The Games Of Christmas ’11: Day Nine

By John Walker on December 9th, 2011 at 11:08 am.

Christmas, as we all know, is a time for stealing. Wait, taking? Giving? I forget. It’s also a time for building up toward for a ridiculously long time, leading to features that you even have to write on your day off. Not that I’m bitter. I’m not bitter. I’m bitter. So what’s behind the door today, children? Oh, you’ve already clicked, haven’t you?

It’s… Saints Row: The Third!

Throughout the development of Just Cause 2, I wrote again and again and again, words like:

“There’s only one way they can screw this up: not let you do the stuff the game says it will let you do. I wish this were as ridiculous a thing to say as it looks. But somehow almost every game that promises such amazing freedom to muck about releases itself with so many restrictions and conditions that you feel straight-jacketed. If Just Cause 2 can really be this enormous playground packed with the potential to tether everything to everything else, then make it explode, it will truly be one of the finest game toys ever made.”

And of course it wasn’t. Even though elsewhere I threatened to kick the developers knees if they let the game get in the way of the fun. I really must do that. But we’re not talking about Just Cause 2.

Because, out of nowhere really, Saints Row: The Third went and was the game I’d so desperately hoped Just Cause 2 would be. Not on the same scale (oh my goodness, please, Violition somehow team up with Avalanche and create a super-game!), but here the promise of fun was really delivered. JC2 remains a really fantastically fun game… until you reach the point where it isn’t any more. SR3 never reaches that moment, always making sure that no matter what scale of nonsense you attempt to launch on the city, it’ll let you have fun, and it’ll let you win.

The funny thing is, if anything SR3 is a far more rigid game. Of course the usual comparison is another certain game, but even though this is no properly open world, and is very disappointingly samey to rove and explore, it was to Avalanche’s game that my mind kept turning. Especially with Volition’s borrowing of the infinite parachutes.

Gosh, I’ve already written so much about SR3 that I fear I can only repeat myself at this point. And I still don’t feel the needs to rattle on about three foot purple dildos. The game is immature in a far more interesting way than that. It’s immature in an enormous way, with a barely comprehensible story (so many threads are forgotten by the end that the whole thing lies in a tangled heap on the floor) that revels in being enormously childish on such a grand scale. But essentially, it does this with real smarts.

That’s in a big part why this works, while the tawdry Postal series has always been such a damp squib. There are other reasons too, such as SR3′s tech being quite so solid, but largely the real maturity of skill behind its development is the foundation on which its scatological idiocy is built.

Although talking of poo, it really does feel a shame that nothing matching SR2′s shit-spraying missions. Oddly, some of the more dull side-games are carried over from the previous edition, but coating neighbourhoods in sewage is not. And while that’s not really very important, what’s sad is that they didn’t think of something even more superb/grotesque to replace it. Being forced to drive a tiger around in an open-topped sports car is funny… once. It’s hardly on the same level, though, and doesn’t bear the many repeats that are offered. While they focused on allowing you to have a smooth, rarely interrupted stream of unconscionable fun, to great effect, I think they almost forgot to be silly enough in some areas.

Not in the vehicles though. After the game’s peculiar foray into the world of virtual reality, any pretense at a suggest of real life is shed, and you find you’re able to drive around the world in pixel-built tanks, or 3D-rendered motorbikes. It’s that gleeful abandon that defines the game, so why not throw in hovering jet with lasers nice and early on? Other games would have been too scared to overly equip you. Saints Row: The Third says, “Sometimes it’s great fun to be over-equipped! Have fun!” And then make a joke about how that sounds like a reference to a penis.

It’s fun. And that’s incredibly important. A game dedicated to being fun, especially if it involves being gross.

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83 Comments »

  1. Prime says:

    Only pipped to game of the year by Skyrim, in my opinion. Superb. November has been a hell of a month for games!

    And how lovely to find a stable and attractive game engine powering it, Hopefully this brings to an end the era where all PC owners could do was moan about how shockingly poor the port of SR2 was. Saint’s Row is now a very credible PC experience. :)

  2. DigitalSignalX says:

    SR3 is the most pleasant surprise of the year. I expected it to just be a puerile version of GTA4, but it really just takes off and doesn’t even consider slowing down. Loading up a car you spent 20 minutes customizing with 3 of your gang members and listening to them talk smack while randomly executing people you drive by never gets old. Ever.

    I’m looking forward to future DLC, and more guns. Will definitely be doing another play through.

    • kikito says:

      “Loading up a car you spent 20 minutes customizing with 3 of your gang members and listening to them talk smack while randomly executing people you drive by never gets old. Ever.”

      In my case, Ever = 1 morning.

  3. Vexing Vision says:

    I am quite curiously waiting for a sale on this one. It’s definitely on my “buy when it’s around cheap”-list, and thankfully due to a significant amount of backlog, I feel no drive to buy and play it now.

