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The Games Of Christmas ’11: Day Nine

Would you like to join the PEN 1 5 club?

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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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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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