Saturday, 10 December 2011

Saints Row: The Third [PS3]

Over the top and utterly bombastic in every aspect of the game. Sadly, the shiny transvestite gangster show can get a little stale later on.

Welcome to Steelport - here's your complementary dildo
From the very first mission, you are thrust into a frantic, explosive world where one-liners and innuendo are your bread and butter. Painting the gritty, violent Third Street Saints gang from previous games now as media sell-outs, this game begins on television commercial sets brushing shoulders with other in-game celebrities. 

"Oh no! (You might shout) My beloved Saints! What has happened to them!?!"
Well worry not, pathetic losers, they are still the filthy turds you know and adore.

About five minutes later the building starts exploding and you end up being captured and taken on a jumbo jet. This jet is then, of course, blown out of the sky with the Saints leaping out the back in spectacular action movie-esque fashion.

After returning to Earth, the Saints then have to make their name in the new city of Steelport. This basically means that all the cars, guns and safe houses from previous games are lost and you'll have to go and earn some new ones. This is acheived by playing through the main missions to progress the story or by completing side-missions which are based on a theme of "Tank Mayhem", "Helicopter Assaults" etc. Each mission earns you some respect and cash, which is then used to purchase new customisation options, new player skills or other upgrades.

The respect you earn now also adds to an RPG-style player level. Certain guns and upgrades can only be accessed once you are at certain levels, e.g. at Level 21 you can get a "revive health 30% quicker" upgrade, but not before. This all works fine and gives extra incentive to play enough to unlock just one more level, but sadly the count stops at level 50. Once you reach level 50, all respect just vanishes in a puff of air with nothing bothering to keep count. Why, exactly? Surely just keeping track of all the additional respect earnt would offer online bragging rights, or some sort of validation for all your hard work chainsawing pedestrians in half? A missed opportunity, I feel.


Up for a challenge
You are free to find your own fun (although the developers have clearly done it all before you did, so no thinking you're clever).

Pretty much everything you can do has a statistic tracking your depravity, from the length of time you have spent running around naked to the number of people you have gassed with the "Fart-in-a-jar".

This crosses over very well into multiplayer, allowing you to make your own fun based on who can whack as many people with a dildo-on-a-baseball-bat in five minutes (current record being just under 300).

The downside, even if a very minor one, is that with all the counters keeping score of your behaviour, you can feel like you're not actually doing anything wrong. In fact, it feels as though you are being positively encouraged to be a dick. This takes away a little bit of the childish fun on offer here: in previous games you could run over police officers and gleefully laugh as they rolled down the road knowing that thousands more are heading over to try and stop you. In this game, you run them over and it's more like: "Cops run over score: 500. Well done. Good boy. There's some more down the road, and you are perfectly allowed to do the same to them"


Get your friends round for a violent, cross-dressing party
(or just stay in playing Saints Row 3)
As mentioned above, the multiplayer in this offering is great fun to muck around in. You can get an online friend to join you for story missions, for side missions, or for the free-roam antics available throughout the city. This is both fun and functional, and adds a great deal to the game's lifespan.

Not only can you speed around the city totally independantly, taking jet planes off in opposite directions and then maybe bumping into each other later, but you can also get in the same vehicle to maximise the local destruction. While burning up everything in sight with rockets and laser guns, there was virtually no difference in frame rate or visual effects, which is quite an acheivement given the ridiculous amount of explosions occuring per second.

Given the amount of hilarity on offer in terms of the costumes you can dress players up in, a round of "See who has the funniest outfit" was called for. Seeing what other people had decided to wear to run around the city in was great fun. It was only a little later on I realised that without the boobs, guns and swearing we were playing 6-year-old girl's dolly dress-up. Bugger. Oh fuck it, time for a killing spree.


Just how ridiculous can I act/look/sound?
So, I'll explain a little more about how I found the outfit customisation. My first appearance was as a butch, moustached, Cockney gentleman wearing a floral dress. This is my standard look for the Saints Row games, basically because it means I can laugh my way through the cutscenes, rather than try to translate all the ghetto euphemisms for "murder people in a helicopter".

My second, and new favourite, look cranked it up a notch with a shocking pink policeman's uniform, complete with cowboy boots. I was scarily close to buying a real-life version of this baby.

Next, I decided to snip certain manly bits off and stick some womanly bits on and went out into town as a blue-skinned, boobsy, nudey lady. 

In each of my incarnations, the giant purple dildo is the perfect accessory: delicately complementing the colour tones of my outfits and wobbling around as if to show the world who's boss. 

My final outift, unlocked much later on in the game, was a toilet. Yes, they went there. After going about as far as I could go with the cross-dressing and the nude aliens, they offered the option to run around the town and beat up pedestrians looking exactly like a toilet. Kudos, Saints Row, kudos.

So, basically, in answer to the question posed in the heading: You can look stupider than the African-American Gay Men's choir at an Alabama barn dance.


