“It is good to win.” The sassy redheaded Russian crime boss of The 3rd Street Saints informs us after jumping into the cockpit of a VTOL jet and wreaking havoc on the government’s anti-gang army, STAG, as a diversion tactic.
Thing is, she’s right; it’s good to play and it’s excellent to win.
In the third, and easily finest installment of the Saints Row series, winning is not only the end game, it’s business, baby. Rocketed to celebrity status, The Saints are sitting pretty with movie deals, branded energy drinks, clothing lines and countless adoring fans. With their empire strong, and their fortune even stronger, The Saints only have further to fall. And fall they do. A gaggle of rival gangs, banded together under the blanket corporation of the Syndicate, are out for royal purple blood. Reduced to dregs by the Syndicate and hankering for revenge, The 3rd Street Saints begin to rebuild by taking back their city, one neighborhood and rival gang at a time.
While the concept of rebuilding your empire from the ground up can be excruciatingly in a lot of open-world game experiences, Saints Row: The Third flexes its muscles to ensure that it’s not. Volition went above and beyond to make what could have easily turned into a painful crawl up the ladder of criminal royalty into a hilarious, carnage-fueled, nerve-shredding rollercoaster. Beginning missions are simple but meaningful, always holding some modicum of a challenge. Gone are the routine and yawn-worthy ‘Go, fetch!’ missions. Instead, try a sex trafficking chauffeur mission in which your driving skills directly impact the climax of a particularly picky client.
Saints Row’s refusal to take itself seriously notwithstanding; as a player, you won’t be able to help the visceral reactions you’ll have during the campaign. One mission might have you writhing on the floor with laughter as you ride in a carriage pulled by a BDSM pony, while the next will scoot you to the edge of your seat, nostrils flared, brow furrowed, controller in hand, completely emotionally invested as you play guardian angel to a homie in distress.
It’s not just the story line and mission design that distinguishes Saints Row from the rest. Deranged weapons, insane vehicles and morally bereft, larger-than-life characters like Professor Genki color the world of Steelport with just the right amount of rose. Customization in Saints Row: The Third is also meaty, amusing and utterly enjoyable. The ranges of options, from character to car to crib, are painstakingly detailed, resulting in the ability to create a truly unique environment. Co-op components in campaign, as well as in a 30-wave survival mini-game known as Whored Mode, allow you to enact mayhem on a massive scale with a friend, managing to make even the most frustrating of missions pleasurable.
Your time in Steelport plays out as wacky, sensational, bloodthirsty, and occasionally sweet. The Saints are a family, and although they joke and bicker, you can sense the emotional connections between each member. With a strong story mode and enough side missions to choke a horse, you won’t be running out of things to do anytime soon. Saints Row: The Third is truly a superior experience that unequivocally holds its own from within the lot of exemplary games hitting the shelves this season.
Saints Row: The Third | Xbox 360
Release date 11/15/11
9 / 10