A Delirious Hour With Saints Row: The Third

By Alec Meer on August 25th, 2011 at 11:58 am.

Is this the real life?

It’s hard to separate the reality of playing Saints Row: The Third from what I imagined playing Saints Row: The Third would be like. Because it’s pretty much exactly the same. That is to say, it’s what I remember playing Saints Row 2 was like – time, tall tales and fondness has seen me forget the busywork of the game and recall only the absurdities, the insanity, the just-because rampaging. Saints Row: The Third is all those absurdities pushed to the very front of the game, rather than hung around its sides: thus, it’s the actualisation of what we think Saints Row games are rather than what they have been to date.

It is still a broadly GTA-structured game, but somehow the traditional driving’n'shooting thing doesn’t seem terribly important. Not when I can fire a mind-controlling squid at an angry policeman then watch him stagger around like a happy drunk, emanating manga bursts of colour from his crustacean-topped bonce. Not when I can call down an air-strike on a pack of enemies, or just a lone, innocent civilian, then stand back and cackle. Not when I can sprint towards an oncoming vehicle and launch myself head-first through its windscreen. Not when I have a button specifically dedicated to punching/kicking someone in the groin.

It’s hardly going to come as any surprise to anyone who’s watched the trailers, but Saints Row has reached the point where it’s basically parodying not just its sub-genre but itself. I don’t think trying to draw any purpose or meaning from this would achieve anything. That’s not the point. Saints Row is anarchy, nihilism, a rebel without a cause, satire without a target, a practical joke without a victim.

It’s doing what it’s doing because it can, and because it’s entertaining itself. It’s (and please do NOT visit the next link if you’re of an even mildly sensitive disposition) The Aristocrats: the videogame. Be as stupid, vile, immoral, surreal and hilarious as you can, for as long as you like/can, and just don’t worry about where it’s going or what it all means. What the heck do you call an act like that? ‘Saints Row!’

Even the plot and the lore, such as it is, looks to have thoroughly departed from the realm of gang warfare posturing and all-out into absurdity. The Saints, the criminal collective who’ve been the series’ stars throughout, are now superstars: still criminals, but idolised by the city they’ve repeatedly devastated and even by the lawmen they ritually slay. ‘Please autograph and then lay down your weapon!’ shouts a star-struck officer in a police helicopter during the intro mission. This follows a bank job (I think it was a bank, anyway – again, it’s important to not care about the why and what and just enjoy the circus) in which the Saints’ leaders, including you, siege the place while all wearing giant, super-deformed Johnny Gat masks. Gat is the Saints’ second-in-command. So they’re not exactly doing this incognito. They’re simply having a laugh. At what? Who knows? Who cares? ‘Saints Row!’

The opening mission is a completely, deliriously different prospect for the game proper. A full-on action game indoors raid’n'escape, it makes you halfway invincible just for kicks then pours legions of SWAT guys at you to practice ultra-violence, nutshots, clotheslines and throws on. Then it moves you onto a helicopter, holding a minigun, shooting down other helicopters by the dozen, as a building collapses below you. It’s noisy, bewildering, senseless, internally inconsistent, pointless. And that’s the point. It’s doing about ten Arnie movies at once just because it can, and just because it can state that Saints Row definitely isn’t just THQ’s GTA-style game anyway. Saints Row is Saints Row.

Can this delirious idiocy hold up an entire game? Well, there is a real risk of over-stimulation, of the toybox of happy horrors simply burning players out and seeing them hunt for something with more definite (and artificial) purpose, but I suspect we’ll get more than enough out of it first.

Every time I popped into a clothes shop and redesigned my character’s body and outfit as something yet more grotesque, performing flying tackles on passers-by was reinvigorated.

Every time I time I used the All Purpose Mollusc Launcher to turn a machinegun-wielding policeman into a halfwit alternately drunk-staggering aimlessly and taking potshots at his mates it turned a massive stand-off into a giggly farce.

Every time I found the vehicle that let me suck up pedestrians then launch them into the skies from a giant cannon I wanted to do it again.

Saints Row: The Third is what anti-game lobbyists think all games are like, and it knows it and makes light of it. Saints Row is what Postal thinks it’s like, but so absolutely cartoonish about it that somehow the sadism evaporates. There are so many nasty things in it, but somehow it’s not a nasty game. It’s celebratory – celebratory about videogames and the possibilities thereof – no matter if what they can depict can often be totally pointless. The point is they can. It’s a miracle Saints Row exists. I don’t want any other game to be like it. I want Saints Row to be singular in its glorious craziness, undiluted by the presence or threat of rivals.