    • Jhoosier says:

      I refuse to pay full price anymore, Even Deus Ex had me waiting for a sale. But this and Skyrim have been testing me. If I weren’t going on vacation soon and then upgrading the PC, I’d have bought them both by now.

  4. Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

    I must be seeing something you lot aren’t. SR3 is a kid’s game. It’s a game for children. This fact hit me in the face so hard within the first few minutes of playing it that it actually hurt.

    Some of you might argue that there’s nothing wrong with a game being childish, and that’s true to an extent, but let me counter with this: who among you over the age of let’s say 21 years old, still plays with lego?

    The game is childish. It revels in it’s own immaturity. It’s blatantly plastered all over the art direction. Great, so they got that going for them, at least it’s an identity. What bothers me most is the number of adults (and I know I’m gonna get flamed for this) who think this is a good game because it’s childish. Yep, not every game should be an epic novel of grand, sweeping epicness, but the indie market exists to fill the needs of those less committed to gaming.

    I can’t help but think that anyone over the age of 13 that likes this game has been let down by society. Plus, the driving is crap! What is wrong with you people?!?

    • ankh says:

      The driving is really really crap. You are more mature than everyone else, well done.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      Erm. I’m almost 40 and I play with legos. I keep them in a bowl in my desk. I also play lego video games.

    • Jumwa says:

      Proudly childish here.

      So much so I even bought the last Pokemon game.

      Also: the driving in SR3 is frakkin’ wicked. One of the first things my partner and I remarked on.

    • kikito says:

      Allow me:

      technic.lego.com

      mindstorms.lego.com

      There you go. You are welcome.

      Appart from the lego thing, I agree. This is a game that only a child would find fun. And there are better games for children out there.

    • Askeladd says:

      “The Real Life” is boring. It’s much too serious!
      Thank god games like SR3 exist.
      Why else should we play games anyway? Okay there are simulations, but I don’t consider those as real games.

    • Nallen says:

      I got lego on my 30th Birthday.

    • Squishpoke says:

      Okay, who let the grinch onto Rock Paper Shotgun?

    • thegooseking says:

      As all good bronies know, C.S. Lewis said, “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as merely a descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be grown up.”

      So there.

    • Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

      CS Lewis can hardly be referred to as a touchstone of sanity.

      Neither can I, but at least I have a point of reference that spans 4 decades of gaming.

      See, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, heck, even Bored of the Rings on the Speccy etc made infantile jokes, but they were adult jokes that kids at the time felt more sophisticated for being included in, rather than the love that Hollywood has these days to Adam Sandler-style gags that hit you over the head with their supposed punchline while leaving you in no doubt at all what they think of you.

    • Apples says:

      I agree, I think it is childish. SR2 on the other hand veered schizophrenically between being childish and incredibly dark (much like the main character) and was a much better game for it. I didn’t see the point of doing things in SR3 when it was basically an expensive equivalent of picking up a toy plane and swooping it around while making gun noises. Fine, okay, maybe that’s superficially fun for half an hour but it’s not satisfying or motivational in the way that burying someone alive is (…and in the game).

    • CaspianRoach says:

      It being a childish game does not take away well written dialogues, awesome vehicle handling and a well polished engine. It’s all I ever wanted from GTA4 and I got it. Praise Volition.

    • Koozer says:

      I’m 22 and still request LEGO for every single christmas.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Tempted to agree with Arbodnangle here, but Apples is closer to the truth.

      SR2 had a more diverse and interesting city. It was less generous with money, which upped the difficulty. It always made you feel you were capable of completing missions without going over the top with explosions, billions of deaths and generally feeling like you were the biggest bad-ass in the game. You were a bad-ass, but not completely unstoppable (unless one plays on Casual).

      SR3 has superior visuals, controls, driving and – thankfully – doesn’t suffer from Bad Port Syndrome. But it’s half the game. The plot stays firmly in “blow up half the fucking city in one go” territory, and always makes you feel that there is no need to progress because you already own skyscrapers, fancy cars, etc. Properties are far too cheap, money is too plentiful, and there just isn’t much to do in the city.

      And, frankly, the story isn’t quite as clever this time around. It feels like Modern Warfare 2, to SR2′s quietly confident “Modern Warfare”. Fun, but often nonsensical, over-the-top, and a bit dumb.

    • dan. says:

      . . . but the indie market exists to fill the needs of those less committed to gaming.

      Wait, what?

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Guys guys, if you replace every instance of “kid”/”children” with “adult” and vice versa, this post reads like a review of GTAIV. It’s awesome.

      Also, what the hell? I bet you hate Mario games too, you freak.

    • Urthman says:

      Nice troll. I thought you were serious until you said, “but the indie market exists to fill the needs of those less committed to gaming.”

