Realism? Pah! Videogame realism is for fools. Who wants to play a game where you have to refuel your car every hour at extortionate UK prices? Imagine playing GTA and being unable to leave your in-game apartment because the gas man’s coming round to fix that faulty boiler, AND HE’S THREE HOURS LATE. No, what we want are more games where you have to drive an explosive quad bike into fireballs in order to make everything on the screen explode in an orgasm of death-fire. Volition and THQ understand this and have given us exactly what we want: Saint’s Row The Third.
I’m not going to beat about the bush here, Saint’s Row The Third is stupendous fun; almost unparalleled in fact. I’m not sure I can think of a single game released, possibly in my lifetime and certainly in the past few years, that has been designed with such madcap, wanton fun in mind. Seriously, it’s incredible. It’s not always absolutely successful, but the premise is always daft, gloriously violent, fun. Hurrah!
I’ve not played a Saint’s Row game before, but I’m a massive GTA fanboy and I have to admit that I’ve always viewed Saint’s Row as GTA’s dumbass, hick cousin – a brightly coloured idiot who shouts a lot, but can’t actually hold a conversation. You know what? I was horribly wrong and I’ll munch on that humble pie right now, if you don’t mind.
It even has a story, look: The Saints are the most glamorous gang going, as famous as they are infamous. Merchandise, movies, celebrity heists – all in a day’s work for the Saint’s. But they’ve got sloppy and The Syndicate – a large, criminal organisation – have noticed this and try to organise a cut of the Saint’s operations. One thing leads to a mass of killing, and the game starts with the Saints relocating to Steelport, a city controlled by The Syndicate. It’s in Steelport that you enact the Saints’ revenge on The Syndicate.
I haven’t actually played through all the story missions yet, but the ones I have done have been well implemented and acted out – never overly long, and always a whole lot of fun. As you complete them, you unlock other instances of that type of mission, so if you do one you particularly love there are always more available to you at any point in the game.
The reason I haven’t played through it all yet is that I’ve been so very, very distracted by the side missions and activities. There are stacks of them and they range from throwing yourself into traffic to rack up false insurance claims, through hyper-violent reality shows (Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax!), to killing sprees in a gunship or an 8-bit tank (yes!). They’re all just an excuse for utterly over-the-top mayhem and carnage. And I love me some carnage. Of course, you can ignore all the missions and activities and just steal a fast car, stock up on daft weapons (including satellite rain; a massive purple dildo; oversized, one-hit-kill boxing gloves; laser rifles; and your standard bullet firing death machines), and go on the rampage across Steelport. I do this ALL the time, for hours on end. It’s good for the soul, don’t you know?
It’s helped by the fact that – crucially for a driving and shooting game – the driving and shooting are excellent. Unleashing unbridled terror with your weapons is always satisfying – head shots pop melons, and all the weapons feel different and powerful. The car handling is top notch – you don’t want realistic handling here, you want an arcade racer where the only buttons you need are steer, accelerate, and handbrake. And the button to lean out of the window and bust caps in asses, natch. The amount of time I’ve spent just raking it around Steelport in a sports car is testament to just how pleasing the controls are.
You can add the environment to that fun enhancement list as well. Steelport – whilst not as successful as Liberty City – is a fine attempt at an open city (and it’s all unlocked from the start, which is nice), and proves to be a great playground for the chaos. The different gangs all have their own areas, with gang members patrolling the streets in lurid costumes (to aid quick and easy gang warfare), and the police are a constant presence. And who doesn’t like starting a cross-city brawl with the fuzz, eh?
In fact, the only thing that gets in the way of your personal rampage is the game engine. I’m not saying it’s guff, it’s just not entirely up to scratch. It looks good and runs well enough, but suffers from some horrible clipping issues – bins, fences, and sometimes other cars, all get stuck through the middle of your car and obscure the camera. I’ve even punched a car (yes, you can do that. Obviously) through a shop wall and into a lonely limbo.
Oh, and the AI is as dumb as a nettle bath. Most times I failed a mission was because my escort who I had to protect had decided to get out of the car, and stand directly in front of a gun-toting rival gang member and not retaliate. I’d then not be able to revive them as they’d gone down in the middle of a warzone.
You can help prevent this (or rather, prolong how long it takes for them to die from stupidity) by upgrading fellow gang members health and weaponry. This is another Very Good Thing about SRTT; the level of customisation. Everything can be upgraded or customised – your character, your guns, your cars, your mates. You want to be a washed up old drag queen in bright red, thigh high boots, waving a chainsaw at the world? Me too, and we can live the dream in SRTT. Some of these upgrades can be bought from the start, others have to be earned through the respect system (gain respect from taking over the city, murdering things, or just by doing stupid stuff).
Look, it’s all good really. Other than the already mentioned problems, the only other gripe I had was that it’s too easy – other than moron chums dying on me, I never felt threatened. Even with a city full of Special Forces and three gangs after me. Your health runs out too slowly and regenerates too quickly, you see.
None of these things get in the way of thoroughly enjoying yourself though – you’ll be beaming wildly as you plough through the mayhem, just being an absolute dick. This is all I ask from this type of game.
I said before that I adore GTA games (sorry – it feels wrong to compare SRTT to GTA as it’s a fine game in its own right, but it’s my only reference point). Well, this is the highest compliment I can give Saint’s Row The Third: it’s the game GTA 4 should’ve been, and I’ll look for Saint’s Row Goes Fourth before I look for GTA V.