SAINTS ROW: THE THIRD
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
I have several friends who describe Saints Row II as "Grand Theft Auto with all the bullshit replaced by awesome." Or, alternately, "Grand Theft Auto as envisioned by concerned parent groups." I never played Saints Row II, but Saints Row: The Third certainly fits those descriptions. I'm playing it on PC, because I have to find some reason to justify all that RAM and new graphics card I bought to make Skyrim prettier, but I'm using an Xbox 360 control pad.
It's an open world sandbox game and it's crazy and fun. I am told the player character customization options are less than its immediate predecessor. You can make a male or female character and customize their face and body type. But you can only choose between three voices for each gender (alternately, you can choose a zombie voice, which is genderless). And while there is an astonishing amount of clothing choices, you can't select separate undershirts and overshirts, or choose whether your shirts or pant-legs are tucked in or not, etc. If you buy a hoodie with the hood up, you can only wear it up, and have to buy a duplicate with the hood down to wear it down. It seems like plenty of customization to me, but I've seen multiple Saints Row II fans complain that The Third is a disappointment after the second game. Be warned, I guess?
Cars, also, are customizable in appearance and can be mechanically upgraded; plus the game isn't stingy about letting you keep them. Any car you can drive back to your garage you get to keep forever, and as a result I spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time just jumping out of my current car and chasing down something new because I was pretty sure I didn't have this model of motorcycle yet. Guns are, alas, only customizable in mechanics, and while their appearance changes when you upgrade them, it's one-way, so once you buy silencers for your pistols you can't take them off.
I don't require protagonists to be sympathetic, only interesting, and the Boss is an entertainingly sociopathic snarky power-hungry asshole. Normally in games with moral choice I play the good guy because the evil guys are just depressing, but playing the Boss is an exercise in choosing exactly which evil option I prefer, no good options present. It's cathartic! And often turns me into a cackling lunatic. At some point everyone playing Grand Theft Auto drives down the sidewalk barreling into pedestrians, but in Saints Row: The Third, it's in-character.
I only have two real complaints. First, the first three or four missions are fantastic—steal a bank vault by carrying it away with a cargo helicopter, jump out of a plane and shoot people on the way down, then fall through a second plane front-to-back to grab a parachute, etc.—but after that, the missions become more genre-standard. They simply require you to "Go here and kill everyone in the room." I can forgive this because the more cinematic missions must have been expensive to create, and it makes sense to front-load the expensive content so even people who will never finish the game get to see a bunch of it.
Less forgivable is the useless "Invert Vertical Axis" option. I play shooters so that pressing forward on the "look" stick looks down, not up, but this doesn't work in SR3 regardless of whether I have Invert Vertical Axis set to yes or no. Annoying! But I don't know if that's a problem with all versions of the game or just the PC version. Hey, THQ, can we get a patch for that?
Despite the camera problem, Saints Row: The Third gets my recommendation, with the caveat that, if you were a huge fan of everything about Saints Row II, Saints Row: The Third might be disappointing in some respects.
Previously – An Extraordinarily Late Review of Skyrim