      (Alternate reply: “CliffyB, stop using sock puppets.”)

    • Kadayi says:

      So basically you put no time into it and the extent of your erudite criticism is that you didn’t like the driving, and that anyone who likes this (IE disagrees with you) is somehow a child? A job writing for Destructoid surely beckons.

    • kio says:

      There are things I like and things I don’t like. What the hell is maturity?

    • Wulf says:

      I tend to be behind the whole ‘growing up seems to turn you into a stupendously boring person with no personality whatsoever’ ideal, too. Ex: Super Dinosaur is awesome.

      I have you all beat in this department. Though it may be more childlike wonder than specifically childish, per se. Though SR3 is good fun in that it makes it clear that it’s not just glorifying violence, it’s just being completely eccentric about every topic it can get its digital hands on, including violence. SR3 doesn’t give a damn. Sort of like Skyrim horses.

    • Tams80 says:

      You can take being an ‘adult’ (an abuse of the term) with you out of the door and leave me alone to enjoy myself. There are plenty of games out there that appeal to what appears to be your taste. ¬.¬

  5. coldvvvave says:

    They killed off best characrters/villians and left me with boring zero-dimensional Shaundi and kind of better, but not crazy enough Pierce. Also, there was not enough Zimos missions. And Sasha Grey didn’t have enough dialogue and her voice talent wasn’t handled properly, if you know what I mean.

    Still, probably GOTY.

  6. tungstenHead says:

    Even after I purchased the invulnerability stuff and the unlimited ammunition, I was still having fun just mucking about the city. I had actually planned not to buy the bullet damage immunity, but I was called to a survival mission against the mascots and I couldn’t help but melee kill every single one of them, and I needed the invulnerability to do so. So, completely breaking the game’s balance ended up making it *funner*. Rare achievement.

    • terry says:

      I think this is the key for why I found SR3 way more satisfying than GTA4. The GTA4 experience was driving your shit-hot motor up to a mission, being bundled into a mishandling pile of bolts and made to do a lengthy chase with no checkpoints. The SR3 equivalent is driving your shit-hot motor up to a mission, being given an even more ridiculous machine and being roughly propelled towards an explosion.

  7. coldvvvave says:

    Steve Blum as a zombie made me laugh.

  8. Jumwa says:

    Okie dokie. The site wont allow me to post my long and brilliantly thought-out remarks on Saints Row the Third (okay, they weren’t brilliant at all), it keeps refusing them like a book publisher.

    Anywho, to boil it down: wish it had come out some other time in the year, so I could enjoy it more fully, because putting it up against Skyrim, the only other game of the year to outdo it in the fun department, has been a challenge for me.

    Downside: the game has been suffering a lot of technical problems for us. Worse than Skyrim by far, tons of disconnects and wont allow us to reconnect if Steam is down.

    Edit to add: Apparently RPS’ comments don’t like me mentioning local area networks.

    • Squishpoke says:

      LAN? Don’t mind me, I’m testing. I’ve never been rejected by RPS’s fabled filter.

    • Jumwa says:

      Strange. The only thing I removed from my previous comment (and from the rejected one before that more or less) was a brief statement about LAN problems.

    • Wulf says:

      I have a solution to this. I wrote a script that puts [b][/b] in the middle of words that are longer than four characters. (Using proper HTML brackets, that is.) It hasn’t failed me yet. If I see a post eaten I just run it through that and it completely confounds their spam filter. I think the spambots which are entirely all too successful already use this trick.

  9. Radiant says:

    A wonderful game for sure.
    But I just wish it had San Andreas levels of variety.

    I jump into a taxi expecting SR levels of taxi missions and I get… nothing?
    Ok what about a police car… nothing?
    Fire engine… lets spray something with…nothing… I can’t even use the hose?!

    Still a lot of fun.

    And god damn it let me dress my character up properly.
    I want her to look like she stepped out of the sartorialist.
    Yet not even ONE decent skirt or dress.

    DLC clothing and random situational missions please!

    • Prime says:

      Point. The female clothing options were seriously poor, like they’d all been designed by a man. A straight man.

    • Radiant says:

      A straight man who didn’t even understand how is own cock worked.

    • Wulf says:

      …this explains why the game’s fashion sense went downhill since Saints Row 2. I was wondering if that was just me too, or whether others had noticed that everyone was suddenly wearing more boring clothes.

  10. Frantics says:

    It’s amazing, :)

  11. Quasar says:

    Day… Nine? And it wasn’t Starcraft II? I mean, sure, that came out last year, but I’d totally have done it anyway.

  12. CMaster says:

    Just played through it on OnLive, and it’s brilliant fun. It’s also got some bizzare flaws, mostly in the lack of links between some cutscenes and the following action, the slight lack of stuff to do (as others said, you sort of expect jumping in an ambulance or fire engine to trigger something) and the general story wobbles. The latter half of the game revolves (to an extent) around the Saints being framed for doing something bad in Stillwater – but nobody ever explains what the hell this was.

