Monday, 10 December 2012

Saints Row: The Third (PC)

Today I'm taking a look at sandbox gangsta shooter, Saints Row: The Third, released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC way back in 2011. Because I feel like it.

I've barely seen anything of the first two Saints games, but I've played the Grand Theft Auto games so I have a few suspicions on how this is going to play out. Lots of shooting, driving around in cars, shooting while driving around in cars, and prostitutes. With guns.

Click the screenshots to see the full size images, which are in an ancient resolution I'm afraid.

Professor Genki loading screen
That's an, uh, interesting loading screen. I sense they're not going for gritty realism with this one.

Another developer might have started their urban gangster story with rap music; these guys have put Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001 over Star Wars style scrolling text. I guess they must have watched a sci-fi movie marathon while they were brainstorming ideas.

The scrolling script explains that over the last two games the Third Street Saints have gone from a small-time street gang to a media empire, and their leaders are now global celebrities. But now that they're at the top, every other criminal organisation wants to bring them down.

Saints Flow commercial mascot
Our story begins with an anthropomorphic can of energy drink coming to the rescue of a guy getting his face rearranged by a gang of assholes.

Energised with the delicious carbonated power of Saints Flow, the man turns the tables on his assailants, kicking the purple stars out of them... and it then turns out to be a TV commercial some guy's watching on his phone.

It's smart storytelling really. It's one thing to say that the Saints are celebrities in a scrolling block of exposition, but showing them in a Japanese commercial selling their own product instantly hammers it home. Plus they get bonus points for making it skippable.

It's a shame though really, as I would have liked to go around hadoukening people with blasts of fizz energy.

Hey, I recognise that voice. That's got to be Daniel Dae Kim of Babylon 5: Crusade fame! (Or Lost/Hawaii Five-O fame I guess...)

Yeah, a wikipedia check confirms it. He's playing a character called Johnny Gat, and the real story begins as he and some other Saints (including myself in the role of the leader) prepare to rob a bank...

... all disguised as famous Saint, Johnny Gat. Yeah we're robbing a bank dressed as ourselves. Sadly they're all just wearing voice distortion devices, and the actor didn't voice the entire group for this scene.

Everything was going fine at first, we even posed for a few photos, but then someone just had to pull out a pistol and ruin everything. Now everyone in the bank's holding guns and waving them at me, and it's turned into a third person shooter.

Though seeing as I've got infinite ammo and regenerating health, and they each go down in a single headshot, I'm thinking they would have been smarter not to provoke us.


A FEW HUNDRED BULLETS LATER.


Saints Row Third Please autograph and then put down your gun
Well the good news is that we've got the vault. It's being airlifted right out of the bank in fact and I'm hitching a ride to keep watch over it. The bad news is that SWAT's been called in and they've got assault helicopters. Funnily enough it turns out they're huge fans of ours, though apparently not enough to stop shooting at me.

I like how this seems like business as usual for everyone involved, even after I've slaughtered like 50 enemies at this point. The cops just want us to stop messing around so they can go through the formality of arresting us, then presumably letting us go again after a reasonable bribe.

Man, I'm going to kill this helicopter pilot if either of us survives this.

This all turned a 100% scripted rail shooter the second I climbed onto the vault by the way, but it's so well done I honestly don't care. Though this crime has gotten so weird that I keep waiting for Batman to turn up.

Well... shit.

By the way, there's a cunning reason why my character has been covered head to toe in a baggy outfit this whole intro level.

Saints Row the Third character creator face edit
It's so that my character can have any appearance when the mask is taken off. (No idea why they couldn't have just put this screen at the start though...)

Look at all these sliders, I can adjust basically everything here except height. I can even change the character's voice and personality, with three male and three female options to choose from. Plus zombie, because hey they're popular right now. And amazingly nothing's locked to one gender, not even beards or voices.

All the voices sound pretty good from the clips, but I think I'll go with the Russian woman this time. No, not with this guy, I'll make a new character to go with it.


SOON.


Well some stuff happened and now I'm having free-fall gunfight against a rival group called the Syndicate. Turns out it was their bank we were robbing and they're a little upset about it, but I won't go into details as I don't want to spoil the whole game here.

It's pretty similar to the free-fall gunfight level in No One Lives Forever, though to be honest this game pulls it off way better. It feels like I'm starting off at the end of a GTA game, with the action already turned up to 11. I'm two missions in and I haven't had to drop anyone off at home once, it's crazy.

Had to pop back into the plane for another parachute. Hopefully shooting up the cockpit will discourage them from trying to ram me with it again. This is all cutscene but it's only like ten seconds long and I'm glad for the break (and the checkpoint).

Plus its an excuse for me to show off my custom designed character (she's the one in the purple bandana). I never got to name her, he/she's just called 'the leader of the Saints' or 'boss' or whatever.

Well I managed to make it back to the ground but I don't think I'm in Stillwater anymore, and the Syndicate has managed to wipe out my bank account. My sidekick Shaundi thinks we've landed in a city called Steelport, so my character's as lost as I am.

