Saints Row: The Third marked a turning point in the Saints Row franchise. It’s a step further and a new direction that the series took, and Saints Row: The Third managed to create a new identity for the franchise.
After the success of Saints Row 2, THQ decided to shift focus to larger franchises. Saints Row 2 varied between serious and comedic situations, which made it difficult for the devs to define a tone for the sequel. Saints Row: The Third (or simply Saints Row 3, or SR3), was once again developed by Volition and published by THQ, released in 2011, just three years after Saints Row 2. The design director Scott Phillips said that the series lightheartedness made the sequel hard to define, and for the first several months, the devs scrapped the concept where you played as an undercover agent. Eventually, the devs set out to find a new personality for Saints Row 3, and in the end, their mantra became “Embrace The Crazy; Fun Trumps All”.
Set five years after the events of Saints Row 2, the Saints have merged with the Ultor Corporation, and have become a media empire, complete with their own clothing line, energy drinks, etc. While they were robbing a bank to promote their latest movie, the boss (player), Shaundi and Johnny Get, encounter unexpected resistance, and are arrested by the police. They are introduced to Phillip Loren, a leader of the international crime organization known as “The Syndicate”. Loren proposes a deal to the Saints, but they turn it down and manage to escape, with Gat sacrificing himself, buying time for the Boss and Shaundi to escape.
They end up in Steelport and find themselves with no money and influence, the Boss decides to avenge Johnny Gat, and take over the city.
Similarly to the first two games, the city of Steelport is controlled by three gangs: the Morningstar (led by Loren), the Luchadores (Mexican wrestling-themed gang) and the Deckers (a cyberpunk hacker gang). Unlike SR2, where you could choose which gang you could attack first, in Saints Row 3 the gangs are all part of the Syndicate, and as a result, the missions are much more streamlined. Personally, I found this more serviceable than Saints Row 2 and making a much more focused experience. You still have the option of selecting which missions you want to do first, but you will always take out gangs in the same order.
The first couple of hours the missions are tutorials and side missions to introduce players to new (and old) activities. There are several new side activities, like Tank Mayhem, Guardian Angel (similar to Heli Assault), Tiger Escort (a variations of the escort mission) and Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax (a new activity where you must survive a game show to earn money and rewards), and Gang Operation (where you must eliminate enemies, to take over a part of the city).
After the opening several hours, and the tutorial missions end the game completely opens up. You can complete various side activities and challenges to earn more money and rewards. In several missions you have the option of making a choice, that can impact your playthrough significantly. The choices are binary, and you will choose between two paths.
There is still an in-depth customization system, and you can customize your character, vehicles, and gang in great detail. You also have the option of upgrading your weapons for more damage, rate of fire, clip size, etc. These can be expansive, but after completing a specific mission and buying stores, you can get a reasonable discount.
The game also changed the look of several characters, some big some minor, with the biggest one being Shaundi. She is no longer a fun, stoner party girl, but now is a more determined, sober and capable member of the gang. Other characters have some minor changes in their design and clothing but are still the same characters from the previous games. The new characters and villains, are also capable, funny and amazingly voiced. The tradition of celebrity appearances is also continued, and there are several celebrities in the game, some of who can even be recruited to help you out.
Saints Row 3, also unfolds faster and after a couple of opening missions, a new enemy, S.T.A.G. will appear in the game. This new enemy is challenging and is equipped with new weapons and vehicles. Also, as a nice touch, Volition added more detail to the game world, and your destruction during the story missions will be visible throughout the game.
The tone of the game is more lighthearted and over the top than in Saint Row 2. Several missions are so over the top, which makes them more memorable, and the dialog throughout the game is more humorous this time around, with numerous jokes, references, and callbacks to previous games. All of this manages to create a more fun and memorable experience. Saints Row 3 never takes itself seriously, and with this, it managed to find its identity, and no longer be viewed as a “GTA clone”.
On the technical side, Saints Row 3 runs much better than Saints Row 2 on PC. It looks like Volition got their act together and managed to make the game run on PC without too many problems. I haven’t experienced any crashes or freezes during my playthrough. The graphics are decent, nothing special, but the design of vehicles, weapons, and the overall game world is great. The devs designed the city so that you can identify the locations, without the need to constantly check the map, and have created a recognizable skyline and gang vehicles.
The music selection is also good, and the game uses several recognizable songs in key story missions, which manages to create some memorable moments. Special mention goes to the hosts of Professor Genki’s show, which have some of the funniest lines in the game.
The only negative thing I have to say about the game is that the game will throw at you huge bullet sponge enemies, known as Brutes, and they will take a lot of ammo and can only be defeated with a QTE sequence. Also, the zombie mission can be a chore, but other than those two minor things the game is one of the best open-world games.
Volition took a risk, but in the end, it paid off as they managed to find a new identity for their franchise. The game also received several DLCs, and while most of them add more customization options, there are only two “story” DLCs.
Saints Row: The Third is on both Steam and GOG, and is the full package is really cheap when it’s on sale (it goes for like 3-4 bucks). With that being said give Saints Row 3 a try, even if you don’t like open-world games, it’s still one of the funniest, over the top games. Sure the humor can be crass and edgy at times, but this isn’t the reason to pass up on this amazing open-world experience.