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Saints Row the Third is an ambitious and often very weird game that has some truly incredible creativity behind it and will have you doing things you’ve never done in a game before. In terms of raw content however, it can get quite divisive and often feels like it could have been so much bigger and better.
Sticking to the core game will give you one of the most unique experiences you will ever come across between the dildo bats, hover bikes, BDSM clubs, transforming VTOLs, brain controlling octopus guns and mutant clones. Volition had a ton of crazy ideas and crammed as many as they possibly could into one game. However, should you deviate from those core elements and start doing the side missions and activities, you will come to realize the world of SR3 is quite small and almost bland at times, lacking the depth required to keep a player interested outside of the primary experience. While this is typical of all open world titles, the Third promotes its craziness so well that you can’t help but feel disconnected between the main game and everything around it.
While it certainly does more individual things per unique set piece, overall it is smaller in scope than Saints Row 2. This doesn't detract from the truly great main game, but you'll hardly ever have a reason to wander off and do your own thing for too long. The shooting and melee attacks are fine, some of the best a game of this type has ever seen. So simply playing is easy, but the general arsenal and items on offer are pretty standard and I would have liked more choice in the ways I could approach encounters besides simply shooting guys. You can pull off various melee attacks, but when they all more or less accomplish the exact same thing, no matter how cool the running lunge attack looks, it's not nearly as useful as just punching. Some kind of combo system or perhaps more than two types of melee weapon would have really added some much needed variety to combat.
Volition was not misleading with their marketing, but they did exaggerate just how consistently crazy it would be. Many missions feel like they would belong in any other gang themed title that has built upon the formula established by Rockstar many years ago. Whether you are protecting an ally with a rocket launcher, stealing cars to be sold on the black market, or just finding an enemy hang-out to gun down, a lot of what is on offer will feel familiar and get repetitive very fast unless you ignore a sizable chunk of the game's optional material.
A very cool feature is the over-arching upgrade and unlockable
system. You earn cash and respect from
doing a great number of varying things, from the mundane (shooting five
enemies in a row) to the bizarre (jumping into a virtual world within the
game that is clearly inspired by Tron, in which you become a character literally made of glowing polygons and fight a dragon).
The two resources funnel in to absolutely every facet of how you play. Say you just finished a mission, the cash reward from that can then be used to upgrade your favorite weapon, increase your health regeneration or increase the number of followers who show up when you get in a big gun fight. While the ability to choose how your gameplay evolves and changes isn’t new to open world title,s it’s nice that a system usually reserved for more traditional RPGs is so well implemented.
Customization is very important to the Saints Row franchise
and it’s a big part of what I loved about Saints Row 2. It is a shame, however, that in terms of the
sheer number of options, the Third feels lacking. There are less
items of clothing to choose from, less cars to drive and your character's
appearance and voice is more limited. This
is somewhat balanced out with a much more technologically advanced animation
and graphics system, but it was disappointing to discover that most of what was available wasn’t to my liking and so
what I could be and look like seemed far more limited than I was hoping for. Nonetheless, I’ve now created characters that could be accurately labelled as Jason Strathom’s evil clone and GI Joe’s The Baroness, but purple and
really, what other game has allowed this? None, that’s for sure.
Every time I think about the elements that the Third is lacking, I remember that when the game is good, when it is showing me something new and different, it really is amazing. The writing is done especially well, every character is perfectly cast and although the story gets slow in places, when it picks up it really picks up, often with you ending a mission thinking “did that just happen?”
While 15 hours with single player provided much enjoyment for me, it wasn’t until I jumped into co-op with a friend that things truly got awesome. The entire campaign and everything in it can be played with two people and is a particularly wonderful experience when assisted a good friend who you can yell or laugh at for blowing you up with a rocket launcher or accidentally running you down with a tank. If you can play the Third in co-op, I would definitely recommend it.
Lastly, there is the "Whored Mode, "which is exactly what you think it is: a co-op based wave survival mode where you and some friends can gun down groups of enemies who happen to be prostitutes. That is all I have to say about that. Overall, I’ve had so much fun with the Third, I would easily place it on my list of the year's best releases and eagerly look forward to spending more hours with it, but I am hoping the DLC makes up for what the game is lacking.