I've left the linear third person shooter levels behind now and I finally can do whatever I want, go wherever I please. Though I guess I'll steal a car like the message box says, then I suppose I really should go take over the Syndicate's criminal empire in revenge for their revenge attack on me. Let's get this cycle of violence turning.

Damn, so many options on this phone. I can upgrade my character's skills with cash, call in backup, or even claim the recent profits I've been making from my properties. Except I don't have any cash or properties in this city.

Still, at least the map works.

Mission 1 is 'go to the weapon store' and look at that, it even lights up the path for me. I know a lot of people hate it when a game just leads the player straight to the next objective, but I can't see how this gameplay would be improved by me getting lost in dead ends.

Also nice to see that the entire city is open to me from the start; there's no bridges under repair or whatever to keep me trapped on the starting island.

Almost an hour into the game, and I'm finally going somewhere in a car! That's not a complaint though, and honestly a fair amount of that time may have been spent screwing around in the awesome character creator.

The car seems to control just fine by the way, no issues with the handling. Though I keep crashing into things because I can't resist tilting the camera around to look at the skyscrapers.

Wow, I expecting this shop screen to be... flashier somehow. Still, it's perfectly functional, if a little clunky, with two separate (but identical) screens for buying ammo and upgrading weapons.

Weapons can be upgraded to have a higher rate of fire, store more ammo, fire exploding bullets etc. which is a fantastic feature because it actually helps make money worth something. In some GTA style games you ended up making tons of cash, but don't much care because there's nothing interesting to spend it on. Which is a bit of a problem when money's the player's reward for doing missions.

Now I've got some ammo for my pistol, but the rest of the Saints are going to need guns. I guess they must have sold them all after the second game to help fund their latest mansion. But it's cool, turns out there's a national guard armoury in town full of weapons, and they didn't even lock the door!

I saw this Humvee lying around as well, so I figured I'd borrow it to save me from having run around dodging gunfire. Turrets are always handy, especially when these cunning enemies keep trying to flank me.

Saints Row the Third military base armory unicorn pony logo
Fortunately the rest of the Saints came marching in to my rescue in a fleet of choppers, to clear out the troops outside and pick up the crates. I was going to show a shot of the row of helicopters lighting up the morning sky with gunfire... but then I noticed the logo.

This is still only my first actual mission in the game and I'm already playing with a UAV drone, blowing up tanks with guided missiles from the sky in gritty low res cam while soldiers freak out on the radio, trying to explain it's not them pulling the trigger.

And they let me keep the thing afterwards!

Now I've had my fun with tanks, the game's switched back into tutorial mode, making me go shopping. Well, I'm always eager to learn...

It's nice to see there's a really solid selection of clothes to choose from here, I can flick through the outfits without a ridiculous pause between each one, and it even lets me pick the colour. And yeah each gender gets the full range of clothes, so you can put your male gang leader in a miniskirt if that's how you feel they'd dress.

Oh hang on, this is new. The Syndicate had people waiting outside the shop to ambush me, including the Incredible Hulk's pale skinned cousin. This bastard had better not have broken my new glasses.

Unlike practically everyone else in the game, headshots aren't an instant kill on this guy. So I'm going to have to rely on my brain instead of my aim for once. Fortunately I've got a dodge move, so getting out of his way is simple enough if I time it right, and my homie Pierce is an excellent distraction.

Okay I took care of the brute by making him swallow a grenade, but now I've got a three star wanted level with his gang. and they've called in a chopper. That red laser sight means they've got a sniper on board, eager to take off a chunk of my life bar with each bullet, or just blow my car up if he can.

So I probably should be looking where I'm driving really, but I just can't help it. They've given me full freedom to move the camera, and I want to see my exciting getaway dammit.

I saw one of these driving past and decided I wanted it. The good thing about trucks is that I don't have to pay attention to what's in front of me, they'll get out of my way whether they want to or not.

Also check out all these options, even for a truck. I can mod the bodywork, engine power, armour etc of pretty much any vehicle I can fit into my home garage, and I can pretty much fit one of everything in here. Plus once a vehicle's been taken to the garage once, I can abandon it on the street covered in bullet-holes with the tires missing, and it'll still be back in pristine condition next time I check back home. So it encourages me to collect cars, spend cash customising them, AND still do whatever I want with them. Basically, it's fantastic.

Saints Row the Third image as designed face editor
Here's another good idea, I can go to a plastic surgeon and get my look changed at any time. A few hundred dollars basically buys me access to the character creator again, where I can make small tweaks to the protagonist's appearance. Or start from scratch if I'm bored with it.

So if I suddenly feel like playing as a fat red-haired cockney male played by Robin Atkin Downes of Babylon 5 fame (or No More Heroes/Prince of Persia fame I guess...), that option is available to me.

The only flaw with this I can see is there's no obvious way to save a particular face to go back to it later, except for uploading the character to the game's site.

Anyway, now I've got my outfit and hair done the way I want, it's time to go take over a Syndicate stronghold. This game really doesn't mess around; I'm only a few missions in and I'm already getting myself a swimming pool and helipad.

