If the idea of beating a cartoon mascot to death with a giant purple dildo sounds even remotely offensive—Congratulations! You’re a decent human being! If, on the other hand, your tastes lean a little more to the twisted, chances are you and your inner sociopath will enjoy Saints Row: The Third, a game which unapologetically plumbs new depths of depravity while offering up a toilet bowl-sized helping of sex, drugs and ultra-violence.
The latest entry in the Saints Row series once again follows the infamous Third Street Saints, a gang of hard-bitten thugs whose blood-soaked antics have transformed them into international celebrities, complete with their own action movies, energy drinks and clothing line. After a bank heist goes wrong, however, the Saints find themselves captured by a Steve Martin-looking Belgian who runs a powerful criminal syndicate called…(wait for it)… the Syndicate. Before long the Saints are dumped into the crime-ridden city of Steelport with no resources, no cash and no way out. Of course, you can’t keep a good gangbanger down for long, and the Saints quickly regroup and set out to get revenge and claim the metropolis for their own. It’s the kind of storyline dreamed up in a cloud of pot smoke by a group of dorky teenagers who chuckle every time they say the word “boner.” Yet at the same time, it’s also surprisingly self-aware, with a few genuinely hilarious lines, the best of which lambast video game culture and the over the top nature of the game itself. Saints Row: The Third isn’t going to win anyone over with a complex narrative or Mametesque dialogue, but the story is incredibly fun if you’re willing to switch off your brain and simply enjoy the sheer idiocy of it all.
In terms of gameplay, like its predecessors, Saints Row: The Third falls back on the if-it-ain’t broke-don’t-fix-it Grand Theft Auto formula. It’s a knock-off, but a cleverly designed one, offering up a familiar sand box experience that still manages to feel fresh. Where the game shines, however, is in its level design. Whether your character is rappelling down the side of a skyscraper to snipe waves of enemy goons, driving a tank through a downtown core, or running naked through the suburbs with a rocket launcher, each mission is an insane spectacle. It’s a game tailored almost exclusively for the ADD-addled, Michael Bay generation, where something awesome is happening every two seconds and things explode at the drop of a backwards turned hat. It’s brainless, violent and shamefully entertaining.
In addition to the game’s primary plot-based missions, Saints Row: The Third also offers a number of optional side activities. These run the gamut from assassinations, to competing in a gore-splattered reality game show, to taking out rival gang strongholds. They’re more than just simple diversions, however, and instead are polished and fast-paced exercises in button mashing carnage. Steelport is an amusement park that never closes and where there’s always someone or something to kill/main/blow up.
The game also offers up an almost staggering level of customization. Want to become a four hundred pound transvestite with purple hair and a dragon tattoo on your face? No problem. As with the previous entries in the series, you can customize your character at any time by visiting a plastic surgeon, where you can swap genders, races and intricately tailor your appearance. You can also pimp out your vehicles, gang members and the various cribs you own. Whether your gang is a group of Volvo-driving ninjas or leather-clad S&M gimps in pickup trucks, the game is all about letting players customize the experience to suit their demented whims. Further customization comes from upgrading your character’s weapons and abilities which are purchased with cash and Respect, both of which are earned by completing missions and activities.
Visually, Saints Row: The Third is a bit punchier that its predecessors, particularly in terms of cut scenes. There are still some draw distance and frame rate issues, but the art style works perfectly with the ridiculous nature of the game. The audio also offers up a small selection of music, but the radio chatter and ability to choose from a number of stations no longer quite has the appeal it once did in the early heydays of the Grand Theft Auto series. Still, the world of Steelport is quirky and deranged enough to keep players coming back for more.
You’ll probably blow through Saints Row: The Third’s campaign in a good 10-15 hours, but the sheer number of optional activities means that there’s plenty more to keep players occupied beyond the standard missions. Like Saints Row 2, the drop-in-drop-out co-op gameplay also works flawlessly, and doubling up with a friend to wreak havoc is frenetic multiplayer gaming at its finest. There’s also the inclusion of the much publicized “Whored Mode” which allows you to go alone or with friends in order fight off waves of bizarre enemies, including zombies, angels with sniper rifles and, yes, it almost goes without saying, whores.
Forget a complex, moralizing storyline and ground breaking gameplay. Saints Row: The Third is a violent, sexist and offensive outing that isn’t likely to help improve video game’s already unsavory reputation. Yet, if the idea of cutting loose in a world of giant purple dildos, insane Mexican luchadors and copious amounts of vehicular homicide sounds even remotely appealing, Saint’s Row: The Third offers a sandbox experience that’s worth getting dirty for.
Saints Row: The Third was developed by Volition, Inc. and published by THQ. Our review is based on a review copy for the Xbox 360. The game is also available for the PC and PlayStation 3.
Adam Volk is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications including: Film Junk, Urban Male Magazine, The National Post and the New York Review of Science Fiction. For more of his witty blatherings, follow him on Twitter @ZombieGeek or check out his website at zombie-geek.com.