Have You Played… Saints Row: The Third?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Saints Row 2 is my favourite of the series for sandbox crimes, and obviously Saints Row IV is the best superhero game ever made, but what about Saints Row: The Third [official site] there in the middle? Well, it suffers in comparison to either, but there are worse things to be than the third-best game in a cracker of a series.

Saints Row: The Third, right, is an open-world crime gang simulator. You and your crimechums (both virtual and, if you have one, a co-op pal) run and drive and fly around the place, shooting other gangs and pedestrians and policepeople and getting up to no good. If you like open-world crimes, hey, they’re fun stuff! It’s got some great set pieces, snatches of marvelous spectacle, but… it’s a bit zany, isn’t it? Little bit wacky?

With luchadores and zombies (remember zombies, yeah?) and Burt Reynolds and celebrity Saints and all that, it comes out ‘random’. It’s a mish-mash of Things Which Are Funny, Aren’t They? which ends up tiresome. Saints Row 2 is daft, of course, and IV is full-on ridiculous, but The Third occupies an uncomfortable ground between the two, not quite working – kooky.

I don’t dig its open world or feel much a part of it, which is pretty bad for an open-world game. Much of the city is uninteresting, and splitting it up with so many bridges is irritating when they end up permanently raised. Yet cars keep ploughing into the bridges and exploding – just one way the simulation’s naff (which, again, works in SRIV because cyberspace antics push the idea so far). And I miss Saints Row 2’s squillion dress-up options.

But it has lots of open-world crimes, and we don’t see many open-world crimes games, and they’re mostly fun crimes. Being the third-best game in a great series isn’t bad.


  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    Saint Row The Third was fun, but after that I played Saints Row 2 and now I don’t find it so fun in comparison.
    There’s this whole “Silly silliness and Real Silliness” Debate about the games. Saint’s Row The Third is much more outright silly, while as Saint’s Row 2 was more serious which made the silly moments funnier.
    I do still think we need a new Saint’s Row game that would be like Saint’s Row 2, maybe it could be after the non-canonical “Gritty revenge” alternate ending in The Third. I don’t know.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah. SR2 had contrast. A lot of the main mission narrative is pretty bleak gangster revenge film, and it manages to pull it off…same kind of way Max Payne could have gravitas when it wanted to, and yet also chew whole soundstages worth of scenery. The Brotherhood missions in particular have some pretty sombre moments—then you go and spray poo on things while dressed in a hawaiian shirt. There’s more to it than the sequels, too; more varied map, more varied pedestrians (skaters!), more activity types…

      It’s by far the best game of 2/3/4, crying out for a heap of technical fixing in this re-release-happy world in which we live.

      • Risingson says:

        I only played some minutes, back then, finding out that my pc was bad enough to make this game unplayable. But oh god how I laughed. Max Payne is an apt comparison: a game that is straight and satire at the same time. It makes me remember why I love pieces where the tone is all over the place like Hudson Hawk

      • TheTingler says:

        You may be thinking of more, but the GOG version’s been fixed. The Steam version is unplayable.

        • Neurotic says:

          It works perfectly with The Gentlemen of The Row patch. I run it on Windows 7 no problem, although for some reason it won’t run on Win 10 for me.

      • April March says:

        SR2 didn’t have contrast. The first Saints’ Row had contrast. SR2 had an incongruous mercy-killing scene in the middle of a game about voodoo dolls and radioactive tattoos.

  2. Xocrates says:

    It’s the game that made me a fan of the series.

    I utterly despised 2. To the point it has become the only game I’ve ever rage uninstalled – and one I’ve refused to go back to ever since – and made me avoid this one for far longer than it should.

    I don’t agree that it fell in an “uncomfortable” ground between 2 and 4.
    I felt the humor/serious balance in 2 was seriously fucked up, and ended up being one major reason for my hate for it, I never knew when I was supposed to laugh because it was a coin toss if the game was going for slapstick of outright psychopathy.
    One can argue that 3 went too far in the other direction by never being serious, but frankly it was what made the game work so well. It was a game whose only purpose was to be fun, and it succeeded at it.

    • keefybabe says:

      I’m with you. 2 never really hit it with me but 3 made me rip laughing. Not as much as 4 mind… To me each one has got better (if we pretend gat out of hell doesn’t exist)

    • basilisk says:

      Yeah, I agree with you. I’m one of those who think it’s SR2 whose tone was all over the place, and that SR3 mostly got it right. (And SR4 decided to just ignore everything and make the comedy game they clearly wanted to do in the first place, and I’m very grateful for that, even if the gameplay can drag a bit.)

      SR2 was stuck halfway between carelessly cheerful and openly, unpleasantly sadistic, whereas in SR3 even the uglier bits were funny and so lost the ugly edge.

