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Simon Bull, London24 editor
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Walking along the mean streets of Steelport, indiscriminately clubbing passers-by to death with a giant purple sex toy, just for the sake of it. What’s not to love about Saints Row: The Third?
Formats: PC, Xbox 360, PS3 (PS3 reviewed)
Verdict: 8 out of 10 – Technically it’s very crude and content-wise it’s very rude, but as naughty as Saints Row: The Third is it’s also delicious fun.
Actually, there are a few things not to love because SRTT is far from perfect but above everything else it’s fun. Perverse, twisted and vulgar fun, but fun all the same.
Saints Row: The Third, as you’ve probably guessed from the name, is the third instalment in the Saints Row series of games - a pastiche (if I’m being generous), a clone (if I’m not) of the epic Grand Theft Auto open-world crime/action/mayhem titles.
At face value the latest Saints Row contains all the main components of a GTA-like game.
You’ll play as the psychopathic leader of a gang whose ultimate goal is to amass the most respect, power and wealth within the criminal underworld.
You’ll achieve this by completing numerous missions which drive the story forward, various side-missions and by spending time creating your own mischief around the city.
This time out developer Volition tries to give Saints Row more of its own identity and put some creative distance between its sandbox and Rockstar’s.
It does this by cranking everything up to 11.
So this means bad language and gratuitous violence are more frequent than ever. Plus there is a lot of sexual content. Well, I say sexual, but it’s hard to see how anyone could possibly be turned on by anything they see in SRTT. Weird, cartoon-style smut is probably a better way of putting it - I’ll leave you to discover what I mean.
Be in no doubt that the content in SRTT is at the very adult end of the decency scale. At the same time it’s also very juvenile, because what’s also be turned up to the max is the silliness.
The last GTA entry, GTA IV, took itself fat too seriously and was a stern, po-faced and charmless game. It also focused too heavily on tedious relationships and mundane tasks.
SRTT doesn’t weigh itself down with such trifling gameplay elements, and it’s also anything but serious. In fact, the best description I can give SRTT is to say it’s sheer lunacy.
This is an action-packed and explosive game but also a very daft one. Everything is ludicrously far-fetched and hilariously over-the-top. There may be times during play when you’ll be shocked but most of the time you’ll be laughing, or at least sniggering. SRTT is so wrong that it’s right and so stupid that it’s clever.
Developers must have had a blast creating this truly insane experience. Yes, it’s graphic and bloody but at the same time it’s also completely detached from any sense of realism.
It stretches everything about the sandbox genre to ridiculous and outrageous extremes.
Take the arsenal of weapons at your disposal, for example. Aside from the aforementioned marital aid, you’ll also get access to such things as mind-controlling octopi which you can fire at enemies and a vehicle which sucks people up and then blasts them back out as cannonballs.
This Manapault is probably the wackiest vehicle but many of the vehicles in the game have a touch of the fantastical about them, including various cars, bikes, choppers, jets and tanks.
Take the opening segment of SRTT as another example of its craziness.
Part of it involves a comedic heist in which you tear a bank vault out using a helicopter, but what really makes an impact is a sequence where you’re parachuting to the ground with a female cohort in your arms. At one point you’ll let her go while you smash through the cockpit windows of a plane, kill some bad guys and then fly out the back of the aircraft before casually catching your accomplice. It’s an eyebrow-raising, jaw-dropping, barking-mad introduction to the game, and this tone is maintained throughout.
As well as being a bonkers game, SRTT is also a game of variety.
There are the standard tasks to perform, such as stealing cars, shooting rivals, driving people around and protecting allies, but there are also many unique and unexpected twists, from driving a tiger around in your car to a zombie outbreak to visiting a Tron-like computer world.
Another illustration of Volition’s madcap approach to the crime game is the vast amount of customisation in SRTT.
Right from the word go there is a wealth of options for changing and upgrading things in the game, starting with your character.
You can create virtually any kind of vaguely human looking character, from a self-portrait to an orange-skinned, zombie-speaking, obese woman with no clothes on. If you don’t like what you initially come up with, you can change it later on, including giving your character a sex change and a complete visual overhaul.
Clearly, many things in SRTT have come from the dark recesses of some very dark minds, but at the same time players are given plenty of freedom to demonstrate some depraved thinking of their own.
I said at the outset that SRTT is far from perfect, and that’s because it’s a bit of a technical mess. For instance, graphics aren’t awful but they are pretty unrefined and unpolished. Visually, the game has an outdated sort of look to it, which may or may not be deliberate.
Collision detection is poor, physics are all over the place and artificial intelligence of enemies is horribly weak.
Perhaps the worst fault of all is the terribly short draw distances. When driving around the city, traffic and buildings literally pop up in front of you.
Speaking of the city, Steelport is a rather lifeless and quiet place. It’s given me the feeling that half the city has gone away on holiday. I’ve never had much of an audience for the mayhem I’ve been wreaking.
With its off-the-chart bizarreness, Saints Row has moved away from being just a Grand Theft Auto copycat but the two brands do still share the same style of awkward combat.
Whether it’s with fists in a punch-up or weapons in a firefight, the combat in SRTT is rather cumbersome and clumsy. Camera work is a bit iffy and controls a little fiddly in places.
There isn’t a lot of inventiveness in combat either. It’s all very shallow. Most situations are dealt with by relentless gunfire, causing big explosions or swinging whatever you have in your hand (sex toy, baseball bat etc) as fast as you can.
Despite these and other shortcomings, SRTT remains an overall fun game, mainly thanks to its unpredictability and how it constantly pushes the boundaries of good taste.
Like an awful movie you love but can’t explain why or a cheesy pop song you secretly have on your iPod and don’t admit to liking, SRTT is definitely at the guilty pleasure end of entertainment. But it’s still a pleasure.
In what appears to have been a cheeky attempt to steal back some attention, Rockstar chose the time of SRTT’s release to start dropping teasers for its own upcoming Grand Theft Auto V game.
It’s worked in terms of getting the internet and magazines buzzing with hype and gossip, but the true test of Rockstar’s cleverness will come later when GTAV can actually be judged as a finished product.
Rockstar is its own force but hopefully it will have picked up some pointers from Volition. Open-world sandbox games with a crime theme don’t have to be all dark and depressing. Sometimes they can just be fun for fun’s sake. Saints Row: The Third is proof of that.