Stalemate Steelport
Later side-missions and collectible-hunting can turn into a rather dreary completion quest. Once you have "No bullet/explosion/vehicle damage" and "Infinite ammunition/No reload times" then most tasks turn into "Hold the trigger button down and stay in the same place for half an hour".

Putting in these kind of cheats is as much a blessing as a curse. It is great to be able to start shoot-outs with the cops and the only thing you have to worry about being their smouldering corpses slowing you down, but it removes all the challenge from the later missions.

The harder "Professor Genki" missions are much more manageable with bullet damage switched off and so slightly less frustrating, but the survival missions (which go on for 10 - 20 minutes each) just stagnate when there is no threat whatsoever.

What I feel may have worked is for the final level of cheats - such as no bullet damage, no explosion damage, infinite ammo, no reload times - could only be used in free-roaming and were switched off during all missions. Then you could still use the penultimate level of upgrades -  75% reduction in damage and near-infinite ammunition - but there would still be the possibility that you could die, meaning the game might actually expect you to do something in order to complete the section.


Conclusions
Really, there's very little to be upset by in Saints Row: The Third (other than if you are offended by murder, swearing or nudity). If you are a fan of the Saints games then most of the good stuff is still here and most of the new stuff is welcome. 

The only downsides are when you have been playing a long, long time. The repetative nature of the tasks you carry out is only exacerbated by the infinite life cheats, meaning that a lot of the spark of the game is in the beginning. That is not to say that you won't have a looooooot of fun in Steelport - there's enough to keep even the shortest attention spans happy for 30 hours or more. 

Superlatives
REALLY VIRTUAL - Happily does away with reality to offer an enjoyable gaming experience.

With perhaps a little more thought as to how the long-term gameplay may have panned out, this could have been game of the year.


2 comments:

Psykomotor said...

On the whole a well polished game with plenty of bang for buck and a solid multiplayer platform. Really acknowledges the role of "entertainment product" and puts that center stage pretty much throughout.

So, my thoughts on the review...

---

I suspect we may see the level cap rise with the coming DLC and that's why it's currently capped... if that isn't the plan, I too am baffled as to why they didn't allow it to rise beyond 50.

---

I do agree that counters for "wrongful" actions gives them a legitimacy that can detract from the purpose of carrying them out, but I think that applies more in environments where it spoils the suspension of disbelief, and if anything, SRTT is one of the most believable games I have played for years...

I guess I'm going to have to follow that one up - I don't think "believable" has anything to do with how "possible" what a game simulates is, it's how well it envelops you in what *isn't* happening. For instance in GTA, you aren't a cold blooded killer, you're a person, playing a game. In Gran Turismo, you aren't a professional driver, you're a person, playing a game. You can see where I'm going here...

In SRTT there are *far* less times I'm reminded I'm playing a game - my imagination is allowed to work with the game for far longer than the majority of titles, where I'm nearly always stopped at the first hurdle as I hatch a bizzare plot to blow up the city/win a race/become a superhero (*cough*ArkhamAsylum*cough*).

---

The multiplayer seems extremely well implemented with a fantastic drop-in, drop-out type mechanism. The addition of the ability to play out any previous mission is a sorely missed opportunity.

---

Totally agree on the wardrobe system. It's awesome.

---

I think the endgame upgrades (infinite ammo/no damage) assumes that many of the activities are done - I think you did what I did and had a power level session quite early on in the game, so reached the cap a little soon. Wether or not it detracted from those activities or not wasn't really an issue to me because I actually found the activities very much a hoop to jump through, and lacking much of the joy the rest of the game brings. I can't see myself playing any of them again, health, ammo or otherwise unless it's online.

I'm hopeful the upcoming DLC will add plenty of content that leaves it's use open to interpretation. For instance, i'd much rather have a helicopter in the game with a giant magnet stuck to the bottom than a whole bunch of missions.

On the subject of DLC, how it will be acknowledged that most players will be invincible rocket spewing machines will be of interest. I'm very much hoping that they don't use the sledgehammer "switch it off" approach and instead take your role as an immortal to heart and focus on development of further super-powers, such as super jump, flight and the ability to breathe fire... Once you shed the constraints (because that is what they are) of "health" and "ammo", which have been done a hundred times over, you are free to create challenges in a way that is new to gaming.

---

In conclusion, I think your finishing sentiment is basically bang on.

Matt Tiernan said...

Psykomotor,

Thanks for the comments - glad you agree on the general conclusion of the review.

Really like the perspective you offer here, wanting to get lost in a world of your own creation/destruction is a rare experience in modern gaming.

With developers trying to throw as much High-Definition spectacle at you as they can, we rarely get the chance to fuck around on our own and see/smash the sights as we see fit.

Looking forward to going back to Steelport for a Winter vacation, perhaps with some extra DLC weaponry to add to the festive spirit....

There was an error in this gadget