Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Revisited: Saints Row: The Third

Two years ago, I made the decision to become a writer; unfortunately, the best laid plans were messed up, largely on my fault.  Delays, cancellations, and poorly written reviews were the biggest issues I dealt with in 2014, it had gotten so bad that I stopped writing altogether because I had to rethink everything I was doing.  Afterwards, the nature of the game changed in 2015, I said no to delays or cancellations and more importantly, no to terribly-written reviews.  This is Revisited, a series in which I take a second look at games that were initially reviewed in 2014, with updated opinions and different scores.  The Revisited reviews will appear over the course of this year, but don't worry, though I may be delving into the past, it won't be something stretched out into later years because it's more important to look forward to what's ahead.  To start this series, I am revisiting one of the first games I reviewed, Saints Row: The Third.

After the events of Saints Row 2, the notorious gang known as the Third Streets Saints has moved away from their times as thieves, murderers, and crooks in order to become a success with the general public; their empire encompasses multiple merchandising successes involving clothes, toys, and even a movie based off of their endeavors.  Despite this, most of the gang members don't forget who they used to be, and relish the chances to relive the old days.  One of those chances sees the leader of the Saints robbing a bank with a few of his companions; unfortunately, the robbery doesn't go as it should have gone, and they end up in jail.  They are released from prison not by their own gang, but by a coalition of rival gangs known as the Syndicate.  On a plane, the leader of the alliance, Philip Loren, explains to them that the bank they robbed was owned by their group, and in exchange for their freedom, the Syndicate gets a large cut of the Saints' profits.  The leader of the Saints says no and a shootout breaks out, causing the members of the gang to abandon the plane and land in Steelport.  After landing, the Saints realize they can't go back to Stilwater due to the presence of the Syndicate, so they decide to take over and relinquish control of Steelport from the Syndicate.

Saints Row: The Third's narrative is one filled with memorable moments but also strewn with parts not as strong.  In particular, the first few hours of the game are the weakest since the opening act is padded out with multiple side activities disguised as story missions.  Afterwards, the story picks up and each mission ups the ante on the over the top scale, for better and for worse.  Different events such as entering a Tron-like world to take down one of the gang leaders or a mission that involves participating in a luchador wrestling match are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the zaniness of the missions.  However, there are times when the story pushes the ridiculousness too far and what we end up with is shock value for the sake of shock value.  At one point, there's a section of the story that deals with the topics of prostitution and brothels, but the way these subjects are handled comes across as stupid and tasteless.

As for the characters, they are a mixed bag; the leader of the Saints, plus the old and new allies of their group, sport fairly interesting personalities, even though most of them are people with bad pasts.  On the other hand, the villains are hit and miss; for every enjoyable bad guy such as the luchador wrestler-turned gang leader Killbane and the hacker Matt Miller, you villains such as Philip, Monica Vogel, and Kia who are bland and generic or in the case of Philip, suffer from a lack of screentime.

On the surface, Saints Row: The Third's gameplay is very similar to other games in the open-world genre; there are story missions to complete, side activities to do, and a city to blow up and make a mess out of, yet what helps this game stand apart from its ilk is the highly anarchic and comedic nature of everything to do.  After playing through the first few story missions, the city of Steelport opens up and with it comes a unique variety of activities.  Scattered around the town are minigames, most of which are fairly bizzare; many of the tasks involve but are not limited to: throwing your character out in traffic to claim fraud money, participating in a game show that's MXC meets the Running Man, and driving a tiger around, making sure it stays happy while evading animal rights activists. 

Completing these activities, as well as completing the story missions and other tasks, rewards the player with money and XP, which is called respect in this game.  Respect previously appeared in Saints Row 2; in that game, it was used as a means to progress through the story, here, once enough respect is earned you level up, unlocking a large slew of upgrades and other perks for purchase in the process.  The amount of upgrades to buy is quite staggering; most of them benefit the main character, but many also benefit the gang itself, so you'll want to check the upgrades section every time you level up to see what is available.

To help fight off the Syndicate and the gangs that encompass the group, there are guns and melee weapons, many of which can be upgraded.  Gunplay itself is fun but lacking in challenge; most of the time, enemies stand out in the open, occasionally taking cover or dodging gunfire, but they are fairly easy to defeat. However, as a means to make things difficult, but not in a good way, large groups of mindless goons are frequently put against the player to fight.  When the gang wanted level is high enough and in scripted events during the story, special enemies will join the fray, but despite taking multiple bullets to kill, they too go down rather easily.  Yet, in spite of the issues, what makes combat entertaining is the chaotic nature of everything happening, which is backed up by weapons that can be upgraded to sport ridiculous attachments including explosive bullets and grenade launchers, as well as through the leader's customizable personality.

Visually, Saints Row: The Third varies wildly in quality.  The visual effects for the guns and explosions look nice and the stylized designs of the characters provide an interesting contrast between the look of the people and the city they inhabit; unfortunately, said city is rather uninteresting in aesthetics and design.  Things improve when the city is lit up at night by all of the billboards and graphics plastered all over the skyscrapers; otherwise, Steelport is generic.  Voice acting is all-around solid and regardless of which voice you choose for your character, he/she gives a good performance.  However, the music, both the radio station songs and the composed tracks, is largely forgettable, with the exception of a few tunes on the radio stations.

Although the game features various issues across the board, Saints Row: The Third is still a solid game.  The story, despite having a weak start and humor that occasionally misses the mark, is enjoyable and frequently hilarious.  The same applies to the gameplay, which is familiar territory for a game of this genre, but the zany and anarchic nature of events make the experience fun to play.

Revisited Score: 8/10
Original Score: 9/10

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