Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Ten Reasons To Love Saints Row: The Third
Ah, Saints Row. Not since Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have we seen an open-world crime game with as much craziness, hilarity, and freedom as the hallowed streets of Steelport in Saints Row: The Third. And while I could go on endlessly about my love of diving off buildings and shooting people out of my Genki Cannon, I’ve decided to take a more conservative approach and organize my thoughts into ten reasons this title deserves a spot high on the list of great open world games.
I’m not a car sim fan. I don’t play a ton of racing games outside of Mario Kart 7 and Diddy Kong Racing, and I know about as much about real life cars as I do advanced Algebra. That is, to say, nothing.
So, why is driving an item on this list? Simply put, it’s fantastic. I may not be a racing game expert, but I can tell when a car feels incredibly floaty rather than tight and responsive. Coincidentally, this happens to be one of my biggest issues with Grand Theft Auto IV. And while Saints Row apes so many elements of GTA IV, it did manage to take the driving to a new level of greatness by making it feel satisfying to control. Each of the cars have a different and unique feel, handle well, and make traversal of the city fun. And for a game that requires a hell of a lot of drive time to explore and get from mission to mission, this stands out as one of the more important elements of the game itself. An element that, I am happy to say, was realized all too well in Saints Row: The Third. Quite possibly half of my time with the game consisted of driving the game’s myriad vehicles around town, and I loved every second of it thanks to its near seamless execution.
2. Side Missions
Like a cowboy without his hat, an open world game simply wouldn’t be complete without its vast array of side missions. And while the side missions in Saints Row: The Third became somewhat repetitive toward the end, they never lost their sense of pure, crazy fun that make them so unique.
The very best example of this might just be Insurace Fraud, a mission that sees you destroying cars, allowing yourself to be brutalized by oncoming traffic, and crashing into buildings in an effort to successfully cheat insurance companies out of their money.
This mission was fun simply because of its pure absurdity. Ragdoll physics toss your player limply around the screen as you try to rack up as much money as possible and string together hit combos. Nothing in the game itself made me laugh harder than playing Insurance Fraud side missions and watching my character toss around the screen while voicing her regret for having accepted such a punishing task. Yes, Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax and most of the other side missions were awesome as well, but when you were able to score just the right hit on an oncoming semi truck that netted you tens of thousands of dollars in reward money, it became clear very early on that Saints Row: The Third was something special.
One of the things I loved the most about Saints Row: The Third was the fact that you could dump hours into the game without ever touching the actual storyline. With all the traversal around the city and your endless ability to explore, it’s no secret that you’ll find more than your fair share of awesome surprises that never fail to impress.
This happened time and time again to me throughout the game, but it was made especially evident one night when my brother and I sat down to play it and learned the game had customization options for a street sweeper we’d stolen from some unlucky city maintenance worker. After ten minutes of laughing at all the ridiculous upgrades available to us, we rode out of the local Rim Jobs mechanic shop in a vehicle that looked fit only to clean the streets of Hell itself. Buzzsaws, kneecappers, nitrous…it was a twisted concoction that was equal parts terrifying and sublime.
See, Saints Row does discovery so well that you could play the game for a vast amount of time and never cease to be surprised by it thanks to the sheer amount of absurd and random activities and virtual toys at your disposal. There’s something magical about defying the impossible and allowing a game to simply be fun, and Saints Row: The Third did this with bravado.
No, this is not a sweeping narrative epic like The Last of Us. In fact, there’s little reason to feel connected to any of the game’s characters outside of interacting with them during missions and calling them in as backup when you’re in a jam. They’re flat, they’re confusing, and they lack a cohesive quality seen in games with much tighter storytelling.
