While on a criminal spree in ‘Saints Row,’ players will experience wacky sincerity and some minor bugs.
Saints Row: The Third is a bright and cheerful playground full with capers and quips. Despite being overshadowed by Grand Theft Auto, the series succeeds when it returns to what made it great in the first place: exchanging GTA’s cynicism for gonzo comedy and sincere character portrayals. Though it lacks Grand Theft Auto 5’s depth and mechanical satisfaction, the new Saints Row more than makes up for it with its hilarious and engaging narrative. That is, if you can get beyond the game-breaking glitches and actually play it (more on this later).
The bare essentials
When we last saw the group, Saints Row IV was parodying The Matrix and your player character was fighting aliens as president. Then, in Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, the series took a philosophical turn as you slew demons.
Moving the action to the made-up city of Santo Ileso in the southwestern United States, the new version has a more realistic feel. It’s hard not to draw parallels to Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos deserts, however it would be dishonest to condemn Saints Row just because its city is named Santo. You’ll face off against a variety of gangs in this new Las Vegas-style setting, including the western-sheriff Marshalls, the car-obsessed Los Panteros, and (my personal favourite) the rave- and class-warfare obsessed Idols.
You and your homeless housemates Kev, Eli, and Neenah form a group called the Saints, and you start the game as the gang’s boss. All three are interesting in their own ways, entertaining to spend time with, and well-written. While Saints Row: The Third features its signature over-the-top action, it is also capable of switching gears to more heartfelt and friendly moments. It is obvious that the Boss’s universe revolves around mayhem and camaraderie, and they strive to be the greatest at both.
Priority to Family
You see, this emphasis on the group as a family is what has always differentiated Saints Row from Grand Theft Auto. In my opinion, Grand Theft Auto’s humour hinges on the audience’s indifference. Many of the individuals you portray have loyalty, but they are hesitant and full of bitterness and selfishness. The supporting cast is typically not very deep. Everyone from entitled brats to ultra-conservatives to clueless hippies is treated with equal disrespect. Characters in GTA who are concerned with their environment are mostly ignored.
Saints Row provides you with more than simply objects of affection but also living beings that need your help. Your protagonists remind me of the jaded young adults of the gig economy that Grand Theft Auto 5 mocks so mercilessly. Upon your return after your first day as a mercenary, they proudly display a flag and treat you to breakfast. You decide to steal a payday lending business to cover your rent, anticipating some fun karaoke after the fact. The betrayal of trusted comrades hits your team hard, and as usual, your boss solves the problem by blasting it out of the sky with a rocket launcher.
In terms of narrative potential, this method exceeds everything GTA has done thus far. Saints Row is able to create obvious, particular satire because it doesn’t follow the tried-and-true “everyone is either brainless or nihilistic” model. It doesn’t take long to understand that the Idols, the opposing group, are merely fame-seeking anarchists despite all their rhetoric of anti-capitalism and pulling down “the Man.” Their hypocrisy stands in stark contrast to your Saints, who challenge the status quo for similar, though more absurd, reasons.
Solid narrative, janky gameplay.
The campy and (usually) casual nature of the violence allows for a captivating reimagining of the standard gangster plot. But it falls flat on its face due to dull or inoperable gameplay.
Here’s how some rather important missions went down on When playing on easy mode, your artificially intelligent partner will never take any offensive action. They might get hurt, and you could have to bring them back to life. It’s possible that the enemy suddenly equips itself with robust protection. It’s possible that you’re stuck in the grenade-throwing mode and unable to do any further actions. During non-skippable specials, the countdown for reviving teammates keeps running, resulting in an immediate loss after the animation concludes.
When I was working there, I noticed a pervasive and puzzling problem: my boss could only wiggle and kick. I was able to raise my firearms to aim, but not fire, and the weapon wheel interface was inoperable. Aborting or restarting the mission didn’t help, so I had to reload my save file to start over from the beginning of the operation.
It took me fourteen tries to complete a single, essential (and well crafted) quest. I switched to the simplest difficulty level somewhere around the tenth to complete the game more quickly. Sure enough, the bug manifested itself, but I was able to advance by kicking my way slowly through battle until I reached a stage that necessitated interaction with items other than a foot to the chest. Nobody except a true fan or gamer would be able to perform this for four missions in a row like I did.
Saints Row is flawed in its core gameplay loop and mechanics even when no bugs are present. The game’s tone and gunplay are reminiscent of Saints Row 2 and Saints Row 3 respectively. The stunning visuals and engaging story only highlight how far behind GTA 5 it is in terms of side missions, mini-games, and interface, yet that game came out about a decade ago.
Despite its problems, Saints Row is still a game I’d like to play again, since the game’s plot is so chaotic that it manages to shine through the game’s bugs. It’s possible that the problems I encountered may be fixed in the Day One patch, but I have a feeling that more than that will be needed to iron out all the kinks. But Saints Row should appeal to you if you want a criminal adventure without the corrosive cynicism of Grand Theft Auto.