Saints Row the Third is where I started. In the months leading up to its release, tantalizing commercials played on all the television channels I frequented. Over top a stupid 3OH!3 song was a girl in a cheerleader costume putting on giant Hulk-like fists, a guy in a giant cat head, and many, many explosions. I didn’t know what it was or what you did in it, but I knew I needed that game!
Going back to it now… it’s not my favourite.
Am I giving of conflicting signals or what? I started this series by saying it was a good thing I came in on the third game and now I’m saying it’s not my favourite? Let’s go into elaboration, shall we?
A first time playthrough of Saints Row the Third is a great time. But there’s really no comparison between three and four. And yeah, I know it’s unfair of me to keep saying that three doesn’t have anything on four because three came first and I should look at it in that regard but I just can’t do it. Saints Row IV is superior! And Saints Row 2 is superior as well! Time constraints on the third game really limited the production company and it shows in comparison to pretty much all of the other games.
But I’ll try not to dwell on it.
The story of Saints Row the Third begins with your character on top of the world with all of the perks that go along with being the head of an elite criminal organization. It’s years after the events of Saints Row 2. The Sons of Samedi, Ronin, and Brotherhood wiped out, Dane Vogel dead, Julius dead, Dex gone, the captain of the police on your side, and partnered with Ultor, the 3rd Street Saints have gone from small-time gang to a household brand. There’s clothing, energy drinks, movies deals, comic books, and bobble head dolls all with the Saint’s name on ‘em.
The action begins when the Saints try to rob a bank in Stilwater. The bank belongs to another criminal syndicate and you, Shaundi, and Johnny Gat end up in prison before the rival syndicate bails you out and effectively kidnaps you. From there, you end up in Steeleport with nothing. It’s here your bloody revenge against the three gangs of the syndicate begins.
There’s the Morning Star in red (guns and prostitution), the Luchadores in green (drugs and gambling), and the Deckers in blue (money laundering and cyber terrorism). Each gang has a different leader but they’re all assembled under Philip Loren, the head of the Morning Star. A military group called STAG comes in later, with a guy named Cyrus Temple at its head.
Unlike the last two games where you had to earn respect to unlock story missions and could then deal with the gangs in any order you saw fit, Saints Row the Third is a linear story that has missions unlocking one after the other. While you still earn respect, it’s now funnelled into what upgrades you can buy, not what missions are open. It makes the game easier to fly through if you’re interested in just moving the story forward, but doing it again for this replay, it makes for a much shorter game than I remembered it being. With twenty-four missions, each one lasting no more than fifteen minutes (even if you don’t know what you’re doing), Saints Row the Third has maybe eight hours of story driven gameplay. You can extend it with diversions and collectibles, but the diversions aren’t like side-quests. In the second game they at least gave you cutscenes with characters before you began them. In three they just start and they just end. They’re dull and only there to pad an otherwise empty game.
Some kindness I can throw towards the game is that there are definitely some funny moments. The ridiculousness has been amped up all over and the situations you’ll find yourself in are worth a laugh. Like the mission where you’re with Zimos the pimp at a sex auction and you’re drugged and naked. You’re running around killing Morning Star while the screen wobbles around you and Zimos says: “You’re handling this naked thing better than I thought you would.” To which you reply: “I’m naked?!”
There’s also the part where you’re talking about how to take down Killbane and you find out that Killbane is more afraid of his old wrestling partner than he is of you. “He’s more scared of Angel than he is of me?” You ask, the indignation plain upon your face. Shaundi replies with: “Yeah, no offence, but you’re kind of ridiculous.”
There are more, but these two always get solid laughs out of me. Especially with the British voice. Which takes us right into…
Is it weird of me to say my life wouldn’t be complete without the British Male voice option in the character creator? It’s not the actor that played Mr. Sheffield in The Nanny anymore, but they kept a British option. It’s not weird, just incredibly sad you say? Fuck it, I don’t care, I’ve got the British voice! Same as the last game and same as the games that are coming up, I have one character I make over and over again. The British punk. Behold his low res glory from his online upload!
And if you’re wondering, yes, I almost always keep him shirtless.
Returning characters to Saints Row the Third are Shaundi, Pierce, and Johnny Gat. There are a few minor mentions as well, but these are obviously the big three. And oh how they’ve changed! Shaundi was a fun loving stoner in the second game. She’s since cleaned up her act. She’s sober and the most uptight, high-strung person you’ll ever meet. Danielle Nicolet plays her instead of Eliza Dushku and she’s always angry, always scowling. She sucks now.