    • Apples says:

      They do explain… sort of. There’s a five-second scene of what you are being framed with – the three of you dancing in front of a clearly green-screened blown-up bridge, the bridge being the one that got blown up during the also incredibly badly explained funeral scene. It’s just nearly impossible to notice what the background is during that time because you’re looking at your guys dancing. Of course that still makes no sense because a) the Saints cause more damage than a blown-up bridge in five minutes of Mayhem, and b) It was so blatently fake that nobody would have believed it.

  13. malkav11 says:

    Saints Row the Third runs better, looks better, and is far more gleefully crazed than its predecessor. It’s also developed a few conveniences and whatnot that can be classed as improvements. I do love it. But…for all that it improves on SR2, it’s also a step backwards in significant respects. For example, in Saints Row 2, the radio kept going when you stepped out of your vehicle (or exited it via other means, such as the windshield) and you could still hear it within a limited range. Not so in Saints Row the Third, which cuts it off instantly the moment you get out of the car. This enormously cripples the enjoyment of the radio, especially in a game where you are almost immediately able to cruise around in ridiculously fast cars with nitro, helicopters, or VTOL jets. Your gang members are scarcely to be found around the city, whereas by late game in SR2 Saints were everywhere. (Apparently there’s some arcane mechanism where if you do absolutely everything that gains control % in random and ill-defined segments of the city, only then will the Saints spawn. I’ve never seen this happen myself.) They brought over some of the least enjoyable activities (Escort, for example) while skipping many of the best (Fuzz, for example). Only two of the new activities are any good long term – Professor Genki’s Super-Ethical Reality Climax is a hoot, and while Tank Mayhem has the longevity and challenge of a paralyzed fly, it’s always enjoyable to rampage with a tank. The plot missions are almost uniformly excellent (when they’re not simply forcing you into activities), but the plot itself routinely skips important contextual details and can’t be bothered to stick with any particular group of characters (other than, weirdly, Pierce. The game itself says “who gives a fuck about Pierce?” and we’re supposed to want to spend all our time with him?) for more than a couple of missions. Etc.

    • CMaster says:

      You start seeing Saints on the streets when you’ve got a reasonable amount of control of a district. You have to get above 80% or so before you start seeing more saints than Syndicate, and Saints numbers never match the numbers of the Syndicate before you start taking over.

    • Apples says:

      Double-tap the ‘get out of vehicle’ button and your vehicle will stay running, meaning the radio and engine stays on. No, they never tell you that. I have no Saints spawning in my game either, which means the Saint upgrades are useless. It’s really odd that they decided to double-up on several activity types (Escort/Tiger Escort, Trailblazing/whatever the Tron version is called, Mayhem/Tank Mayhem) rather than making ones with genuinely seperate mechanics. The Tron Trailblazing is really, really rubbish. I suppose Fuzz is sort of replaced with the phone calls but it doesn’t feel the same. Fuzz was a great activity as well because it told you lots about the sort of place Stillwater was: the cops, citizens and news companies were all corrupt and bloodthirsty, nevermind the gangs!

    • malkav11 says:

      I’ve heard all sorts of stories about what makes the Saints start appearing. They’re often contradictory, and I’ve been unable to verify them because the only way I’ve -ever- gotten Saints outside of a mission is by using the vehicle delivery or Saints Backup phone options. However it actually works, it’s pretty clearly bullshit compared to SR2, which had the clearly understandable mechanic of awarding you territory control (complete with patrolling Saints) after completing stronghold missions and some story missions.

      Thanks for the tip about leaving the radio on, though.

    • terry says:

      This is curious, because I’ve certainly had Saints vehicles come to help when I’ve been cleaning out gang operations. I did unlock the “call saints for backup” thing but never need to use it, as they come anyway. I’ve barely started the game too.

    • malkav11 says:

      They show up at the end of gang operations, yes (when it’s too late to be particularly useful). And during wave survival missions. But not during activities or generally.

  14. Buemba says:

    The THQ store is selling the game + the pre-order bonus + the season pass for US$ 49.99, which is mighty tempting, but I’m hoping the game will get even cheaper during the Steam sale.

  15. Okami says:

    I really can’t join in all the praise here. For me SR3 was by far the worst game I’ve played in a long time. I really like all the fluff, even though it’s really really immmature, childish and often downright stupid. But still I liked it. It’s stupid and offensive in a (mostly) funny way.

    But everything else was just atrociously bad. The city looks awful, there’s no real sense of place, no memorable architecture or landmarks. Driving is no fun. The car physics are bad. Flying is no fun. The enemy AI is just plain bad, the guns don’t feel good and don’t sound good, combat is no fun and no challenge. Character controls are sluggish. The driving AI is bad.