      It would be nice to have a hypothetical SR game with the sheer scope of SR2 and the tone of SR4, because it’s pretty obvious that both 3 and 4 had to cut a lot of corners to get made. And SR3 is perhaps closer to this ideal than the others.

      • LionsPhil says:

        I suspect preference for that “ugly edge” in comedy is the defining point between if someone prefers 2 or 3.

        (I still don’t get how people can like 4 more, though, when it axed most of the character interaction [for the most part fellow Saints are reduced to a voice-in-the-ear, and even that gets skipped if you’ve done side missions beforehand; there is exactly one antagonist of note and much as you might like Zinyak, he can’t carry against the varied other factions in previous games], rendered half the game pointless with superpowers, and simultaneously fell apart into lolrandum even harder while trapping you in a permagloomy, glitchy world.)

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Agreed. See I felt that 4 went past the silliness threshold. I know everyone has a boner for super-heroes at the moment but I really don’t. I disliked the nonsense of jumping over buildings and whatnot. Just not as enjoyable as 3 which got the balance just right imo.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Yup. Surprised to find out there’s even much debate about this being the best of the series. 2 is a janky, mean-spirited, Edgy(TM) adolescent mess, and 4, while supposedly a power fantasy, is just a sprawling collection of minigames in a sci-fi skin.

      3 has balance and progression, which is what made it the real power fantasy of the series. It isn’t just “OK, you’re President Neo now- GO!”, it’s slowly working your way up from potty-mouthed street tough to potty-mouthed badass with her own assault copter. And the mechanics, plot, and environment all contribute to the feeling together. 3’s way funnier, too. Plenty of moments where I could feel the developers (especially the writers) having genuine fun working on it. 4 borders on a meme anthology.

      • malkav11 says:

        It shouldn’t be that surprising. Saints Row 2 is the complete gameplay package. Far more variety, thought, and detail packed into every iota of its being than either of the later games, and Stillwater is a far, far richer environment than any incarnation of Steelport. The writing is a matter of taste, I suppose (though I’d contend it’s also the best in the series), but there’s really no plausible argument that either 3 or 4 have anywhere near the work put into them that went into 2, and it shows.

        4’s superpowers are the absolute most fun I’ve had with gameplay in any open world game to date, and the writing is splendidly funny and has a real, sensibly paced arc with good characters and plenty of surprises. It has plenty of callbacks to the good stuff about the series’ story and has a nice snark at Mass Effect along the way. It’s good stuff. And has the series’ only incarnation of Insurance Fraud that’s actually fun instead of infuriating.

        Meanwhile, 3 certainly isn’t balanced – it’s frustrating bullet sponge time until you’ve essentially maxed multiple weapons – and it’s served by neither city (which is virtually devoid of personality) nor plot (which is fragmented and incoherent). I find the latter part particularly frustrating. It skips story beats like a badly scratched record (I had no idea Gat was supposed to have died until they had a funeral for him) to the point where the missions practically might as well be standalone, introduces characters only to drop them almost immediately, disposes of villains so quickly they might as well not even have existed, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, many of the individual moments are quite funny, but so are 2 and 4. The difference is, they have actual pacing and character continuity and, y’know, any idea how to tell a story whatsoever.

        I don’t want to sound too down on 3 – like Alice says, third best in a series this good isn’t bad, and I did like it enough to finish it – but the idea that it’s anywhere ahead of third place is baffling to me.

    • Spacewalk says:

      Whilst I found SR3 amusing, I found SR2 laughable. Better map though I’ll give it that.

  3. Risingson says:

    Best opnening in ages. The rest is meh.

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    phuzz says:

    SR3 will always have a place in my heart for the moment where I and my character both exclaimed “Burt fucking Reynolds!?” at the exact same time.
    I should probably get round to playing SR4 one of these days.

  5. Voidlight says:

    Unless this game is weirdly meta, I think you meant to say “shooting other gangs” not “shooting other games” in the second paragraph.

  6. Solidstate89 says:

    What a lovely game.

  7. knelse says:

    Zimos made it the best racing sim I ever played.
    Honestly though, I love Third no less than Saints Row 2 and IV.

  8. Darth Gangrel says:

    To me, SR3 seems very intentionally silly and has lots of ridiculous stuff, but with SR4 they decided to jump the shark with frickin’ laser beams attached to its head.

    • Davie says:

      Agreed. 2 was ugly and brutal and not as clever as it wanted to be and 4 was exhaustingly over-the-top, but 3 felt like a good balance between Gritty Crime Stuff and Wacky Shenanigans. And the writing was fantastic–I found myself liking those characters more than most in recent memory.

