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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Freebie Review: Saints Row The Third (slightly NSFW?)

Not your average GTA clone.

Saints Row: The Third was free to play this past weekend courtesy of Steam. I installed the game on Thursday and thanks to a marathon session Saturday evening I managed to see the ending credits before the game deactivated.

What follows is a tale of bad language, bad-assery, and Burt Reynolds.

The Setup

I hadn't played any of the other Saints Row games before The Third. Apparently the Third Street Saints are a street gang that came from relative obscurity to become household names and celebrities. Nothing about this game makes any sense, and it's important to check your expectations of realism at the door.

Right away, developer Volition hits you with a ridiculous Star Wars intro that sets the game's tone. Saints Row: The Third (henceforth referred to as SR3) then kicks off with a bank robbery unlike any other. The Saints enter the bank wearing giant masks of themselves, signing autographs throughout the process. The job goes south and the Saints end up in jail, though they're soon released and summoned by the head of a rival crime group known as the Syndicate. SR3's central plot revolves around dismantling the Syndicate and restoring the Saints' reputation.

Release Info, System Requirements, and Installation

SR3 was released for all platforms on November 15th, 2011 and was developed by Volition and published by THQ. The game's installation folder weighs in at 9.30 GB.

System Requirements
  Minimum Recommended My System
CPU 2 GHz Dual-core or higher
(Core2Duo or Athlon X2)
Quad-core or 3.0 GHz+ Dual-core
(Core i5 or Phenom II X4)
4.0 GHz i5-2500K
GPU 320 MB DX9.0c 1 GB DX11 1 GB 560 Ti DX11
RAM 2 GB 4 GB 8 GB
HDD 10 GB -- --

Story Mode and Missions

Saints Row: The Third puts over-the-top action and violence at the forefront. I'll admit, I wasn't exactly blown away by the game at first glance. SR3 initially seemed like something I would have really enjoyed had I been 15 years old at the time: "they swear a lot and there's pixellated boobies, LOL!" If you delve a bit deeper the game does feature some clever humor and writing; there are a few references to Greek and Roman mythology in the game, so it's not all tits and explosions.

After throwing expectations of silly things like "plot" and "realism" out of the window, SR3 becomes a pretty enjoyable albeit completely ridiculous game. As the boss of the Third Street Saints you're tasked with wrestling control of the city of Steelport away from the Syndicate. To accomplish this task, the Saints deal with several of the Syndicate's member gangs via GTA-style missions.

You'll battle the Syndicate on foot, in vehicles, and in the air.

SR3's missions are varied and entertaining. In each case the player activates a mission via the boss' cell phone, hears a conversation between characters, and then proceeds to drive to the mission location. You'll experience everything from standard "kill the enemy" jobs to transporting prostitutes around the city; it never feels like you're doing the same thing twice.

The system isn't perfect, however - some of the missions are extremely short and feel like they'd be better off as optional side quests. In a couple of cases it took me longer to drive to a mission location than it did to complete the actual mission.

One of the game's greatest strengths lies in the decisions that it presents the player throughout the campaign. Several missions give you a choice of whether to blow something up or leave it alone or whether to kill someone or let them live. Each of these choices impacts the game in some way, either directly affecting the plot or giving you access to different weapons or companions. This is always nice to see.

Character and Vehicle Control

Gunplay in the game is decent and is pretty much what you'd expect from a third-person sandbox shooter. Weapon balance is a little off, unfortunately, and I ended up using and upgrading the starter pistol as my weapon of choice throughout the entire game. I was reminded of the ridiculous accuracy and lethality of Halo PC's pistol. Headshots with the pistol are one-hit kills and it seemed like they were incredibly easy to come by. I consider myself to be pretty good at shooters, but this was a little ridiculous - I'd guess my headshot percentage was somewhere around 50-60%.

Besides the incredibly overpowered pistol, the game offers a selection of assault rifles, shotguns, grenades, molotovs, stun guns, giant sex toys (yes, you read that correctly), rocket launchers, drone missile strikes, and just about everything else you could imagine.


The other major aspect of sandbox games is transportation. This was probably my biggest area of disappointment with SR3, although that feeling was likely amplified due to the fact that I just finished playing Driver San Francisco. I normally prefer to drive via a gamepad, but since sandbox games require shooting I always stick to the mouse and keyboard. This almost always leads to a substandard driving experience.

Driving isn't anything special, though things like AI cars pulling over for sirens are nice.

