Review by MegaVirus
"The Row's Still Rockin', But Perfection Ain't Knockin'."
We interrupt the previously scheduled review of Catherine for something completely different. Catherine's review will be forthcoming when I get the chance to finish it.
For now though, let's talk Saint's Row. In the sandbox crime genre, there are really two major players: Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row. While two very similar games, GTA seems to go more for the gritty realism angle. Saints Row, on the other hand, doesn't really give a damn about being serious and simply goes right for the wacky fun. It's a large reason why I list SR2 as one of my favorite games and just kinda let out a resounding "meh" at GTA IV. After all, it's hard to argue with a game where, as Yahtzee pointed out, you could repeatedly torment random old ladies in various ways, or go around spraying houses in raw sewage.
Which brings us to the topic of the day. Saints Row: The Third is here and ready to blow your collective minds. Pumped full of even more insanity than its' predecessors, with several neat new features under its' belt, is it as good as SR2 was?
...nnnnnnnnno. But that doesn't mean it's bad by any stretch of the imagination! The game still has the fun formula underneath, but there are some ever so nagging factors that bring this game down the teensiest bit from perfection. What happened between this game and its' predecessor that just kinda left this one a little way behind? Well, let's take a quick squint at this game and see what makes it fun, but not quite AS fun.
This game picks up right where SR2 left off. The Saints OWN Stilwater and are now household names. They have comics, TV shows, energy drinks, a clothing store and matching clothing line, and even have a movie in the works. Thing is, they're still utter criminals. The Boss (that's you) opens the game by robbing a bank with his friends Shaundi, Johnny Gat and Pierce (and some idiot that just tagged along). However, they unfortunately chose the worst possible bank to rob, as they run afoul of the Syndicate, a super gang made up of three separate crime groups: The Morningstar, the Deckers and the Luchadores. Refusing an offer to let the syndicate have the majority of their profits, the Boss and crew escape Stilwater to the Syndicate's own city, Steelport. Stripped of their celebrity and their money, the Boss must make a new name for himself in the streets of Steelport... and make interesting new friends along the way.
Now, without spoiling too much, I will sum up what I think of the story. Yes, the story is a little weaker than before. Which is a shame because the story was incredible in the second game. But that might have been because in this case, the story felt a bit more rushed than with SR2. That isn't to say that it isn't without its' moments, however, and it still kept my attention through the whole game's playtime. But keep in mind, I feel the beginning of the story is the strongest part. In closing, a good story dragged down by a couple of really awkward moments.
Storyline Score: 9/10
This is one part of the game that is admittedly MILES ahead of SR2. Volition finally has done what they can to catch up to other games in graphical quality. Now, I don't really mind the graphics of the second game, but I could see small oddities with it (semi-transparent hair at times being the problem I noticed the most though). With this game, I didn't notice any major graphical snafus at all. And really, I liked the looks of the character models much more, due to the more exaggerated and cartoony style of this game. Something just appeals more about stylized video game characters than realistic ones..
Speaking of character models... your ability to make your own version of the boss is still there and still fully awesome. As before, you get to make a male or female character. However, it now has even more customization options available to you. You can change the character's build with a bit more precision than before, and you can also tweak virtually every aspect of the character's face. And on top of that, they got back the character voice actors for the boss, the guy who did my favorite of the male voices in SR2, the British accent. Best of all, you can make whoever you can think of in the game, given enough time and patience. Personally, I made Charlie Sheen. He fits perfectly well into the story. The only hiccup with character creation this time is that you can no longer switch between a set of fighting styles, meaning that every single character you make will fight with the same generic style. But that's a small price to pay when you can very easily make Carlton Banks, complete with the "It's Not Unusual" dance.
And finally, the new city of Steelport. While it may at first seem smaller than Stilwater, it's actually equally impressive. It just seems like it's packed into a more concentrated area. Steelport is still a fun city to go exploring when you have the time, just to see what you can find. Particularly, it's fun to drive around looking for notable landmarks, or to enjoy the humorous digital billboards as you zoom past. Just be careful not to drive into the military zones... learned that the hard way. Overall, the design of this game is still great, and I can't find a real fault with it. Play the game for yourself and enjoy the aesthetics.
Design Score: 10/10
This part has some minor faults now, but it does have some neat additions as well. Now, at the core, the game still has everything that made the gameplay so fun. You run around shooting up gangs with a variety of weapons, some awesome, some ridiculous, and some ridiculously awesome. You take missions relating to the three gangs of the game: The Morningstar, a group of european gentlemen with striking similarities to the Mafia and specializing in prostitution and gun sales, the Luchadores, your local masked wrestling drug runners and gambling ring, and the Deckers, a group of money laundering emo cyber ninjas that basically run off of the GIFT (Greater Internet ****wad Theory). You can still do side activities such as Insurance Fraud or Trafficking to earn money and respect.You still have regenerating health, and you still have the Sprint Button. However, the changes to the gameplay come in minor tweaks that both help and hurt the game.
Among them, they removed the ability to purchase consumables like fast food, alcohol or drugs, which is a shame because they added not only a couple of neat effects, but they were REALLY funny to watch in action due to how badly they messed with your character's speech. To make up for this, regenerating health has been sped up. They also removed a number of the side activities that were such fun in Saints Row 2. I was looking forward to participating in more Septic Avenger missions, or possibly crowd control. Sadly, they aren't present for this go-around, which made me a sad panda. And on top of that, this time, you are not able to play the missions over again at your leisure. While this IS an annoyance to me, it did have a good reason for it, which I will get to in a second.
