of the more fun ways to do this is by going to and completing side missions, of which there are plenty. While these require you to do things like defend your homies while in a helicopter or destroy cyber tanks in a Tron-like environment as a form of hacking, the one that really stands out the most is one called Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, which operates like The Running Man meets Japanese game show. Contestants on Professor Genki's S.E.R.C. have to make it out of a maze alive while earning enough cash by shooting mascots and bonus markers while also dodging fire and electrical traps, which both can quickly impede progress if you're not careful enough. While I do like how the side missions get progressively difficult as you go, providing a great challenge as well, I couldn't help but notice that some of my favorites from Saints Row 2 like Septic Avenger were strangely absent from this installment, which felt a bit disappointing.

Another aspect to mention is the AI. At times the enemy AI feels genuinely overwhelming, which makes it satisfying once you either outsmart them or just run away to lower notoriety. Thankfully, your partner AI is smart enough to assist in combat, which is needed given your ability to summon one via smartphone in a tight spot. These situations grant a sense of relief, but in a way that doesn't feel like you're sacrificing control of the mission over to them.

Like I mentioned before, the game world is very brightly colored, helping it stand out from other games in the genre very easily and contrasts very well with the impending gunfights all over Steelport. The graphics they are laid on are also a sight to behold, with beautifully rendered buildings and an attractive style used to create the character models. There is also a fairly large draw distance, with next to no pop-up textures in sight. Vehicles are also very sleek and shine well with the game's great lighting in day or night.

Final mentions go to the voice acting and music. To me, the voice acting never got tiring, with a great voice cast chosen to portray every character in the game no matter their importance, even Zimos and his auto-tuned voice. The radio stations also each provide a great driving soundtrack containing well chosen licensed songs spanning genres like metal, electronica, 80's/90's rock tunes, and hip hop, although some points in the game also highlight some specific tracks and made me see them from another angle (who knew deadmau5 could make an epic fight song?).

Since that first look at Comic-Con, I have been in love with Saints Row: The Third, and the final product is a very exceptional experience. With such a great blend of already established elements, as well as some newer more hilarious ones, you can't go wrong, as this product provides endless joy, even if all you do is run around and shoot. I would gladly recommend this title to anyone wishing to see something different in an open world game compared with the more dark and serious titles already out there.

[Note: I apologize for the lateness of this review. My time was spread out more due to a combination of schoolwork and my dad playing this game at every chance he got.]

No comments:

Post a Comment