I thought I'd be a smart arse here and crash in through the roof windows. Turns out those things are made of pretty tough glass though, and I ended my life of crime smeared across them. Fortunately the game let me restart at the last checkpoint instead of making me drive all the way to the mission again.

Man, I wiped out an entire penthouse full of Syndicate thugs and I couldn't even get one good screenshot out of it. Still at least I managed to give the previous occupant a good send off. The game was kind enough to keep track of how far I was able to throw him, so now I know that my new penthouse is 140 meters above the pavement.

Now I've got enough cash on me to buy a couple of properties, which gets me hourly income and shop discounts. So if I can just hold off on spending cash now and instead invest all my cash in real estate, I can make a ton of profit in the long term.

I'd basically be rewarded just for spending time in the game, driving around, exploring the map, looking for stunts or secret collectibles, or whatever I feel like doing.

But on the other hand look at all these upgrades I can buy instead right now. Health increases, a bigger sprint bar, dual wielding... I'm suddenly feeling very motivated to earn some cash.

Though a lot of them are locked off until I level up, to make sure I don't somehow get enough money together to buy 'immune to bullets' at the start of the game.

I love grenades in this. Whenever I come across a gang operation (a group of enemies I can wipe out to win territory), I like to drive up, jump out, then throw a grenade at my car to detonate the fuel tank. Might not get them all, but it's a good start. Plus I get to pose in front of it and take photos.

Oh by the way, I forgot to mention that I'm playing with the mouse and keys, and it controls just fine. Then I tried plugging in an Xbox 360 pad, and the game automatically switched over to show buttons instead of keys on screen AFTER I USED THE CONTROLLER, not just because it was there. And it switched right back when I moved the mouse. It really pisses me off when console ports don't get this right, so I'm awarding the game 3 billion bonus points for that.

Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax
Damn, now I wish I'd called this place 'Super Ethical Adventures in Reality Gaming'. Though I suppose the site does have its own grinning cat face making an appearance every other Monday and Friday.

I was sent here to take part in this 'game show' as my next mission, but this seems like another one of the optional side-mission activities, like the Trafficking, Guardian Angel, and Tank Mayhem missions they just made me do in fact. Hey... you don't suppose they're padding out the main game by forcing me to play the first stage from each of the activities do you?

Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax turned out to be a Smash TV style shoot 'em up stage with limited weapons and my health regeneration turned off. Which is kind of throwing me off, because my usual tactic is to stand out in the open like an idiot, getting shot at.

Fortunately I managed to make it out with a tiny sliver of health remaining, and now I'm presumably one step closer to achieving ultimate domination over Steelport. Somehow.

Before turning the game off I thought I'd steal a helicopter and fly it up to tallest skyscraper in Steelport to see what the view's like (plus I can stash it in my penthouse afterwards), and it was basically effortless now I know where the airport is. The game just wants you to be able to do whatever you feel like, safe in the knowledge that no matter how high you climb, it'll always find a way to escalate things just that little bit further. Sure I've got my own shops, a penthouse, a fleet of cars, a helicopter, and a purple backpack that looks like a cat, but I think I can do better.


Yeah, I have to admit that I like this one. It's like they made a game out of my nostalgic memories of the PlayStation 2 era GTA games, before I replayed them and realised how dated they'd actually gotten. It looks, sounds, and plays great, there's no real frustrations in the controls or menu system, and the dialogue is often funny and well written, no matter what character you pick (they all have different lines). The plot on the other hand is basically an elaborate excuse to let the player blow things up in a world that revolves entirely around them.

I mean seriously, it doesn't matter what you do in this game, the Saints are always the morally correct heroes, and everyone who opposes them is clearly evil no matter how many innocents are killed in the crossfire, even though the Saints started this gang war in the first place by robbing the Syndicate's bank and killing like 20 of their men. It's got zero interest in pulling up a mirror and making it clear that you're playing as the villain, and there's no serious tale about power corrupting in here. It's an upbeat black comedy about a group of psychopath celebrities set in a playground of destruction, and probably the best game of its kind I've ever played.

    


Got any thoughts about Saints Row the Third, what I just wrote about it, the Saints Row series in general, or this Super Adventures in Gaming site of mine? Feel free to leave comments!

9 comments:

  1. I knew about the THQ bundle but since I knew nothing about the games (besides Metro 2033 would run like shit on my PC) I ignored it.
    However since this even wins a **purple** star, I decided to buy the bundle.
    Also, 1 tip to you. You're providing an useful public service here ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good to know, I just hope I haven't steered you wrong.

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  2. Don't forget all the games require Steam, and they're Windows only. And Steam sucks.

    BOO TO STEAM.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Replies
    1. It's functionally identical to a gold star and has equal value! The game is full of purple stars, spinning around the screen every time you complete a mission, so I figured if it was going to get any star it'd have to be a purple one.

      Delete
  4. I have a request: Retro city rampage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I ever find myself owning it I'll certainly give it a try.

      Delete
  5. Request: The grand theft auto games on gameboy color and advance when you get to G.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Okay cool, I'll add them to the request list.

      Delete

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