A video game's first responsibility -- arguably its only responsibility -- is to show the player a good time. To say that Saints Row: The Third is a good time would be a severe understatement. Running naked around the fictional city of Steelport wiping out rival gangs with mind-controlling octopi delivered some of the most fun I've had this year. There may be a tendency to dismiss Saints Row as a Grand Theft Auto clone (it isn't) or as juvenile antics (it is) but when you just want to indulge in some mindless violence and sexual depravity, this will more than suffice.
Watch the Saints Row: The Third Video Review
Saints Row the Third takes you out of Stilwater, the setting for the first two games, and drops you into the new city of Steelport. Three local gangs are well-entrenched, but the Third Street Saints aren't going to settle for fourth place. Your job throughout Saints Row the Third is to take over this new city and crush the competition.
After an intro mission sets up your exit from Stilwater you'll get the chance to customize your character. Customization plays a big part in the entire game, from your body to your dress to your vehicles. I love that, at a glance, no two players' games will look alike -- one will star a voluptuous vixen in a cocktail dress while the next may feature a blue sumo wrestler with cat eyes that speaks in zombie gibberish.
It's not realistic, it's not "art," it's just a really good time.
Before the credits roll you'll catsit a tiger, play a hilarious text adventure, get a sex change, hack up Mexican wrestlers with a chainsaw, visit a Tron-like computer world, and participate in many other ridiculous leisure activities. Saints Row the Third can be accused of being many things, but repetitive isn't one of them.
When you need a break from story missions you'll find loads of optional activities all over Steelport that boost your street cred and earn you cash. My favorites are the Insurance Fraud missions, holdovers from Saints Row 2 that ask you to run into traffic and cause as much bodily harm to yourself as possible before time runs out.
Pretty much anything you choose to do in Saints Row: The Third has been incentivized and will earn you either money or respect. Money can get you territory, weapons, upgrades, and threads. Respect works like experience points, unlocking new abilities such as "infinite sprint" and "no fall damage." Everything from near collisions while driving to running down the street naked earns you respect, which is fantastic game design -- we're constantly rewarded for simply playing the game. I was addicted to maximizing my hourly income and planning my character upgrades.
Saints Row: The Third also includes Whored Mode. Check it out here.
By completing certain story missions you gain access to badass vehicles like a transforming hover jet and a pixilated retro-game tank. In the spirit of staying out of the way of the player's good time, Saints Row 3 gives you an infinite supply of these recreational vehicles in your cribs. So grab an F-69 VTOL hover jet, take it joy riding, crash it, then go home and grab another. As many times as you want. Or, you can have it delivered right to you, wherever you are. Amazing.
That's the beauty of Saints Row: The Third -- it's not trying to be anything more than a fun game. It's not realistic, it's not "art," it's just a really good time.
That said, some of the immature characters, dialogue, and premises do make me cringe. People often swear for no reason in a way that feels really forced, and a pimp that only speaks in auto-tune and calls every girl a bitch gets old fast. But the character that matters most, my character, really won me over. I played as a lady (well, a female -- she's definitely not a lady), and despite the fact that she's an amoral mass murderer, I believed she cared about her friends. Plus, I really liked the voice actress portraying her.
The licensed soundtrack -- heard on car radios throughout the game -- includes many fantastic songs ranging from hip-hop to electronic to classical. You can toggle stations on and off or build a playlist of all the songs you like.
The greatest video game commercial ever.
Saints Row: The Third unfortunately falls apart at the end with a less-than-satisfying conclusion. There are two endings (you'll get to see both), one a super downer and one that doesn't make any sense. However, following the story is just half the fun, and when I completed the campaign after 14 hours of play I had only finished half of the side missions with an overall 72 percent completion. Many good times await after the campaign ends for those that want to achieve 100 percent.
While definitely not up to the standards of recent games like Uncharted 3 or Rage, Saints Row 3's visuals go easy enough on the eyes. I love the neon-lit towering skyscrapers of Steelport, but down in the streets things can seem quiet and lifeless. This is an open world but I wouldn't say it's a living world. Mayhem activities ask you to destroy as much as you can before time runs out, but you may be at a loss for stuff to blow up. As you tear around town the traffic magically appears in front of your car. Granted, I only noticed that pop-up while driving.
Saints Row: The Third allows you to play the entire campaign cooperatively online or via system link. Inviting a friend or joining a game couldn't be simpler, but playing cooperatively yields mixed results. While the nature of two players running around with rocket launchers and tanks can create comical chaos, not all of these missions seem designed for cooperative play -- visiting players may sometimes feel like a third wheel. But, happily, all progress carries over to your single-player game.