However, there are some good changes that were made. Among them is the addition of the Upgrade System. Respect is no longer used to give you access to story missions, instead being used to level up your character and unlock new upgrades for you to purchase with all that money you would have just had lying around otherwise. These upgrades can range from moderately useful, like faster notoriety decay so that the cops and gangs stop chasing you sooner, to the downright overpoweredly awesome, such as eventual immunity to almost EVERYTHING or eventual infinite ammo. And the missing activities were made up for with a couple of new ones, such as Tiger Escort (remember that scene in The Hangover where the main characters were driving with a tiger in the car? Yeah, pretty much that) or Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, a hilarious send up of Japanese style game shows where the goal is to kill or be killed. And the removal of mission replays was necessary to make way for the split branches of the storyline, where a choice you make will affect the future world of the game, along with what bonuses you get for the mission's completion. Additionally, they actually made an upgrade to the Sprint button, now called the Awesome Button. If you hold it down while performing actions, it makes it faster and cooler, like allowing you to missile kick people out of their car during carjacking.
So were the changes worth it? Well, I wish they had kept some of my favorite factors from SR2, but yeah, the game's still fun without them. I still feel a slight need to drop the score a point due to the things I miss, but overall, it's still good times.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Well, the sound is of course an inportant factor as well. A strong soundtrack and voice acting cast is always an important factor in a game like this, so let's talk music! ...it's weaker. No really, the soundtrack for this game is much weaker. The second game's selection of music was rather impressive, and had a number of my favorite 80's sounds available to listen to. In addition to that, I always enjoyed switching over to the Reggae station in SR2. There is no Reggae station available this time. It's instead been replaced with an Adult Swim station that plays music from their cartoons. I'll admit that I love Dethklok as much as the next guy, but I don't want to hear their music all the time. And for god's sake, WHY is there a remix for the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme? And when I tuned into the 80s station, I had never heard a number of the songs on there, and the ones I had hear were something I... didn't much care for in the first place. However, while I do feel this soundtrack is much... MUCH weaker this time, I will admit, it at least seems to know what song to play during specific missions. So let's move on from this and right to the voice acting.
Well, the voices are still great, but there IS a problem or two. For example, Shaundi (the hot stoner chick from the second game) is NOT voiced by Eliza Dushku anymore, which is a real shame since she was one of my favorite voices for the game. Second, they replaced one of the male voices for the boss, the mexican one, with a generic white man voice. The white voice is fine, but couldn't Volition have kept the old voice as a fourth option? They included a damn zombie voice aside from the three male and female voices, so I know they were capable of having more vocal options. Third... the Deckers. Just... the Deckers. I don't get why they all speak in British accents. It literally seems like there's no point aside from every gang sounding like a different nationality. And aside from that, their leader is a particularly SHRILL British man. So yeah, the voice work is still good, but it's got faults of its' own. The sound just doesn't have as high a quality like before.
Sound Score: 8/10
Well, of course this game has great characters, it's part of why it's so fun to play! Some of them are slightly generic, but some of the new characters are rather entertaining (Angel De La Muerte is particularly awesome, trust me, you'll like him) and bring their own brand of fun to the series. More importantly, the returning characters are still as fun to watch in action as they do their thing and shoot the hell out of whatever gets in their way. Shaundi will always be awesome, even if her voice and appearance are changed, and Pierce... well, who cares about Pierce? All kidding aside, Pierce himself is also still entertaining, especially since he's still just as incompetent as hell. More importantly, no matter the voice you choose for the Boss, he is always characterized basically the same... as a wacky-minded, psychopathic and all around fun to be around gang leader with slight idiotic tendencies. There is also a sort of amusement in the interactions between the leaders of the three syndicate gangs, given Matt Miller's timid nature when not on the internet showing his GIFT tendencies, Killbane's psychotic steroid fueled rage, and Phillipe Loren's calm, collected mafioso nature. And let's just say there's a certain actor cameo late in the game that will throw everyone for a loop when they run into him. The only character I don't much care for is Josh Birk, an actor on a show called Nyte Blayde (becuz pur liturasee iz kewl). Something about the guy just irritates me... might be the pretty boy image. But other than that, the game is full of interesting characters, even if some of them are slightly irritating.
Character Score: 9/10
Well, for me, character creators already give a game replay value, but other than that, you'll pretty much have to play the game through twice if you want to earn some of the achievements or trophies. That or save at every branching option, but if you're doing that, you're pretty much taking a lot of the fun out of the game. Other than that, the game has tons to do outside of the missions, like item collection or challenges to complete, and a lot of them apparently carry over from game to game. So replaying the game can be lots of fun on its' own if you're a completionist or simply enjoy doing the challenges, which I do. Besides, playing through once as Charlie Sheen and once as Carlton Banks can give you plenty of amusement. Hell, given who the provider for the British male voice is, you can go ahead and send Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny into gang violence! (No, I'm not kidding, Charles Shaughnessy seriously provided the British Voice clips.) This game is MADE for replayability, as are all sandbox games.
Replayability Score: 10/10
Saints Row as a series is one of those games that you simply can't help but come back to. The second game was sandbox perfection for me, with fun characters, wacky activities and simply awesome gameplay. Saints Row: The Third, sadly, is a tiny bit weaker than the previous game, due to a little TOO much focus on the wacky factor. However, I will be perfectly honest. A game doesn't need to be perfect to be fun. What does it need to do to be fun? Keep your attention. And this game does that just fine, even if it DOES have to pull out a giant marital aid on a bat to do so on occasion.
So without further ado, here's the summary.
Final Score: 9/10
Well, if I can't complete my review of Catherine for a while... what should I review in the meanti-- *a Master Sword and Hylian Shield come crashing through my ceiling* ...that answers that.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/07/11
Game Release: Saints Row: The Third (US, 11/15/11)
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