Pierce has changed too. He’s cleaned himself up and is now the face of the Saints brand. He couldn’t be happier. But what about fan favourite Johnny Gat? Dead. Not just dead, but dead within the first ten minutes of the game. Was Daniel Dae Kim doing something else of insane importance he couldn’t stick around for Saints Row the Third? Hawaii Five-O more important than the blood thirsty Johnny?!
And the way that Johnny dies is such a piss off! Unceremoniously slaughtered off screen. Hardly mentioned at all after that. Good job guys.
New to the game and featured prominently as part of the Saints are Kinzi (an ex-FBI computer expert), Angel (Killbane’s old wrestling partner), Oleg (a super intelligent, giant Russian man), Viola DeWinter (former Morning Star lieutenant), and Zimos (a pimp). None of the new characters are favourites. They kill my favourite (besides my own character) off in this game! Kinzi is abrasive, Angel is monotone, Oleg is just weird. I guess if you pressed me, I’d say that Viola is my favourite new character but probably only because she complains about the terrible outfit that one mission calls for her to wear.
And what of Zimos? Well, I’m going to talk about my hate for him in length now. Bear with me.
Zimos is the worst possible character and you see him throughout the game more than you see anyone else. He’s a pimp, so he’s always surrounded by half naked women. Does he call them women? No, they’re all bitches, hoes, and whores. Beyond that, Zimos talks through an auto-tune hole in his throat. It will start grating on your nerves by about mission ten. Those things might not sound so bad, but in practice it’s the worst. It’s immature and annoying. And he’s around so fucking much!
I take solace in the fact that they took everything I hate about these types of games and crammed them into just this one character. None of the other characters go out of their way to degrade women. And by Saints Row IV, Zimos is killed off. Just killed right the fuck off and all the misogynistic bullshit dies with him. Oh yeah, I’m dropping that spoiler without a warning. As if there’s a single person on Earth that fucking cares for the character and would be upset to see him go.
Steeleport is pretty much just Stilwater. It’s got the big downtown core, the slums, the airport, the nuclear power plant. It’s got a few new touches. A casino area, a giant statue of liberty-type statue, and more islands, but it’s pretty much just Stilwater. It pales in comparison to Stilwater though. It pales in comparison to actual big cities. Starting out with it was fine, but going back to it after the much realer Saints Row 2 made me realize how bland and empty it is as a location.
Stilwater is so amazing in Saints Row 2 because of how alive and real it feels. There’s varying and populated neighbourhoods, not just neon and sky scrapers. There’s a working and realistic highway infrastructure, not just elevated roads that are perfectly straight. Steeleport feels like a videogame town, you know? Here’s a city that was built from the ground up all at the same time. Things are convenient because it was designed to be. That doesn’t scream real city to me. Real cities are confusing and their architecture fluctuates. It seems really weird to praise the highways in the second game, but they’re such a good example of city planning! They’re in varying heights with twists and turns and confusing on and off ramps just like any highway that runs through any major city in the real world!
Steeleport offers tonnes of neon but less diversity.
Steeleport also offers no real reason as to why you’re there and not in Stilwater. You get launched from a plane over the city. You deal with the person that did that to you, then you try to go home to Stilwater but end up back in Steeleport. That’s an explanation I guess, but it doesn’t feel like a good enough one. Having this game take place in Steeleport feels like I missed something, like important cutscenes were cut from development at the last minute.
The graphics of Saints Row the Third are remarkably different from Saints Row 2. It’s cartoony and kind of cute. It’s also got a kind of cell shaded look. By the time Gat Outta Hell rolls around, it’s almost completely cell shaded, and the start of that is happening in three. I don’t mind for the differences between games really. This more cartoony effect they’ve implemented here gives the game a more timeless quality to the game than the realism of the first two games. I mean, I still think the second one looks good, but we’ll see if it isn’t objectively hideous in five years or so.
Of course this more cartooned look to the graphics has the effect of making everywhere in the game look the same. After the many, many details that littered the last game, it’s disappointing to see Steeleport have the same glossy, seamless design all the way through.
The gameplay is more or less the same as it’s been in the past two games. There are side missions that will earn you respect and money, there are main missions that move the story of you trying to overthrow so and so, and there’s an open world to explore and collectibles to be found. Did I talk about the collectibles in Saints Row 2? If I didn’t, they’re CDs. Fifty CDs litter Stilwater and when you find them, they’re added to your radio stations.
