Review by mixedlion
The third time is not the charm
I have been a fan of Saints Row since the original came out and followed the series faithfully, getting the new installment with each release. Admittedly I was excited for Saints Row 3, seeing the high praise and reviews it got. I'm also someone that does not really go for critics, especially those who have been 'fanboys' of previous series of games and movies, since I like to give games the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the critics were right about this game. The third time is most certainly not the charm.
Probably one of the positives I can see is the much improved gameplay. Running, fighting, and driving is more fluid than ever, especially with the insertion of the 'action' button, which pulls off a more spectacular version of a basic control. This includes running dropkicks into vehicles and flying DDT's onto unsuspecting civilians. Another would be the improved graphics and character customization, which has less options in terms of available clothing but more lifelike characters in returns. Lifelike cartoony characters. The graphics are basically a marked improvement.
I'm going to start off with my biggest complaint here. With respect, the Saints Row game's plots are not to be taken too seriously, however the previous two games had a cohesive plot, each with three rival gangs and their own personal villains to take out, almost like three episodes in one. In this game the devs decided to merge each of the three gangs without any background or story. You have the Morningstars, a European gang led by an old Belgian with two female assistants, the Deckers, a cyberpunk gang, and the Luchadores, run by Saints Row 3's primary antagonist. Oh and there's the Halo knock-offs towards the end. However, the differences are merely visual since each of the characters are merged into one plotline as opposed to the series' staple of keeping the gangs separate. In theory it could be a neat difference but the way it was written seems more like a sloppy fanfiction. You don't actually hate the villains...much...especially since there's only one main villain. The rest either become allies, die too early for you to care or get a lame conclusion (I'll leave you to figure that out). In fact, you will probably hate your available 'homies' more.
And that comes my next point. The homies. Several characters from Saints Row 2 return albeit with vastly different personalities. Easy-going junkie princess Shaundi chews your protagonist out at any opportunity she gets. Fans of her in Saints Row 2 will hate her. Those who hated her in the previous game will hate her even more. Pierce is relegated to the sidelines, much like in the previous game, but like Shaundi there is no viable reason to care about Pierce. Your new homies are nothing to write 'home' about. Despite the opportunity for an awesome character, the only thing Angel De La Muerte kills is his own character with a relatively stale voice and even more stale personality. The others are largely forgettable save for Oleg, who has a few witty lines. Plus a series' fan favorite is not given as much air time as he should.
My next bone is the protagonist himself. I say HIMSELF because despite there being the option to create female characters, all characters are treated as male and often referred to as 'he' and 'him', even if your character is a seductive, feminine girly girl dressed to the nines in make-up and heels, they don't even notice the curves. As much dialogue that is put into the game, it really wouldn't have hurt for the games' inhabitants to acknowledge your gender. The voice options for the protagonist have also changed. The Hispanic male and Black female voices from the second game are gone, now replaced with a generic White male and Russian/Eastern European female. Which stinks, especially for those who've modeled their Saints as Hispanic males (and Black females) in the previous game. If anything they should have been additional voicesets, especially since they added a seventh 'Zombie' voice. In addition, your character was always a mindless thug in the first two games now he (or she) suddenly cares about characters who would eat bullets if it were any of the other games?
The game touts giving you 'choices' at the end of each story mission, but the changes are purely cosmetic. Extra money or weapons? What about alliances? What about choices with real ramifications? Sadly this isn't the case even with the ending, as you can go back and replay the final mission afterwards. Which pretty much means everything you did in this game is relatively meaningless.
Storyline apart, the diversions come in the form of missions, and you no longer have to build a 'respect' meter to play the next mission. Basically you play each diversion once as a story mission and the game progresses. The diversions are more frustrating than fun, sans fan favorites such as Insurance Fraud, Escort and Snatch, but even they lack appropriate cutscenes and character cameos that made you want to play them in the first place. There isn't much to explore in Steelport either. There's a handful of stores but no malls to raid, maybe a store here and there like the previous games but again nothing special.
And my final nitpick. The removal of multiplayer save for co-op. I'm not a huge multiplayer fan either but the second game's multiplayer was surprisingly addictive. At least this kind of mode would give this game some replay value.
I wanted to like this game. The first time I played the game I was amused but couldn't help feeling pangs of disappointment. Normally I'm one to embrace change and see the new directions games take. I'm also willing to write off nitpicks and flaws if the overall experience is really good. However I can't do that for this game, and I'm only a casual fan of the previous two. Pretty much every charm that made the first two games good, especially the second, just isn't there in this game. None of the characters are remotely likable. The story comes off written by a fourteen year old wannabe thug attempting fan-fiction. What gets you into Stillwater just doesn't get you into Steelport. What's so sad about it all is that all of this, the new characters, the gangs, all had the potential for some really awesome character development and plot. But instead it's a rushed mishmash of crap.
I can appreciate the over-the-topness, but to a degree. At least have a good story to go along with it. Volition would do well to take the formula that made the first two games have a good story, the separate gangs, homies you want to care about, especially if you're playing a murderous psychopath, and if you're going to give the player choices, please make them count.
In a nutshell:
+much improved animation and graphics
+streamlined combat (though I miss the fighting styles)
-your homies are summed up into three types- zero personality, piss-poor attitude and a mixture of the two
-the story is complete garbage
-a lot of the diversions (Fuzz, Tag!) are gone
-Steelport is not nearly as immersive as Stillwater
This game is a rental. Play for a week and then shelf it. Or better yet sell it. Definitely not worth $60.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Saints Row: The Third (US, 11/15/11)
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