I’m not altogether sure I didn’t just dream playing it, to be honest.

Saints Row: The Third, if really does exist and isn’t just the fevered fantasy of a madman, will be released this November.

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53 Comments »

  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Now the burning question will it actually be playable on pc at launch or will it be another horribly bugged to death game?

    • 7rigger says:

      I bought Saints Row 2 on sale a couple of days ago, and I’d be happy enough to see them drop the awful Gamespy multiplayer.

      I’d rather have a buggy mp game than one I simply cannot play, no matter how hard I try :(

    • Alegis says:

      At least they’re making the PC version in-house this time around – and SR3 uses steamworks

    • 7rigger says:

      Steamworks you say? Thank you kind sir, you have just made my day! :D

    • oceanclub says:

      Ditto. I bought the game for almost-new price on strength of either a RPS or PCG review and was shocked at how technically abysmal it was, so I’m VERY skeptical of number 3.

      P.

    • Foo says:

      On the offchance that you guys don’t know about it, Saints Row Power Tools turns the screwed up PC port into something playable. You may need to also dial down some of the graphics effects if you experience hitching.

      The PC port for SR2 was still inexcusably shoddy.

  2. Davee says:

    This seems so wrong. Yet, as you say, that may be what causes it to become so right.

    But my autumn gaming budget is already stretched. Probably won’t pick this up until later, if ever.

  3. Asskicker says:

    Haha, am really looking forward to this! I do hope it doesn’t run like Saints Row II did though, my machine couldn’t even run at on low, and it could run Crysis on High.

  4. Stevostin says:

    That’s a hell of a sales speach. How is the PC port ?

  5. McDan says:

    Sounds great, I know I for one will be going around on jetbikes, weaving through houses and pretending I’m in a heavily industrialised endor. Oh, and also kicking lots of people in the groin, lots of people.

  6. Kollega says:

    Ah, Saints Row. After reading all this, i honestly don’t even know what to say. Obviously, if it’s an actualization of what we think the previous Saints Row games were, as opposed to what they actually were, it will be a blast to play.

    I recall the last time i’ve played Saints Row 2. I’ve dressed my character up as Andrew Ryan and went on a rampage against police helicopters while i (myself, not my character) shouted ridiculous, over-the-top insults and boasts to said helicopters. And if SR3 will actively facilitate this sort of madness rather than just leave it as an option, then i’m all for it even if it’s pointless. Dressing up in a cat fursuit and firing myself out of the cannon into a military blockade, then proceeding to mow everyone down with a pair of infinite-ammo, holo-sighted, gold-plated heavy machine pistols while quoting Billy Mays sounds like a fun enough idea.

    Also, regarding one of the screenshots: a jetbike? Really? The VTOL jets with microvave lasers were crazy enough, but this places the game squarely in the cyberpunk-ish territory. Which you don’t often see combined with giant dildo bats, clown suits, and man-cannons, to say the least.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      So… Star Wars is cyberpunk? Don’t quite get your point there.

    • Kollega says:

      I consider Saints Row: The Third to be (vaguely) cyberpunk because it’s not space-future like Star Wars, but contemporary setting – yet it has some blatantly futuristic technology in use. What makes it not just “twenty minutes into the future” but cyberpunk, though, is that “criminals-as-celebreties” shtick the game uses and a gladiatorial TV show as a side activity.

    • yhancik says:

      I think some might question your definition of “cyberpunk”.

    • Kollega says:

      Well, okay. It’s not cyberpunk, not in a traditional sense. The point i’m trying to get across is that it’s cyberpunk-ish. Sure, it’s not Neuromancer or Deus Ex, but certain themathic elements do have a hint of cyberpunk on them. DAT HOVERJET TECHNOLOGY, mainly.

      On second thought, whatever. Nobody is going to cut me some slack when i am misusing a term that seems so incredibly respected and well-established just to get a fairly muddy analogy across. Which is really a bit sad.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      Star Wars is cyberpunk. You have the cybers and the punks, and they’re fighting. That’s sort of the entire point of the genre.

    • squareking says:

      Kollega: I get you.