In Saints Row the Third your collectibles are crates of drugs and sex dolls that fell out of the sky during the mission when you blew up Loren’s plane. You pick them up and it gives you a set amount of money for your trouble. If it’s the sex dolls, it also gives you a disgusting sound effect of, well, sex with a sex doll. A sploshy sort of noise caps it off and everything.
It’s gross. And not nearly as funny as the people that thought it up thought it would be. But that immaturity within the game has already been covered, so let’s move on to something else I hate.
The fucking zombie level.
Yup. There’s zombies. Because the year was 2011 and the world was in the grip of zombie madness. I’ve never liked zombies. In movie form, in videogame form, in any form! They’re tedious and always the same goddamn thing that’s been seen a billion times before. Except 28 Days Later, I can’t think of a single zombie movie that does things differently from all the rest. But I digress.
The zombie bit in Saints Row the Third happens near the end. You’re in another plane. And it blows up just like the last one. Except, sex dolls and pallets full of money don’t fall into Steeleport, containers full of zombie gas do. One of the small islands becomes ground zero for the outbreak. Because of… no real reason whatsoever, you’re contacted by Mayor Burt Reynolds and sent in to fix the problem.
Now, by this point in the game you can have your sprint maxed out, meaning you can run forever. Nope. That gets taken away on zombie island. You could also have on the sprint forever cheat. Nope. That gets taken away on zombie island too. So your run time is limited, that’s not the worst part. You know who’s run time isn’t limited? The zombies. The zombies fucking charge at you like they’re Usain fucking Bolt! But that’s still not the worst part.
What could possibly be worse that having your sprint run out and a swarm of never tiring zombies after you? When the zombies catch up to you and touch you, they burst into flames! Fucking self-igniting zombies! This shit makes me want to pull out my own hair! It’s not tense or frightening or any other thing you’ll feel while playing an actual zombie game, it’s just fucking frustrating!
I’ve screamed bloody murder during this part just because of how tedious it is. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s tedium. It’s why I hate children and waiting for the bus and it’s why I hate this part of the game.
As with the last two games, radio stations are back for when you’re zipping around town in a car you hijacked. There are two new stations and seven returning from Saints Row 2. Your choices are: Generation X (modern rock), KRhyme FM (hip-hop and rap), K12 (electronic and my personal favourite), Klassic FM (classical), Adult Swim (music from Adult Swim and Cartoon Network), Kabron (urban Latin and Raeggaeton), The Blood (hard rock), and The Mix (80s & 90s pop and rock).
Like the last game, the radio stations in Saints Row the Third will get tiresome pretty quickly. K12 is the only one I can stand to listen to anymore. And, is it just me, or is the Adult Swim channel the most random thing? Why would anyone want to drive around Steeleport listening to The Venture Bros. theme? Maybe once or twice, but on the very finite loop the radio stations are on? I’d pull a Brock and just start slashing guts and punching throats!
Unlike the last two games though, there’s newly composed atmospheric music (that’s not just in the shops) as well! Cutscenes aren’t just silent save for the talking and/or gunshots. Going back to play this game, I didn’t really notice it. I definitely noticed it in Saints Row IV, but that’s because it was synthy, sci-fi goodness there. It’s not as striking here in the third game. I do really love the music in the plastic surgeons office though. And being the proper punk that I am I was there changing the colour of my mohawk every two missions or so. I’ve heard it a lot. Like, a lot a lot, and it’s still pretty bitchin’.
Saints Row the Third came with three extra mission pack DLCs. There was Genkibowl VII where you pretty much just play some more rounds of Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax. There’s Gangstas in Space where you’re filming a movie of the same name. And then there’s The Trouble with Clones where a guy gets in contact with you to say that he cloned Johnny Gat and that his clone is now on a rampage through Steeleport.
I hate to say this, but none of them are really that great. If you pressed me, I’d say that The Trouble with Clones is my favourite and that’s only because of how ridiculous it is. It kind of sets the stage for what’s to come in four where Genkibowl VII and Gangstas in Space are just slogging through the same set of actions over and over again.
I discovered the Saints Row series thanks to Saints Row the Third. I owe it reverence for that. Going back to replay it though… it kind of sucks. Compared to Saints Row 2 the story is weak and the characters shallow. Compared to Saints Row IV and it’s boring, not stretching far enough into the ridiculous to really make players want to keep going back to it.
Newbies to the franchise should definitely play it. Without a doubt there is fun to be had the first time around. Just don’t be surprised if it loses its charm after the game where you’re the president of the United States, where aliens destroy Earth, and where you have super powers and an inflato-ray!
All that’s up next in Saints Row IV!