Saints Row: The Third review

  • The sheer madness of it all
  • The pure unadulterated fun
  • Inventive weapons and vehicles
  • A few boring sidemissions
  • That Steelport isn't more interesting
  • Going back to normal games

One of the problems with describing things that happen in Saints Row the Third is that everything you write just starts to sound like a demented Mad Lib. The green man in the gimp suit hit the luchador gang member in the crotch with an anime squid cannon. And we swear we’re not making any of that up.

Welcome to Steelport

As in the previous games, you play as the leader of the Saints, a purple clad gang looking to take over the city by crushing rival gangs, cops and anyone else who gets in their way. Saints Row 2 ended with the gang taking over the city of Stillwater and making themselves superstars in the process. The Saints are now as much a brand as a gang, hocking sponsored bobbleheads and energy drinks to the public.

After a bank heist gone wrong, the Saints find themselves in Steelport, butting heads with a local crime group known as the Syndicate. From there it’s the classic rise to power story, as you take out the rival gangs, and eventually a paramilitary force, one by one. As far as story goes, SR3 isn’t reinventing the wheel, but the dialogue between the characters is consistently hilarious. The game is packed with in-jokes, meta humor and constantly swerves into almost surreal territory. 

Over the top ASAP

Usually, the problem with giving the player the best weapons and vehicles in a game immediately is that they won’t have anything to look forward to. SR3 overcomes that issue by constantly setting the bar ever higher in terms of fun, insanity and unpredictability. Getting a rocket launcher in GTA was a big deal because it usually only showed up later in the game and in limited quantities. Getting a rocket launcher in SR3 is like finding a dollar on the side walk, cool, but not exciting, because in the world of SR3, rocket launchers are only the tip of the iceberg.

As with most sandbox games, the sandbox itself is the city, but the toys are the vehicles and the weapons. SR3’s weapons start off innocently enough with the standard pistols, SMGs and shotguns, but before long it’s UAV drones, hover bikes and meg- uh I mean “Cyber” Busters.

The self described “Awesome button” is just that, a button that makes all of your moves more ridiculous. While it’s technically just the sprint button, it speeds up actions like stealing a car or attacking an enemy, making the little things faster and more exciting. In fact one of the more fun things about SR3 is how between taking human shields and hitting enemies in the crotch, you can actually do a lot of damage with melee attacks in this game. Sprint towards an enemy and attack, and you’ll perform running DDTs and other moves that leave the enemy knocked down. Running into a room full of armed goons and meleeing everyone to death is endlessly entertaining.   

On a mission

One of the biggest complaints people have about sandbox games is that when playing actual missions it’s all essentially variations on “drive to this point on your GPS and kill this guy”. While that remains the nature of the sandbox beast, SR3 does its best to swerve violently off the path of what you expect.

One mission finds you trying to drive a car smoothly with a tiger in the passenger seat batting at you, while another has you travelling the city in a hover jet, dogfighting other hover jets and taking out tanks with your heat ray. Volition really manages to break the mold with some of their later missions, notably "http://decker.die", a mission so insanely creative and funny that it single handedly makes the game worth playing. We won’t spoil it, but it takes place inside a computer, so be prepared for anything.

Like any good sandbox game, SR3 includes a bunch of optional side missions to pad out the roughly 13 hour campaign. While some of the side missions, like Escort and Trafficking are a little dull, the vast majority of them are a blast. Mayhem, Trailblazer, and Heli Assault are loaded with big explosions and destruction, while classics like Insurance Fraud have your character hurling themselves into traffic while ragdolling into as many other cars as possible. The much touted "Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax" is particularly fun. 

Custom Fitted

Many players were a little saddened to see the lack of customization options in GTA IV, and for them SR3 will be a welcome change of pace. Your character is fully customizable and can be completely changed at plastic surgeons located around the city whenever you want. Want a 400 pound metallic blue drag queen in a catsuit with Russian accent to be your main character? Go for it. Created characters can then be shared and swapped online via the game's community functionality. 