      *hug*

  7. Dobalina says:

    The Aristocrats!

  8. LionsPhil says:

    But is there going to be a demo?

    • Brumisator says:

      If there isn’t, you can play it as a free trial on onlive.

    • LionsPhil says:

      While that does resolve “is it fun?”, it doesn’t tackle “will it run on my mechanised thinking box?”

  9. JostVice says:

    I just hope the driving is allright. All SR2 was lacking was a nice handling.

  10. MuscleHorse says:

    Shame Game did their usual bullshit towards the PC collective by having it pulled off of Steam.

  11. sasayan says:

    I was so busy laughing at the second screenshot that I almost couldn’t finish the article. If SR3 does turn out to be some fever dream, I hope it’s a delirium we can all share.

  12. Spacewalk says:

    More games like this please, developers.

  13. henben says:

    So what’s the deal with the man cannon being a pre-order item? If you don’t pre-order, do you have to buy it separately or unlock it somehow? Will you be able to buy it on day one, or do we just not know at this point?

    I am secretly a console toy owner – don’t tell Alec – so if this question doesn’t apply to the PC version, I apologise. I would be interested to know the answer anyway. I very rarely see DLC being used for an item (as opposed to an expansion) which seems like it would actually affect how you play the game. (The only counterexample I can think of is the extra weapons/vehicles pack for Far Cry 2).

    • Matt says:

      Just Cause 2 had some game-changing weapons & vehicles available as DLC.

    • henben says:

      Oh yeah – I think I actually downloaded a hovercraft or something. Anyway, I guess nobody knows the deal with this mancannon thing?

    • henben says:

      I don’t see why games have to include mancannon romance etc etc

    • lokimotive says:

      From what I’ve heard, the pre-order just gives you a man cannon in the garage from the beginning, while the non pre-order still has the man cannon, but it’s just wandering ’round town like all the other vehicles.

  14. Zabinatrix says:

    Regarding Saint’s Row 2… What bothered me the most about the shoddy PC-port was Volition’s response to the criticism. After I bought it way back when it was new, the Saint’s Row 2 forums at Volition were of course filled with people unhappy with the port. But the people from Volition didn’t have anything to say to indicate that they had done anything wrong.

    First they replied with a lot of “Well, your computer is obviously not good enough, you should really read the Recommended Requirements instead of Minimum Requirements next time you buy a game!” Of course, at the time I had well over the recommended requirements and it still didn’t run well for me. And a game should be playable on the minimum requirements anyway. And, the game still doesn’t run well on hardware that is modern today.

    After a while they had too many with top of the line computers complaining, so I guess their “Well your computer is too slow”-excuse felt a bit bad to use. Then they took out two of their other favorite excuses that I saw a lot.

    First it was “Well, you have to understand that it’s hard to release a game for PC – there is so much different hardware, and the game does run fine on some computers.” Yeah, sure, it’s hard to code a game that works well on every computer. But if you can’t handle that (or in this case can’t hire people who can handle that), then you shouldn’t release a game for PC at all. I hate it when games don’t get a PC release, but I’d still rather see them say “No, we can’t make a decent PC-game, so we won’t release one”.

    And the second favorite thing for them to say was something about “Well you can’t blame us! We didn’t do the port!” Sure, no, but I think that the people at Volition (or at least THQ, and I think they had some representative at that forum too) had some say in when the port was ready for release. They shouldn’t have approved and published a game that doesn’t work.

    And finally, when I stopped visiting the forum, they had stopped with excuses and were just saying “This forum isn’t meant to just be a place where you complain about this. Please stop talking about it – people want to talk about other things too.”

    Fair enough wanting one topic not to be present in every thread, but the way it was expressed was basically a “You’ve said what’s bothering you, so shut up now ok?” – as if it’s a good idea to just shut up after you’ve been sold shoddy merchandise and the company hasn’t even really admitted that it’s shoddy.

    Wow, this got long, really sorry. I just thought I’d say why I won’t buy Saint’s Row 3 – at least not at full price. Even if they’re doing the port themselves now, I don’t trust that they actually care about PC gamers.

    • Dominic White says:

      Volition didn’t do the port for SR2. It was outsourced. Apparently, the Red Faction: Armageddon port is great, though, as they did it in-house.

