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Sheppard’s Video Game Pie

Saints Row: The Third

"Saints Row: The Third" could be described as "Grand Theft Auto" with all the bullshit replaced by awesome. Or, alternately, "Grand Theft Auto" as envisioned by concerned parent groups.
December 31, 2011, 12:00am

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher: THQ

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