Feb 062012

Status: Completed all story missions and most side activities

Most Intriguing Idea: Hey, let’s make a playable id!

Best Design Decision: Customizable everything. Also, insurance fraud.

Worst Design Decision: No-fun activities like heli assault and snatch


Often, when some self-appointed guardian of public morality wants to denigrate video games, he will refer to the wanton violence and sex of Grand Theft Auto, but that’s not the game he’s talking about. The game he’s really talking about is Saints Row, which has explosive, almost entirely consequence-free violence, without the dour crime-doesn’t-pay morality tale that keeps such things from being fun. Saints Row the Third has plenty of that, and indeed the only real complaint I can muster about the game is that it doesn’t go too far enough.

The game’s first segments are outstanding, kinetic, and ludicrous, culminating with an amazingly-cued paradrop into a gang party that you then massacre. After that the game starts to bog down, only recovering its narrative force towards the end of its first act. This pattern repeats itself in the second part of the game, which kicks off with a series of wonderfully over-the-top missions from the auto-tuned pimp Zimos, then decays into a bunch of decidedly under-the-top missions until the end of the fight against the Deckers. The third act loses its way completely, with only a small arc leading up to a hyper-violent wrestling match to rescue an otherwise stale militaristic plotline. Saints Row the Third is at its best when it’s being completely ridiculous and shallow, and it gets away from that a little too often.

This extends down into the side activities, several of which skew in the wrong direction. The game needed more missions where you drive around with a tiger, explode whole streets with a flaming ATV, or ragdoll yourself down three blocks to screw an insurance company. The “helicopter assault” missions are a particular sore spot with me, because what I wanted out of them was to Airwolf a bunch of gangsters to death, and what I got was a tense, frustrating fight against sloppy controls, crappy aim, and the world’s laziest missiles.

All that said, I still felt most of Saints Row the Third was a load of fun, and it’s one of the few games where I found driving (and customizing my cars, oh the hours I’ve spent…) to be an undiluted pleasure. It’s also one of the few where I’ve gone beyond completionism: having finished all the assassinations, I immediately started up a new game.

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