      Still, while Volition make good games, they have…. Issues. During a dev Q&A they outright lied about what the RF:G difficulty settings changed (you just have less health, and items cost more), claiming that it would be a much fuller package. They also get very, very defensive (and angry, apparently) if you suggest that they could have given the player a ‘respawn world’ cheat/feature in RF:G. Especially weird, considering some story missions already do that, so the functionality already exists…

      So, yeah, looking forward to SR3, but I think I’ll wait for the dust to settle and for the bullshit to fade before I buy it.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      Yeah, sounds as if one should wait for the first reviews and user reports. I mean, that is always a good idea, but seems to be especially true in this case. Oh, and a demo would be ace. Given their history in these things, Volition could really convince people with showing them that the game works fine on their machine.

  15. Urthman says:

    It still makes me really sad that Alec and other people writing about this game have to be half-apologetic for the fact that it is silly and crazy and doesn’t worry about making sense or having everything fit into rigorous world-building and plot-writing.

    If you’d asked me 20 years ago, I would’ve guessed that by 2010 crazy games like this that use the ability of computer graphics to do anything, unbounded by real-world constraints, would be more of the rule than the exception.

    I’m glad stuff like GTA4 exists, but if you ask me gaming needs a whole lot more robot unicorns flying on rainbows and a lot fewer gritty sewers and realistic shotguns.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      Voice of Ron Perlman: “Robot Unicorns. Robot Unicorns never change.”

    • Erd says:

      You’re right, of course. I look at some of the absurd games of the nineties like the simcity hell/heaven simulator “Afterlife” and wonder where all the risk taking and unbridled creativity went.

  16. Moonracer says:

    November is going to be a very short month this year :/

  17. Acorino says:

    >>Is this the real life?

    Is this just fantasy?

  18. ColOfNature says:

    My new favourite word: “devestatated”. (Oh thanks, fix it and make me look like I’m talking nonsense why don’t you. I’m still gonna use it, I’m just not going to credit you with it’s invention, so nyer.)

    Back OT, though: is it worth picking up any of The Third’s predecessors? I’m looking forward to this lunacy, but “busywork” sounds like hard work. Er. Yes. So? Still worth a looksee, or what?

  19. Baines says:

    So, basically Saints Row: The Third is as if the insanity of early arcade games was embraced and expanded with new technology, instead of using new technology to make games more realistic.

  20. Veeskers says:

    So is it true that this thing will have an ingame real-money item store, or was I misinformed?

  21. DaFishes says:

    Any sign of Tobias or Laura? Because they were comedy gold.

  22. LintMan says:

    This seems like it is what Just Cause 2 could have been if the developers had fully embraced the fun “agent of chaos” factor of that game.

  23. squidlarkin says:

    Squid aren’t crustaceans. They’re cephalopods. /pedant

  24. Nick says:

    Oh why can’t it be November tomorrow?

  25. shoptroll says:

    The question of whether or not the style and absurdity can carry the entire game to the end is why I’m most skeptical of it. It sounds fun, it looks fun, but I’m not sure I want to put $50 on a game without a demo or a strong developer pedigree.

    That and it looks like the squid gun and human-cannon vehicle Alec gushes about are linked to “free” pre-order DLC. Which I’m not a huge fan of unless there’s some confirmation that the DLC will be available post-launch or obtainable in game somehow.

    This game looks a lot of fun, I just keep wavering between “pre-order” and “wait for reviews” :(

  26. Squirrelfanatic says:

    After having watched the trailer again, I can’t help but wonder where the developers draw the line with the violence and the showcasing of questionable activities. I mean, if you are supposed to assault and kill pedestrians and litter the streets with human bodies for the sake of “teh lulz”, then why can’t you go ahead and snort cocaine off the sidewalk or make some quick cash as a pimp (or have a quick romance in public yourself)? Both are activities some people probably would find entertaining in a video game.

    I think I get the over-the-top-action-absurdity of the game (if this is possible) and I know that with videogames and black humor it is a matter of taste, but… Why go only half the way when you could have it all?

    • Dominic White says:

      Actually, in Saints Row 2, there was a prostitution minigame. Walk into any seedy back-alley toilet and attempt to please an unseen (but not unheard) punter by performing hilariously named sex-acts (out of sight) for cash.

      And in the name of equality, this was open to male, female, or anything-inbetween main characters.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      Well then, here’s hoping that the game lives up to their (the devs’) standards.