    It’s really just a bad game with bad controls and bad mechanics covered up with a nice, shiny coat of absurd and offensive comedy.

    I really wish I could permanently delete games from my steam list, because it sits there, glaring at me and reminding me of 50 wasted bucks.

  16. Wubbles says:

    I hate fun. Where’s my game?

  17. CMaster says:

    I forgot earlier to mention the really big technical flaw within the game – only the area within about 70m of you is consistent. Beyond this you watch people and vehicles spawn and disappear continuously. This reached its worst for me in the big final mission, where I was driving along the overpass and approaching enemy vehicles would vanish before reaching me, while sometimes new enemy vehicles would phase into existence right under my wheels.

  18. Juan Carlo says:

    Hmm……

    I really don’t think there are many games left that could be game of the year which I would agree with.

    Skyrim is OK, but very run of the mill as far as Bethesda goes. “Deus Ex 3,” again, is OK but I think you would be delusional to suggest that it’s in any way revolutionary. It’s a game designed for a console through and through, and the plot/writing/characterization are pretty cheesy at times.

    I think all I have left to cheer for now is “Frozen Synapse.” I wonder if it will succeed?

  19. AchronTimeless says:

    I just have to comment in order to applaud the use of the phrase “damp squib” even though I don’t agree that the Portal series would qualify for it. That just left me jawdropped for a few minutes. Finally, my childhood obsession for learning about the special effects industry paid off!

    • Buttless Boy says:

      He said “Postal”, not “Portal”.

      I agree though, fuck John. Postal 2 was a masterpiece, like Lloyd Kaufman made a video game or some shit.

    • shitflap says:

      I assume that you ain’t british, because it’s pretty common over here, (probably the naval history or something)
      (I’m not meaning to sound like an arsehole, honestly, but I can’t edit it correctly to seem any less pedantic or smug, I’m sorry).

  20. Wisq says:

    I played Saints Row 2 a few years back and loved it.

    I played Saints Row The Third as soon as it came out. It was likeable enough, but it really didn’t feel like it measured up to SR2, and I had a lonnnng list of issues with it.

    I’m now replaying Saints Row 2, and boy does SR3 definitely not measure up.

    1. The pacing is all wrong. They front-load the crazy action sequences into the first mission. And then the follow-up missions? Utterly mundane. In fact …

    2. Half the missions are just “level 0″ of the Activities you can do around town at any time, and even direct you to one of the town instances if you want to do more at the end. Minigames aren’t missions, and in most cases, they don’t really integrate with the plot very well. (It also doesn’t help that most of them are the exact same as the SR2 activities.)

    3. The story is very badly unfocused. I’m not talking about the “multiple storylines” thing since SR2 did that too. But in SR2, you went to a particular gang icon, and you knew exactly which gang (and hence, storyline) you’d be doing next. In SR3, you talk to people on your phone to start missions, and it’s not always clear what gang you’re going to be attacking — usually there’s a particular NPC associated with a particular gang, but they seem to like to shuffle them around just to screw with you. So it’s like “storyline roulette” and makes it hard to focus on any given part of the story.

    4. The city takeover system sucks. In SR2, you took over the city one small neighbourhood at a time, and almost every single plot mission resulted in taking one over, plus you could hit the optional Strongholds at any time after a certain mission. Taking them over took the enemy off the street and put your guys on them instead, gave you regular cash, and let you buy out businesses for more cash. In SR3, completing a mission or activity bumps the “control” percentage up by a few percentage points. Most boring takeover system ever.

    5. The city itself feels smaller, and while I don’t have a specific means of measurement to see if that’s true, it’s definitely way more bland and homogeneous. You can look around in Saints Row 2 and generally know at least what neighbourhood you’re in, if not the exact place (some have pretty memorable layouts).

    6. The missions are horribly scripted. For a game about freedom, the mission events are horribly restrictive. You must take their chopper (strategically parked ten blocks away), rather than your own (better) one; get down to the ground level and “rescue” Pierce, even though he’s tootling around with no enemies anywhere in sight (since you sniped them all from your much better position); pick up the sniper rifle in the bedroom, even though you own one already and have already killed all the enemy snipers; etc etc. Even the incidental mission chatter is completely broken. “Want to listen to some music?” says my character, after we’ve been listening to the radio the whole way. “MIND KEEPING IT DOWN OUT THERE?” shouts FBI girl, when everyone’s been dead for ages and I’m just standing around watching her hack.

    7. This one is a shared complaint between SR2 and SR3: Why can’t I get a car from the garage during a mission? The difference here is, SR2 let you call up the Vehicle Delivery hotline as often as you wanted, while SR3 seems to put a respawn timer on it. So it’s still a point against SR3.

