Review: 'Saints Row The Third' (Xbox 360)

The latest game in the series moves the Third Street Saints out of Stillwater and into neighboring Steelport. Is this freaky lovechild of GTA and Crank worth a visit?

In a world where all future GTA games were based on San Andreas

I think it was around the time that I first shot down one of the fast-moving, Tron-inspired members of the Deckers game that I realized exactly what Saints Row: The Third was: it somehow managed to be an unofficial sequel to Crackdown, sans the superpowers. Like that GTA-inspired early 360 title, Saint Row: The Third bases much of its mission structure on your upgradeable character taking down rival gang territory throughout the city, with some character progression and weapon upgrades. Also, it has clones, zombies, hover bikes, and a real clear emphasis on blowing stuff up alongside broad sex jokes. And it's set in a fictional version of Detroit, so there's that.

Based on the description above, I hope this has given you a sense of what kind of game THQ's team has put together. Loud, occasionally obnoxious, busy, sometimes stupid, frequently audacious, and occasionally very funny, it's a game more interested in pointing out its influences than actually developing an identity of its own (which kind of, in turn, gives it an odd sort of identity).

This time out, you once again lead the Saints, a purple-clad street gang (this game is crazy for the color of kings) that has become a global media phenomenon thanks to their exploits in the last game. Now, they're pitted against the more business-like Syndicate, headed by the very French Phillipe, who demands that his criminal conglomerate get a huge take of the Saint's interest. In the course of events, you'll go up against the leather-clad members of the Morningstar gang, tussle with the neon-accented members of the Deckers, and square off against the Mexican wrestler-themed members of the Luchador gang, all while dealing with local and national law enforcement. Honestly, the plot woven throughout the game is mostly dumb, simply serving as the glue that holds the game's many elaborate and insane setpieces together, ultimately allowing you to control or destroy huge chunks of the map. The one real complaint I can level at the action sequences threaded throughout the 20-odd hour story, it's that in a few cases, they overstayed their welcome, going on just a noticeable beat or two too long.

As a kind of counterprogamming to the "serious" content of GTA IV, Saints Row is all about creating as much mayhem as possible and reveling in being a big, goofy criminal mastermind with green skin in S&M gear (one of the many ways the game allows you to customize your character). Those kind of things right there tell you how deep THQ wants you to dig into this experience (not a whole lot) but at the same time, I'd argue that's not so bad. It's junk food but it's pretty good junk food.

So much to do, some of it very fun

Besides the rampant destruction you'll be causing in the main story mode, there are also a host of activities strewn throughout the city--"Diversions," as they're occasionally called throughout the game--that serve the dual purposes of earning you extra money for weapons and character upgrades and allowing you to take over more of the town of Steelport. Of these, most are retreads of some of the missions from the campaign, such as the "Guardian Angel" missions which have you manning a rocket launcher aboard a chopper and providing covering fire for a fellow Saint driving through the streets below (why they couldn't ride with you in the helicopter, I'll never know).

Of these diversions, some get outright weird (but really fun, actually) like the Professor Genki segments which have you participating in a sort of Running Man-style Japanese game show or "Insurance Fraud" which has your Saint flinging him or herself into oncoming traffic to earn maximum amounts of money. By no means essential to the gameplay, I found myself trying to rack up the necessary scores to complete these when I lost a interest in the story.

Finally, it wouldn't be a big, silly sandbox game without a bunch of licensed music on the radio, and Saint's Row: The Third has a pretty good selection among the many stations on your in-game dial. Perhaps the most random thing is an entire station devoted to music from or somehow connected to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Want to hear the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie theme song (the correct answer is yes), well it's on there along with tracks by MF Doom and Tyler the Creator. Oh, and the electronic station has dubstep, so enjoy that.

The counter-Skyrim

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Saints Row: The Third isn't socially awkward (the sex humor never rises above pimps and ho's jokes and streaking), that it's not a little janky (marvel at the vehicles and objects materializing in-world before your eyes!), or that it doesn't have a zombie mode (because what game doesn't have a zombie mode these days?). But this list of complaints actually adds to its rough charm, the sheer goofiness of it an antidote to the pristine beauty and epic scope of Skyrim.

Because sometimes, just sometimes, you want to run nude into a fight involving a bunch of masked wrestlers just so you can gather them all together and call in an airstrike.

Saints Row: The Third is available on the PS3, PC, and Xbox 360 from THQ.

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