Your vehicles can also be upgraded and fully customized, and best of all the game automatically saves them to your garage, meaning that if you accidentally drop your creation into the ocean, you can still get it back. Unlike GTA IV, SR's driving is totally unrealistic, and as a result, totally fun. Crib customization is also available, though if you’re playing SR3, interior design is probably quite low on the list of things you’ll want to do.

Leveling up, ganging up

As in previous Saints Row games, performing stunts, killing enemies and generally being a jerk earns you respect which lets you level up. Perks and abilities become available for purchase from your in-game phone as you level up, letting you do simple things like taking less damage, all the way to being able to call a homie to come deliver you a tank or wipe your wanted rating. Weapons can also be upgraded via cash and offer huge bonuses, it’s a classic Saints Row move that a fully upgraded disorienting flashbang grenade becomes a literal “Fart in a Jar”.

The perks get more and more drastic as you level up, so that by the time you’ve completed the main game you’ll be able to cheat with a simple phone call. Of course for those of you too impatient for even that, the game has the standard cheat codes available as well. A lot of the late game content really is worth earning though. For example:

In addition to the endless kind of chaotic fun you can have just messing around in a sandbox game, SR3 provides drop in drop out co-op in the campaign, and Whored mode for gamers looking for multiplayer options. Some of the missions we played in the campaign were different during co-op, adding additional elements to the mission exclusively for the second player.

Whored Mode is a traditional hoard co-op mode where you fend off waves of attacking enemies with (or without) the help of some friends. And by “fend off attacking enemies” I mean you whack strippers and BDSM gimps with a purple dildo bat and shoot furries with a tank. Note that the game requires an online pass for these modes, so if you buy the game used be prepared to shell out a few bucks.

A Gangster’s Paradise?

While some of the character’s face models are still a bit homely, Saints Row has never looked better. The cartoony style makes ridiculous things seem possible, while at the same time keeping the game’s Itchy and Scratchy level of violence more funny than offensive. The framerate is also impressive, running smoothly even in the middle of enormous 10 car explosions and flamethrowers. We played the game on both consoles and the PC and experienced no crashes or bugs. The game actually automatically teleports you if you ever get stuck in an object or the trapped somewhere on the map, which is a nice touch. 

SR3’s only substantial flaw is that the city of Steelport isn’t terribly interesting. It’s a big industrial town with a few residential areas and lots of big neon lights and skyscrapers. It doesn’t look bad, but we can’t wait for Volition to expand the next game into more diverse territory.

Saints Row has always been seen as something of an also-ran, but The Third finally says, in no uncertain terms, that it’s just as big and even more fun than its more serious competition. Some might be tempted to dismiss the game because of its extreme wackiness, but know that at its core, the game is incredibly well crafted and ceaselessly fun. While the comedies typically lose out to the dramas come awards time, none of it changes the fact that Saints Row: The Third is one of the best games of the year, and given this year’s competition, that’s no small compliment.

Is it better than...

GTA IV? Tie. Where GTA IV’s strengths come from its character driven story and it’s amazing mini-New York, SR3 only serves to highlight how dour and stale a lot of its gameplay is. Only the Ballad of Gay Tony comes close to matching the fun of SR3, and even then it’s really no contest.

Just Cause 2? Yes. Just Cause is a close runner up for pure fun, and the island of Panau is still the most beautiful sandbox out there, but SR3 puts JC2’s story missions to shame. While JC2 definitely has some ridiculously fun action movie elements to it, it pales in comparison to the endless insanity of SR3.

Saints Row 2? Absolutely. Saints Row 2 set the groundwork for three, going further off the rails than the original, but still clinging to some of the sandbox genre’s more boring ideas. If you enjoyed Saints Row 2 at all, you will absolutely love SR3, it’s everything that made 2 fun minus almost all of the boring bits.

For those who skipped straight to the end

Saints Row: The Third is the complete realization of everything this franchise has set out to do. Yes it's ludicrous and lewd, but it's also a joy to play, a streamlined sandbox that hooks the fun directly into your veins.

