The blustering poetry of Kanye West’s Power couldn’t have found a more appropriate home than in Saints Row: The Third. You can almost hear the echoes of the development team chiming in at the end of each “no one man should have all that power” with “but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, right!?”
And boy are they right. The world of Saints Row: The Third is one in which adding a suppressor to a machine-gun ‘increases damage and reduces recoil’ and the artless act of grand theft auto is carried out by performing a fifteen-foot reverse-dive through the windscreen and into the driver’s seat. It’s a game in which the mere act of walking has been transformed into a meta-game and categorically nothing is left to the clawing hands of tedium. Saints 3 takes place in a world devoid of any sense of proportionality and that paves the way for 30-odd hours of high-octane lunacy. Goad a police officer with a sultry dance, for example, and expect from one side an army of space-marines swooping down in a blitz of explosions and collateral damage, and the other a mass of luchadores brandishing RPGs and beer-bellies. If three minutes slip by without something or someone exploding then Saints Row: The Third has frozen.
We reconvene with the Saints at a time when they have lost their ways. Since their second outing, the purple cabal have transformed from comedy criminals into media moguls. They are celebrities, lauded for their reprobate lifestyles, chain of apparel and B-movie cameos. But you can’t force a dog to forget old tricks (that’s the adage, right?) and The Third kick starts with a good old-fashioned bank heist.
It all goes awry, of course, but what could have easily been a plodding tutorial is instead a mushrooming march into the realms of calamity that would herald the final moments of some other perfectly adequate game. It’s easy to forget, as you’re drop-kicking goons onboard a nosediving passenger plane and then free-falling through the wreckage, that you’ve been playing Saints Row for about 30 minutes. Within the space of a few hours you’ll have piloted a jet into a penthouse, been auctioned off as a sex slave, used a UAV drone to reign fire down onto a throng of unsuspecting gang-bangers and examined the darker side of the equestrian world by battling through the streets of Steelport on a gimp-led horse and cart. Yeah. You get it though, right? Saints Row: The Third is fun.
It’s also an incredibly generous and playful game and as you parachute down into the bowels of Steelport following that blistering opening, the rumblings of change can be heard.
Stillwater and much of the Saints troupe have been brushed aside and with them go the last vestiges of Grand Theft Auto. In Steelport, you lead the Saints with the aid of a ragtag yet strangely likeable cast of criminals. The story doesn’t make a great deal of sense but then it doesn’t need to; Steelport is the Saints’ new stomping ground and it’s just a matter of pushing every other gang out the backdoor by any means necessary. The city is smaller in scale than Stillwater, meaning lengthy journeys are kept to a minimum, but with a lack of radio chat-shows that’s Volition playing down its shortcomings.
That’s not to say that driving isn’t a blast, though. Master the handbrake and you’ve mastered driving in Steelport. Cars careen around corners with delightful ease and there’s nothing short of a brick wall that’ll stop your journey. There’s a healthy raft of helicopters, jet fighters and spaceships that open up Steelport’s vertical side, too. Leap from one of these airborne vehicles and you’ve always got a parachute handy and the sound of a police siren here heralds not chagrin, but a fancy new ride. Like Crackdown and Just Cause 2, Volition turn the cardinal act of traversal into its greatest asset. Getting around Steelport is rarely anything but a complete joy.
It’s the downtime that more often than not throws up Saints 3’s finest moments though – wandering through a twisted sex club or taking to the skies in a hover-bike. And there’s no shortage of distractions either, with collectibles aplenty and activities both new and old. These diversions have you, among many other things, rampaging through Steelport in a tank notching high-scores or committing insurance fraud by hurling yourself in front of speeding lorries – the lax physics turning a callous hit and run into one of the finest mini-games of recent memory.
Meanwhile, everything you do in Steelport is tied to a respect meter; Volition’s natty take on XP. Do a wheelie on a motorbike and expect respect. Kill a civilian: respect. Win an activity, complete a mission or buy some new clothes. Respect. You’ll happily engage with all the activities and diversions anyway because they’re each brilliant, but respect ties everything neatly together and adds an extra incentive to indulge in some of the wackier things like streaking, or surfing down the street on somebody’s face. Yeah.
The best thing though is there’s never any sense that Volition are putting aside the good stuff until later because everything is so extravagant. Take the pistol, for example. It’s tame like pistols are and in lue of something like a thing that launchers mind-controlling octopi, it doesn’t seem all that rousing. But with a little capital the familiar handgun can be mutated into two explosive-spitting hand cannons. That goes for everything. The most sluggardly vehicle can be pepped up with a nitrous system that transforms it into a tank, sans the turret. Anything unfortunate enough to clip wing-mirrors ignites instantly. Not fond of the cement mixer? A quick call and one of the Saints will appear with a new vehicle. And unlike Just Cause 2, you’re not shackled by funds (not that you’ll ever be short of money in The Third). You’re the leader of a crime syndicate, remember? Want a tank, take a tank. It’s yours.
Like no other game since the original Crackdown, Saints Row: The Third instils that empowering and utterly irresistible sense of authority. Steelport is your playground.