    8. Lack of continuity in the plot. So at one point the cops completely destroy one of your safehouses. We’re talking about pretty much “nuke it from orbit” destruction here. Where does the mission put you afterwards? In the lobby of that safehouse building. What do you see if you saunter over to the elevator and head back up? Your safehouse, perfectly intact, completely untouched, with people still chilling on the sofas etc.

    9. The economics are completely unbalanced. You can (and should) buy every property ASAP. They give you 10% of their cost per hour, which basically means 10% hourly compounding interest. And you can buy all of them before even doing your first gang mission (after the prologue). Now, yes, SR2 had regular cash + purchasable businesses, but it was 4% revenue per day, and you couldn’t buy anything before you controlled a neighbourhood, and you couldn’t control a neighbourhood until you’d done the appropriate plot mission / stronghold. SR3 makes you infinitely rich before the game even begins. Maybe that’s part of the “we’re celebs now” thing, but given that upgrades are paid for in cash and not (say) respect, it makes things a little lopsided. (“Oh, I just got another 100k while doing that mission. Do I have any upgrades I haven’t purchased yet? No? Ah well.”)

    10. The Activities are pretty much pointless. A little cash and respect, a couple of percentage points towards controlling the neighbourhood. That’s it. Most of them are the same old SR2 activities (minus some of the funnier ones), and the new ones like Genki are just “meh”. (Plus they don’t give you an opening “here’s why you’re doing this” cutscene to put them in context any more.) SR2′s activities were how you unlocked the best bonuses in the game; now that’s just a boring Upgrade Store model (with infinite cash per above).

    11. Speaking of which, SR3 has a “complete this entire neighbourhood” upgrade, which can be bought in the store and/or earned in a plot mission. It marks everything in that neighbourhood as complete and lets you skip all the activities etc. A “push here to win” button, essentially. I guess the devs didn’t really care about the activities either, huh?

    12. They wrecked Shaundi’s character. Okay, this one is a subjective “personal taste” thing, but SR2 Shaundi was cool and froody. SR3 Shaundi is barely distinguishable from my other gang members, both visually and in her (lack of) personality. I suspect they were trying to “sexy her up” or something, but honestly, she spent the entire game just making me wish she had died in the opening mission instead of Gat. (On the other hand, if she had, they probably would’ve wrecked Gat’s character instead.)

    13. The radio in SR2 was awesome, full of great tunes all around (mostly licensed ones). They even had your character singing along to “Take On Me” (all six character voices!). Whereas I can’t remember a single SR3 radio tune.

    In summary: Saints Row 3 feels like it was rushed, badly designed, lower budget, and listening to the wrong focus groups (if any). Maybe that just means I’m not the demographic they were aiming for, but they hit my tastes so well with Saints Row 2, and it’s just so weird that Saints Row 3 is so incredibly off-target by comparison.

    • Apples says:

      Yes to everything you said. Regarding it feeling like it’s aimed at the wrong focus groups, I found it bizarre that the ‘theme’ of the game was that selling out, losing your soul and producing stupid things for idiots (Gangstas in Space) was bad – yet that was basically what the game had done. Assumed that people loved the dumbest parts of the game, hired celebrities and porn stars, tried to appeal to a huge lowest-common-denominator audience. Even weirder that the final mission if you choose the happy ending IS the stupid thing for idiots that the Boss initially had refused to do, and you’re supposed to enjoy it. As if the game is going “Hah, there you go, you fool – that’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? Laser guns and explosions. ENJOY IT.” And yet that level of self-awareness isn’t actually there like it was in SR2. It’s a confusing message.

    • Wisq says:

      What’s interesting is how the two games basically get the same scores on Metacritic (minus 10% for the Saints Row 2 PC port being pretty shoddy), and SR3 actually comes out slightly on top. I’m not sure whether that speaks to the “7 to 9 rating system” hypothesis, or to the fact that many of the critics / players hadn’t played SR2 to compare it against. (Or again, that I’m somehow wrong, or no longer in the target demographic.)

      It’s not unusual for a sequel to be a minor improvement over the prior acclaimed game and get a lower score just because it’s no longer pushing the boundaries at all. It’s pretty weird to have a sequel be demonstrably worse than the prior game and get pretty much the same score (or slightly higher, even).

    • Buttless Boy says:

      As a huge fan of the game, I will address each of your points, because I have too much time on my hands.

      1. The pacing is all wrong.
      While the pacing is far from perfect, I’d heavily disagree that the best/most outlandish missions are at the beginning. The VR mission finishing the second act is arguably the most entertaining in the game, and once STAG arrives things ramp up to the levels of the (admittedly rarely equaled) intro missions.

      2. Half the missions are just “level 0″ of the Activities you can do around town at any time,
      Agreed. This was disappointing.

