After blasting through the first two missions of Saints Row The Third, I collapsed back in my chair and realised my face was aching from smiling so much. I'd barely drawn breath, my heart was pounding and my pits were dripping sweat. That's because the game's introduction is not just effing hilarious, it also features the kind of ridiculous set pieces you'd find at the very end of 'normal' games.
Fans of the series should know what to expect - balls-out fun on an epic scale. And fun is the key word, because every element of Saints Row The Third is geared towards enjoyment. You won't find a gripping story or well-developed characters, but you'll keep coming back for more because it's so damn entertaining.
Saints Row The Third: Your Phone Is Your Friend
After the frankly ridiculous intro, you find yourself stuck in CITY with the freedom to roam wherever you like. Missions and random challenges can be accessed via the incredibly helpful smartphone menu, which also acts as an invaluable GPS. You'll never struggle to find things to do, and you won't have any trouble getting there. The phone also allows you to call in backup, after winning the trust of the crazy and colourful characters.
I won't be spoiling any of the surprises that lay in store, but the Saints Row The Third crew is one of the most memorable of recent times. Not since Monkey Island days have I so relished spending time with fictional characters, and wished that my real-life friends were a bit more....wacky.
Saints Row The Third: Insane Missions
The missions themselves are just as memorable, and while you've inevitably had some spoilt for you in other reviews or the hilarious trailer, they aren't any less enjoyable. Each mission generally features three or four different segments. You might start off sniping at distant enemies as your crew escapes a heist, then a minute later you'll be swooping over them in a chopper, taking out pursuing tanks with a rocket launcher. No boring 'drive here, shoot a guy, drive all the way back' crap. Even more standard missions, such as storming an enemy base, generally have a crazy twist somewhere in store. Best of all, missions feature checkpoints so you won't have to redo the whole thing if you die.
If you fancy a break from the missions, there are plenty of other challenges and tasks to hook your attention, most of which are accessed via the phone. Hitman missions require you to take out a target by fulfilling certain criteria - for instance, stealing a cop car to pull them over. Challenges range from throwing yourself in front of traffic to rack up massive insurance claim bonuses, to escorting hookers around town while evading the paparazzi. Most are throw-away fun, with my favourite being Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Show - basically an insane and ultra-violent Japanese gameshow that sees you gunning down armed mascots.
Saints Row The Third: Rampage!
This being a sandbox game, you might also want to go on the occasional rampage to let off some steam. Thankfully there are plenty of gang members around to take down, who become increasingly aggressive the more you attack them. Saints Row The Third does a good job of making you feel near-invincible, however. Your health depletes at a generously slow rate, so you can suck up bullets as you take on dozens of enemies at once.
Bizarrely, cops are few and far between, at least for the first half of the game. Even if you piss them off, you'll rarely encounter more than a couple at any one time, and even when the force gets stronger at the game's mid-point, I was never troubled by them. The shoddy AI didn't help matters, as most enemies stand kindly out in the open as you pepper them with bullets. Occasionally they’ll think to grab a human shield, but that’s as smart as they get.
Saints Row The Third: Formidable Arsenal
Despite this, it's still great fun to blast your way through endless waves of gang members and other baddies. The main reason is the excellent array of weaponry at your disposal. Most games start you off with crappy pistols and work their way up to the explosive shit, but Saints Row The Third hands you enormous machine guns, rocket propulsion systems and more from the start. You'll discover more insane weapons as you progress, including the infamous dildo sword, although I often stuck with the dual pistols and sniper rifle thanks to their excellent accuracy.
All of the weapons are upgradeable if you’ve got the cash, and Saints Row The Third also throws in some surprisingly deep ability upgrades. With each new level of respect (earned by completing missions and obliterating gang members), you can boost certain traits such as health regeneration and stamina. You can also change sex and appearance at any time if you grow bored of your custom-made character.
Saints Row The Third: Tune!
And of course this wouldn’t be a Saints Row game without an incredible soundtrack. Everything from classical to heavy metal gets its own station, and you’ll find some poptastic classics in there too, including a certain dandy highwayman. You don’t have to be in a car to enjoy the tunes though – a few of the missions have a pumping soundtrack over them too, a perfect complement to the spraying bullets and bloodshed.
Saints Row The Third isn’t quite perfection; there’s a slight lull in the missions around the middle, the city is a little generic and the AI could use some work. However, for every slight stumble, the game does a million things perfectly. The hilarious script, insane characters, over-the-top weapons and memorable set-pieces all combine into the most fun game of 2011 by far. Skyrim may have its sweeping vistas and intense combat, but does it have an enormous purple schlong sword? I think not.
Saints Row The Third: System Requirements
If your PC is more than a couple of years old you’ll struggle to run Saints Row The Third on full graphical settings, and you’ll probably notice the occasional stutter. You need at least a dual-core Intel processor, preferably one of their Core i3, i5 or i7’s, with a decent mid-range graphics card to get the most from this game.