More Info

Release date: Nov 15 2011 - PS3
Nov 15 2011 - PC
Nov 15 2011 - Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Adventure
Published by: THQ
Developed by: Volition
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Sexual Content
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

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  • TriforcePlayer - November 11, 2011 12:16 a.m.

    That first image made laugh longer than I should have.
  • ThicknSwift - November 11, 2011 12:23 a.m.

    10 out of 10...WOW, I knew SR:TT was gonna be good, but 10 out of 10 good, Glad I'm buying it over skyrim. (Note: I want Skyrim so f*cking much)
  • magic_muffin_man - November 11, 2011 12:34 a.m.

    The Nintendo fanboy in me is weeping that this got a better score than skyward sword. WEEPING. On the other hand, this looks wicked awesome.
  • 435 - November 11, 2011 12:44 a.m.

    I certainly feel good about buying three copies now. :D
  • spideralex90 - November 11, 2011 12:46 a.m.

    Wow I was not expecting this to get a 10. This looks like a really fun game and I was considering picking it up. But still a 10? GTA5 better get an 11.
  • juicenpancakes - November 11, 2011 1:23 a.m.

    "Is it better than GTA IV? Tie." Holy sh**, that statement stopped my heart for a second. The whole review was incredible. Is it wrong for me to start wishing for some of these big time games to get bad reviews so I can save a little money? Oh well, I'll add this to the purchase list.
  • Gene - November 11, 2011 1:30 a.m.

    There have been some questionable tens this year (Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Seriously, go back and play it again) and I get the feeling this could be another one. Then again, I'm the kind of dour, humorless protofeminist who'd knock of a point for calling it Whored mode. That kind of thing doesn't sit well with me. The trouble with praising something such as this, and the accompanything score, is the inevitable comparisons. Is it really as good as Skyrim or Arkham City? And beyond that, given you've made that it's as good as GTAIV, will we be seeing it in the top 5 Best Games Ever next time Gamesradar do a list?
  • GamesRadarMichaelGrimm - November 11, 2011 2:01 a.m.

    I hear what you're saying. I could see a lot of what this game does coming off as offensive and crass (it is) for the sake of attention, but in the end I couldn't ignore how much fun I had with it. Everyone that made this has a deep understanding of why most people play sandbox games, and they went out of their way to make the most pure sandbox they could. I have a hard time imaging even GTA V rivaling it on a pure fun standpoint because this game sacrifices its plot and story almost entirely for the sake of a fun game. I'm also the one that gave Deus Ex a ten and that was nearly for a completely opposite reason, in that the adult-minded story and open morality of the game did a lot to offset some its clunkier mechanics. A Ten is more an indication of true excellence within its genre, not a statement that it's better than every game that ever got a nine. For example, I think Citizen Kane and Kung Fu Hustle are amazing films, but I hold them to very different standards. Cheers
  • TomSJ3 - November 11, 2011 9:49 a.m.

    What people need to realize is that just because a game gets as 10, it doesn't mean the game is going to be right for them. Since Gene was bothered by the name of Whored mode, which I personally think is pretty clever, Gene probably wasn't exactly the target audience for Saints Row 3. That doesn't mean that the game deserves a lower score though. Also, comparing Skyrim and Arkham City to SR3 doesn't really make sense because the three games are trying to be completely different things. I'm sure Skyrim received a ten because it is the perfect open world rpg that it could be, and Arkham City is arguably the best comic book superhero game every made. Personally, I probably will enjoy Skyrim and Arkham City more than SR3, but that doesn't mean it deserves to have any points knocked off. It wasn't trying to compete with those two games. What does make sense, however, is comparing SR3 to GTA IV since they are both huge sandbox games that would appeal to the same audience. Also, I feel the need to defend Michael Grimm's decision to give Deus Ex: Human Revolution a 10. I can understand why many people would hate it. It's a bit slow at times, it requires a lot of patience to play stealthily, and the boss fights are difficult, especially if you had only played stealthily until you reached them. I have always been a huge fan of games that you need to play slowly and patiently, where every single move is made carefully and every shot is taken deliberately, so I might be a bit biased towards DX:HR to begin with. However, for what the game wanted to do, which was to be a fun stealth-based shooter with interesting rpg elements and a compelling story, it pulled off these elements perfectly, which is why I believe the 10 is justified.
  • Gene - November 11, 2011 10:47 a.m.