      3. The story is very badly unfocused. I’m not talking about the “multiple storylines” thing since SR2 did that too. But in SR2, you went to a particular gang icon, and you knew exactly which gang (and hence, storyline) you’d be doing next. In SR3, you talk to people on your phone to start missions, and it’s not always clear what gang you’re going to be attacking — usually there’s a particular NPC associated with a particular gang, but they seem to like to shuffle them around just to screw with you. So it’s like “storyline roulette” and makes it hard to focus on any given part of the story.
      Huh? The story had plenty of problems, but I never had trouble understanding which gang I was going after. Sorry sir or ma’am, but I believe this one is all you.

      4. The city takeover system sucks.
      I do miss SR2′s stronghold missions, but other than that this feels like a decent replacement. Neither was as good as San Andreas’s takeover system, but that’s probably because I got to use a jetpack for those.

      5. The city itself feels smaller, and while I don’t have a specific means of measurement to see if that’s true, it’s definitely way more bland and homogeneous.
      I think this is the most valid complaint a person can make about this game. The city is boring. I love the game, but the setting blows.

      6. The missions are horribly scripted.
      Yeah, but I played this after Skyrim so “bad mission scripting” seemed like a relative thing. It’s never so bad that it breaks anything, and the checkpoints are frequent enough to limit any frustration.

      7. This one is a shared complaint between SR2 and SR3: Why can’t I get a car from the garage during a mission?
      This would be nice, but it’s a feature request, not a criticism. You should talk to the dudes at the modding forums though, it’s a good idea.

      8. Lack of continuity in the plot. So at one point the cops completely destroy one of your safehouses. We’re talking about pretty much “nuke it from orbit” destruction here.
      I think I remember what you’re talking about, but it seemed to me more like a “blow some stuff up” than a “totally level the place” to me. Still, it was odd.

      9. The economics are completely unbalanced.
      They also give you a weapon that calls down missiles from the sky in like, the second mission. EVERYTHING is unbalanced. It’s the point of the game.

      10. The Activities are pretty much pointless. A little cash and respect, a couple of percentage points towards controlling the neighbourhood. That’s it. Most of them are the same old SR2 activities (minus some of the funnier ones), and the new ones like Genki are just “meh”.
      They’re pointless in most games, but in this one they’re (mostly) fun. Also, the Genki ones are great, you are crazy.

      11. Speaking of which, SR3 has a “complete this entire neighbourhood” upgrade, which can be bought in the store and/or earned in a plot mission.
      It also has an upgrade that makes you invincible to bullets. What’s your point?

      12. They wrecked Shaundi’s character.
      I thought they expanded her character nicely. I liked what they did (although I missed her old pseudo-Jamaican style a bit). She was more than a walking slut joke.

      13. The radio in SR2 was awesome, full of great tunes all around (mostly licensed ones). They even had your character singing along to “Take On Me” (all six character voices!). Whereas I can’t remember a single SR3 radio tune.
      Kinda agree, but this is mostly subjective and this time they had a singalong to a Sublime song. I really miss the easy listening station though, that was hilarious and surprisingly catchy.

    • Wisq says:

      Huh? The story had plenty of problems, but I never had trouble understanding which gang I was going after.

      No, once the mission starts, obviously it’s clear who you’re attacking. But let’s assume for a moment that your preferred style of playing is to take out one gang first, then move on to the next, in series. You can choose any gang you want at any time, but generally you’ve just finished some mission in which either you’ve struck a major blow against a particular gang (and you want to follow up) or they’ve performed a nasty retaliation (and you want to strike back at them).

      In Saints Row 2, it’s easy. “I’m doing the Ronin right now. Go to the yellow icon.”

      In SR3, it’s “hmm, which one of my phone NPCs attacks the Deckers? It’s usually Kinzie, but no, she’s on my phone for some other gang mission” etc. If you want to go after a particular gang, you’re stuck with guesswork / trial-and-error (abort mission and retry) until you happen to make the right phone call. The result? You tend to just go with whatever phone calls are available at random / on a whim, meaning the story loses a lot of the focus that SR2 had.

      It also doesn’t help that most of the SR2 missions were about striking at gangs, while most of the SR3 missions seemed to be about building your power base. SR2 had some pretty engaging storylines — the Ronin kiling Aisha and crashing her funeral, the mercy killing of Carlos and the revenge crushing of Jessica, etc.

      In SR3, I barely remember WTF happened aside from “the Syndicate busted up our bank robbery, we had a battle on a jet, and sometime later, I confronted the Deckers dude in cyberspace and Kill Bain in the ring and we blew up an aircraft carrier”. A random string of missions and events with no real connectivity. Maybe that’s a failing of my memory, but the mission system (above) and the meaningless time-wasted “level 0″ activity missions really didn’t help.