  9. Grizzly says:

    I think Saint’s Row 3 deserves a bit more credit: It’s bold in a way that none of the other games in the series are. To copy a post I made a while back on the forum: The themes of Saint’s Row are actually quite grounded, the game just hides it behind siliness (which in itself is interesting in the era where games need to be “Edgy” and “grimdark” and “realistic”)

    Take The Third. Not the plots with the gangs, mind you, as those have been hobbled a bit due to corperate meddling: Killbane originally deployed a dirty bomb over stillwater in order to get revenge on you rather then attacking a funeral, which makes choosing between his death or Viola’s and Shaundi’s life a lot more interesting.

    No, take the plot with STAG.

    When STAG is introduced, two key concepts are mentioned by the Senator and by the General. Respectively: Hearts and Minds, and Shock and Awe. Hearts and Minds was a policy that was enacted (unsuccessfully) in order to quell the insurgency in Vietnam, whilst Shock and Awe is the policy that is and was in effect in the War on Terror. It’s goal is to quell any resistance by intimidating the opposition into surrendering.

    The shock and awe tactic is the one the player deals with: STAG has superiour firepower and a clear technological edge, it’s introduced into the game by crashing into a park and mowing down anything that gets in their way, and when all of it’s tactics have failed, it resorts to blowing the entire city up just in an attempt to get you (if you pick the Bane ending). They symbolize the ends justify the means way of thinking that is so commonplace in the war on terror.

    But they fail. Why? Because the Saints (just like the insurgents that the US is trying to cut down on) do not fear death. They will not be intimidated as they adore their pride over their own lives. You can’t intimidate someone who doesn’t fear death. In the end, public opinion is turned against the STAG as all they do is get people killed. This becomes especially obvious in the final mission, where they show themselves to be worse then the people they are fighting. This is rather similar to countries like the US and Israel using extremely heavy ordnance to destroy terrorists whilst the civilian death toll keeps rising and rising.

    Similarely to Freespace 2 being the story of Exodus told from the viewpoint of the Egyptians, Saint’s Row The Third critiques the War on Terror by letting you play as a terrorist. That’s bold.

    • Al__S says:

      Whilst playing an endless version of “I need a Hero”.

      Never forget that it underscores that social commentary with disco.

  10. Heliocentric says:

    No one mentioned Gat Out of Hell, the shorter and near plot less expandalone. But, it has flying so fucking lovely I don’t think I could ever play SR4 again, that soulless gliding has non of the charm of GOoH’s wings.

    • Xocrates says:

      I collected every single Cluster in Gat Out of Hell just because I enjoyed flying around so much.

      It helped that the city was designed specifically with flight in mind unlike SR4 though

    • malkav11 says:

      I really wish there was more to Gat out of Hell. The writing’s always been one of the best parts of the series and GOTH has practically none. But that flying is real good, for sure.

  11. liquidsoap89 says:

    SR3 is my fave of the big 3 (2, 3 and 4). For one, it actually worked, which is more than I can say for 2; and two, I think it was more passionate about what it is than SR 4 is. SR4’s navigation was cool, but besides that it was just okay. SR3 was fun enough that I played through it a second time almost immediately after I finished it the first time.

    • malkav11 says:

      2 works just fine if you install Gentlemen of the Row (a modpack of surpassing quality). Well…I guess fine is maybe a little much. It works, with some slight jank. But it works.

  12. freddydeady says:

    I tried SR2 and couldn’t get into it. Then moved onto this and after the opening mission, I got lost in the world. For me, the slidy physics for the cars was just right. Meant that even just driving around the city was fun. Also played with the zombie voice which just spouts gibberish randomly and during cut-scenes and normal conversations was just divine. It made no odds to me what the actual story was and even now, I giggle a little when I think of my guy holding full blown chats with people(which came out as rassa,rassur, rassaaa, bluuuegh). Went back to SR2 after I finished this but still couldn’t get into it and while I enjoyed SR4, the superpowers meant that it lost its charm(or lack thereof)

  13. Fnord73 says:

    By far my favourite SR game. SR4 was just too much, basically a series of minigames. SR2 was just clunky. #3 hits that sweet spot in the middle, the campaign actually means something.

  14. Neurotic says:

    I’ve been pestering Volition on Facebook and Twitter for years, and they’ve said several times that they have no immediate plans for an SR5, they don’t plan on remastering SR2 for modern systems etc, and if I recall correctly, they don’t even have the rights to SR1 any more (so no Windows version of that).

    I’m saying all this in hopes that they’ll announce the opposite of all this next week and make me look a fool, which I’ll gladly be if it means any of the above comes true!

  15. Branoic says:

    You know what’s weird in a really meta kinda way? I could never get into IV because the idea that the city in which I had all these awesome powers was just a simulation and wasn’t real didn’t click with me at all. Weird, right? I mean, I know obviously in something like GTA or the other SR games or any other open world game, the game is obviously a simulation and not real, but its presented as real. The whole simulation within a simulation did not appeal to me at all.