Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Sandbox Action Adventure
Volitions Saints Row 2 is easily my favourite game on the XBox 360. It came out at just the right time with a vision of what sandbox driving games could have been if GTA hadn't decided to go down the dour characters and brown cities road. Everything was bigger, brighter and just more fun than the the competition so Saints Row the Third had some pretty big shoes to fill when I put in the disc.
The story follows "the Boss" again, but they remain unnamed. Since Saints Row 2 the 3rd Street Saints have become media icons. There's a Saints clothing line, soft drinks, souvenirs and people will even stop Saints mid-robbery to get them to sign their Saints merchandise. Following a botched attempt to steal a bank robbery the Saints are offered their freedom in exchange for working for the Syndicate, a new gang moving into Stillwater, when they refuse a mid-air firefight breaks out and you parachute out of the plane onto the new in-game city of Steelport, described by Shaundi (the other Saint who survived the crash) as "Bangkoks abusive Father"
Steelport is controlled by 3 gangs; The Morningstar (well dressed businessmen and genetically altered Brutes), the Deckers (money laundering, hacker emo-activists) and the Luchadores (Mexican wrestlers who control the city's gambling racket). Each of these gangs is in turn controlled by the Syndicate so the Boss sets out to take over the city before going after the Syndicate.
The ongoing plot is just bananas, within 10 minutes you've gone through 3 different mid skydive firefights and jumped through a plummeting airplane, you start your wars against the first gang in the game by blowing up their cars from a helicopter. In previous games you had to complete side-missions to gain respect to do more missions and in fairness it could get pretty tedious. It feels like there's a lot less side missions going on and much easier access to story missions, which is good in that you steam through the game in 12-14 hours but it also takes out the incentive to see more of the sandbox.
The quality of gameplay veers wildly through the game. The story missions are varied depending on what gang you're fighting, some of the characters are entertaining and some of the them are just plain offensive. The side quests, aren't quite as necessary as they used to be and veer wildly in quality, mission like Insurance Fraud where you throw yourself into oncoming traffic are great, mission where you hang from a helicopter picking off people who are oblivious to the death of their gang-members 10 feet away is just a little dull. The cars are generally easy to control and the Drift button is a massive improvement, you can really build up some serious speed and the options available in garages provide you with seriously upgraded vehicles for trickier missions. For some reason though aircraft control a lot worse then before, helicopters are sluggish and planes are just a pain to control. Overall the lack of restraint creates problems, there's no build up in the war. Saints Row starts insane and stays there all way. You do get a decent amount of game for your money though. The story will easily take 12-14 hours and depending on how much time you spend around the sandbox it can easily stretch into the days.
The graphics are overall good, there's plenty of options in the character creation screen though I did have my gripes that I couldn't just rebuild the character model I'd used throughout he previous game since I was meant to be playing the same guy. There's been a bizarre redesign of characters though, all their features have been accentuated beyond anything a healthy person could have, some of them have eyes the size of their fists. Steelport itself also feels a bit flat & brown, almost like a TV set and there's always a feeling if you could enter some of the buildings there's nothing behind them. I wouldn't say the game is drab, but it has gotten a lot more brown and grey between 2 & 3, but the special vehicles are sufficiently crazy that they make up for a lot of it. The game glitches all the time as well; pedestrians get stuck in cars and walls, I've seen people merge into each other and cars will appear and disappear on the road as you're looking at them.
The audio is a let down, the soundtrack just isn't as good as previous games, and definitely not good enough on its own merits. They keep characters from the previous games, which is good for returning players, but their character models and especially some of their voice actors have changed so drastically that they would be better served being different characters. I'd brush it off as a stylistic change but some people like Gatt look roughly the same and sound the same whereas people like Shaundi, who suffered a wildly different character model and voice actress just stick out from the first few minutes of the game. Even the players character voices are just too different. Since I was playing the same character I instantly wanted to get the same outfit and voice, to find I couldn't buy a bowler hat and the only way I could explain away the change in the English accent is smoking a few thousand Lucky Strikes daily.
So is it any good? Overall yes but with a lot of caveats. It's a buggy mess sometimes, the aircraft are a chore to control, the musics boring and some of the gimmicks in the game are just plain offensive. It's got a recommendation, but not a glowing one.
Reviewed by: Tony O'Hare