      It also has an upgrade that makes you invincible to bullets. What’s your point?

      I know. I didn’t include that on my list, because invulnerability can be fun, some of the time. That’s why we have cheat codes and/or on-the-fly adjustable difficulty levels. Granted, having what amounts to a cheat code (invincibility) enabled all the time with no option to turn it off is a bit “meh”, but at least that feature adds something.

      The “complete a neighbourhood” button? That’s like the opposite of fun. That’s “let’s just skip all that content for the sake of increasing a percentage number to 100%”. It makes all the activities even more worthless. The satisfaction of completing Level 6 of an activity, or completing a long list of Hitman or Chop Shop targets, and getting a great bonus? Gone. Now it’s just “oh look, I can buy that upgrade with my infinite cash, yawn”.

      This would be nice, but it’s a feature request, not a criticism.

      The criticism is that they didn’t improve this from SR2 — in fact, they made it worse, by taking the one thing that made it only mildly annoying (infinite free vehicle deliveries) and put a cooldown on it. Also, by increasing dramatically the amount of driving you would need to do per mission — including the driving just to start the mission, with the target only revealed once you start it — thus making the absence / loss of a particularly good custom vehicle all the more painful.

      While the pacing is far from perfect, I’d heavily disagree that the best/most outlandish missions are at the beginning.

      Perhaps, but it does make the sudden drop from “I’m parachuting THROUGH A PLANE!” to “I’m doing some mundane activities disguised as missions” extremely jarring, and most of the post-prologue missions feel incredibly pointless after that kind of crazy introduction.

      Also, the Genki ones are great, you are crazy.

      It’s an obstacle course. Where you shoot people. There were better strongholds than that in SR2.

    • malkav11 says:

      Are there missions that don’t let you take vehicles from the garage? I mostly don’t think I bothered to try, but the final mission definitely let me go back down and pull my laser-bedecked experimental death tank out of the garage. Made it much easier, lemme tell ya.

    • Wisq says:

      Some of my complaints may have been patched out shortly after launch. My friend reported that the mission with the broadcast towers didn’t force him to use the chopper. Maybe they now let you visit the garage during missions, which would be a huge improvement if it’s the case for most / all missions now.

  21. FriendlyFire says:

    With three fun diversions under their belt (and I’m rather tempted to get SR3 when it hits its first sale), I wonder if Volition could go back to their roots and make Freespace 3 already…

  22. Kadayi says:

    Probably the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. I was rather hoping that it was going to be a surprise Day 24 tbh, and push aside the behemoths of Skyrim & DX:HR but that’s probably asking a lot (still Giantbomb might yet make it their GOTY). Perfect? No. However it carves it’s own space and albeit perhaps lacking some of the budget of other titles is a really engaging & memorable gaming experience.

  23. John P says:

    “If Just Cause 2 can really be this enormous playground packed with the potential to tether everything to everything else, then make it explode, it will truly be one of the finest game toys ever made.”

    And of course it wasn’t.

    It kinda was though. Maybe the grappling rope thing wasn’t exploited as fully as it should have been, and difficulty was a bit of an issue (you had to play on Easy to get the best experience), but Just Cause 2 did a fantastic job of allowing the insanity to persist and continue. The grappling hook and parachute were very well designed, allowing you to escape from any number of crazy situations and keep on going. The game did fluid destruction better than any open world game I’ve played.

    I haven’t played SR3 so I don’t know if it’s better in the regard, but JC2 is probably the best realisation of the GTA3 formula I’ve played (i.e. insane sandbox, not the super serious emotional man against the world stories that GTA has sadly become now).

    • malkav11 says:

      I dunno. Just Cause 2 had one note, and that note was explosions. Well, two. Explosions and grapple-hooking. And, I mean, those are good notes, done well…but that was all it had.

    • Wisq says:

      The grapple was such a game-changer, though. I mean, playing open-world games like Saints Row 2 or 3, I’m like … I want that vehicle. How do I get that vehicle? Well, shoot the driver. Or, stand in front of it, hope they stop to avoid hitting me, and hijack them. Or follow them and wait for them to stop. Or blow out all their tires, have them crash into something, and have to take the vehicle for repairs before it’s very usable. Eh.

      Not to mention that when I first started flying everywhere for fun in SR2/3, I frequently tried to park my chopper on convenient flat rooftops, forgetting that I had no way to get back up there. And if I crash it, so what? Piss off some guys, have them send a chopper after me, grapple to it, kill the pilot …

      Grappling just makes you feel like you can go anywhere, do anything, and going back to “just a dude on the ground” feels so mundane afterwards.

  24. Dhatz says:

    I roleplayed Rarity in this!(including awesome fashion and a blue diamond decolt tat)
    Not only she’s the gangsta pony, but the only remotely doable with the voiceovers, colors and hairstyles.

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