    "It's a bit slow at times, it requires a lot of patience to play stealthily, and the boss fights are difficult, especially if you had only played stealthily until you reached them." I actually didn't have a problem with any of these. I habitually play my games slow (if you were to watch me play Assassin's Creed you'd think it was Silent Hill). I had deeper problems with it, which I could list, but I think Yahtzee's Extra Punctuation covered most of them very well: And, hell, I value 10s very high. It's a good year if there's ONE 10 in the whole year. The last time I felt a game really deserved a 10 was Braid, and possibly Mass Effect 2, although that would be pushing it. But! I'm about to take my first steps into Skyrim. I shall chase a 10...
  • Gene - November 11, 2011 10:43 a.m.

    Thank you. I suppose I disagree with it, but I respect your opinion.
  • Rhymenocerous - November 11, 2011 1:34 a.m.

    And I though San Andreas was too silly... Guess this series isn't for me.
  • shawksta - November 11, 2011 1:47 a.m.

    Dang didnt expect this but boring side missions is kind of bad, if you dont think its that bad, then ill take it. Makes Carolyns review of SS seem undermade, but regardless still good.
  • kor2disturbed - November 11, 2011 2:15 a.m.

    Along with everyone else, holy shit this got a ten!? Surprising to say the least. Oh, and to the guy buying this over Skyrim: Are you fucking high!? Skyrim offers practically a years worth of content if you want Skyrim, buy Skyrim. I'd understand if you weren't an RPG fan, but for Gods sake man, think about what you're doing!
  • keltar93 - November 11, 2011 2:19 a.m.

    I really liked what Grimm did with the comparison to GTA IV. A clever way to acknowledge the strengths of each.
  • Net_Bastard - November 11, 2011 2:55 a.m.

    A10!? Also, I'm glad Volition took up porting it to the PC this time. Their RF:A port was so good that you would think the game was made with the PC in mind. And after the pile of crap that was SR2 PC, it's an even better outcome. Definitely picking this up on Steam.
  • higgins78 - November 11, 2011 3:07 a.m.

    I almost just sicked up! I without having played Skyward Sword yet (I'm pre-ordered) will guarantee what we have here with Saints Row 3 is the same as what happened with GTAIV, that being on reflection and time the scores will drop and drop. Everyone remembers GTAIV receiving "perfect" scores at launch only for a couple months later the realization it was actually repetitive filler. Nintendo work hard to create a game which is actually innovative and what happens...Skyrim and Saints Row 3 score "perfect" scores while Zelda plays catch-up. Screw innovation and trying anything new, let the games industry and the "hardcore" (LOL) get served the same old tripe time after time!
  • birdro - November 11, 2011 4:07 a.m.

    I imagine the reason that Zelda would score a nine instead of ten has much to do with how the series, though very polished and engrossing, doesn't actually stray from the base formula too much. For every new Zelda, you're going to be dungeoneering as usual and mostly following the same progression. The only reason Skyward Sword didn't get a ten is because when compared to other "10" Zeldas, it will pale. Also, why did you mention you could tell that SR was bad without having played Skyward Sword? Not sure what you mean there.
  • Net_Bastard - November 11, 2011 7:58 a.m.

    "let the games industry and the "hardcore" (LOL) get served the same old tripe time after time!" Why is it the "same old tripe"? Because they're sequels to amazing games? I think you forgot that the Zelda series started 25 years ago.
  • GhostbustTyler - November 11, 2011 9:10 a.m.

    Jumping Jacks Batman! Looks like we have a pissed off Zelda fanboy here!

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