Vehicle control and performance in SR3 isn't very impressive. Cars arguably grip the road too well, and drifting (accomplished by holding down the spacebar) is a joke. I wasn't a fan of the Vertical Takeoff And Landing (VTOL) aircraft control scheme either. The control setup is incredibly dumbed-down, and although it's not really the game's focus it made me a little sad.

If transportation is such a huge part of these sandbox action games, why do the driving aspects always seem like they're tacked on? I know that I'm using a keyboard, but it'd be nice if my car didn't lurch violently to one side every time I press "A" or "D."


Player and vehicle customization is a major part of SR3 and fits with the game's overall theme of letting you do whatever you want. Guns and cars can be upgraded, and the player's clothing and vehicles can be visually customized. This system is also Volition's primary target for post-launch revenue, as there are a ton of DLC packs available that add guns, outfits, and clothing to the game.

There's literally nothing you can't tweak. Whether that's good or bad is for you to decide.

One thing I found a little annoying was the initial customization of your character. The system is incredibly detailed, and that's great, but after you're finished it appears at first glance that you're stuck with your character's look. I randomized a female character that looked fine on the character creating screen, but the game's cutscene lighting made her look pretty hideous. After initially hiding her face via hats and outfits it took me a while to realize that I could alter my character's look via plastic surgery offices scattered around the city.

Atmosphere, Graphics, and Performance

Despite Volition's claims that SR3 is not a console port, PC performance is still pretty spotty. I didn't really have time to play around with settings all that much since I had a limited window in which to play the game, but glances at load percentage and temps on my second monitor showed that the game was being pretty demanding of my 560 Ti with the game maxed out. Google searches revealed users having issues at launch and articles describing performance issues from July of this year. An acknowledgement of performance issues 8 months after release is pretty terrible.

What's especially disappointing is that the game's graphics really aren't super impressive and definitely don't justify the stress put on systems. The game certainly doesn't look bad in normal gameplay situations and actually holds up pretty well, but characters in cutscenes tend to look a little plastic-y and the lighting is pretty horrendous. There are also a few textures scattered around that look really awful.

That's just plain bad.

Thankfully, SR3 does a pretty solid job distracting you from all of this with the game's humor, music, and voice acting. The game features a pretty impressive lineup of voice talent as evidenced by the title's IMDB page, and the acting is solid all around. The plot is ridiculous and the game's actors hit all the right notes in their deliveries. Any game that features both Burt Reynolds and a pimp who speaks solely in auto-tune is OK in my book.

SR3's soundtrack is pretty varied and has some solid songs. From what I remember of my playthroughs of GTA games the radio stations in that series had better commercials and DJs. The system in SR3 is solid, but not quote on GTA's level.

Value, Replayability, and Final Thoughts

There's something to be said for a game that lets you beat the everliving crap out of people while "You're the Best Around" or "Holding Out For A Hero" plays in the background.

Saints Row: The Third never ceases to be entertaining despite the game's flaws. The campaign is relatively short and the plot has a couple of points that weren't quite obvious enough, but all in all it's a satisfying experience. Some of the highlights of the game's story mode were the forced decisions that the player needs to make that end up influencing gameplay for the rest of the experience.

After finishing the campaign my play time had more or less expired thanks to the approaching end of Steam's free weekend, but it looked like there was still a lot of content left to consume in both the campaign and additional game modes. "Whored" (hoard) Mode has you fighting off waves of enemies in increasingly ridiculous scenarios using increasingly ridiculous weapons. SR3 also features a 2-person co-op mode that allows you to roam the streets of Steelport with a friend.

THQ and Volition recently announced the availability of the SR3 "Full Package", which will include the game and a bunch of DLC. Depending on the pricing, this could be a good opportunity to get into the game.

Despite the fact that the game was $14 this past weekend, I didn't end up purchasing SR3. I played the game for a little over 11 hours and completed the entire story line; while there are side missions and activities that remain uncompleted, I couldn't really think of any compelling reasons to purchase the whole thing.

If you're the type of player who could spend hours simply driving around the city getting into trouble, you'll likely find a lot of value in Saints Row: The Third at any price. Conversely, if you're looking for gameplay that centers around a lengthy campaign with a strong plot, you might want to wait until the next time this one is sub-$10.

Score: 4.0 / 5.0

4.0 out of 5.0

  • The Good: Over-the-top action, tons of customization options, story mode includes decisions that impact gameplay, Burt Reynolds
  • The So-so: Campaign is a little short, some story missions are basic or incredibly short, game is a little juvenile at times
  • The Bad: Graphics aren't anything special and performance is a little suspect


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