But for all the game’s narrative is lacking, I still enjoyed the dialogue shared between the characters throughout the main campaign of Saints Row. I loved the moment where Pierce and my character shared parts while singing Sublime’s “What I Got” while driving around town, laughed at the japes my character exchanged with Shaundi, and even grinned at the ridiculous one-liners she spewed while mowing down innocent pedestrians or pulling people out of their cars to make room for herself. True, she’s not much more than an avatar through which I can experience the world firsthand, but the dialogue lent another layer to the game’s already self-aware absurdity that made it all the more ridiculous and endearing.
In addition to the aforementioned street sweeper, there are near countless vehicles available to use (a.k.a. steal) in Saints Row that make running around the streets of Steelport all the more fun. Motorcycles, dump trucks, school buses, squad cars, boats, luxury vehicles, and yes, airplanes are all ready for you to jump in the driver’s seat and start wreacking havoc on innocent bystanders and malicious rival gang members.
It’s the discovery of these vehicles and your ability to pilot them that makes navigating the city a dream come true. I’ll never forget the moment I jumped into the cockpit of a fighter plane and lifted off the runway, only to eject out of it moments later and watch as it crashed into the water below from the comfort of my parachute.
If there’s one word that aptly describes Saints Row, it’s absurd. The game is goofy, self-aware, and maniacal in a way that doesn’t allow you to feel any sort of guilt for whatever crazy antics you might get up to. And in a world where we’re constantly being promised that the next big AAA game coming over the horizon is a grittier and darker take on whatever narrative it flaunts, absurdity is a breath of fresh air.
Now, don’t get me wrong; grit and solemnity absolutely have a place in games and storytelling. But when the core idea of a video game is to make an interactive medium that is supposed to be satisfying and fun, I’m happy to see Saints Row take this idea and run with it.
Gunning down mascots, destroying cars, and avoiding collisions are but three of the many, many challenges to complete throughout your time with Saints Row, all of which will both test your skills and allow you to make use of the giant toybox the game essentially is. Hey, you and I both know you’d be speeding in the wrong lane in order to smash up cars in whatever ways possible. Why not get rewarded for it?
Plus, the game practically rains achievements and trophies, which is always a good thing.
8. Money Gathering
Where other games require tedious minigames disguised as side jobs to help you earn money, Saints Row allows you to literally buy out the entire town of Steelport in an effort to help you tighten your clinch on the city and keep rival gangs from grabbing territory back from you. On top of that, you don’t have to wait long to start earning money, get rewarded with the good stuff after completing side jobs and main story missions, and don’t have a ton of expenses to pay, allowing you to use all of your Benjamins in whatever frivolous ways you see fit. Sure, it can become a bit overpowered once you really start to get into buying up large quantities of real estate, but being that you’re aiming to become the most powerful and influential gang in town, it makes sense to have a pile of money the size of Scrooge McDuck’s to fall back on.
Customization often serves as the more fun ways to discover the different surprises and secrets within Saints Row: The Third. And thankfully, there are more than a few ways to tackle this idea head on.
There are many, many ways to customize different aspects of yourself in Saints Row; your car, your outfit, your tattoo and piercing choices, your gang members…it goes on and on in a list that allows you to customize nearly every aspect of the game to tailor make it in whatever style suits your fancy. Maybe this just speaks to my knack of accessorizing, but I love it when a game allows me to customize the very world around me in so many different ways.
Saints Row is violent. Maybe not crazy, gruesome, leaves-you-on-a-therapist’s-couch violent, but you’ll see your fair share of blood and body parts if you play it right.
Therefore, combat is a big and important player in the game’s core mechanics. And although it once again bears a striking resemblance to that of Grand Theft Auto IV, it also takes the formula and tightens it in a way that feels so much more refined.
Each of the weapons have their own distinct weight and feel, shooting is fluid and satisfying, an even getting into fistfights and using bystanders and enemies as human shields can serve to make you feel like an all-out hardcore gangster. If much of the game is spent in the driver’s seat of a vehicle, certainly an equal part is spent looking down the iron sights of an SMG. Thankfully, the combat has been refined enough to have parity with driving as one of the more satisfying and entertaining parts of the game itself.