- The environment, the combat and the characters are all made to take players on a wild ride
- Excessive load screens slow down the pacing of the game
- The interaction between characters is outlandish and hilarious
- There are more than 160 missions to be completed, but you don't have to do them all
"Saints Row: The Third" is an over-the-top, sexually charged romp that reveals some of the most outrageous, funny dialogue around.
Just know going into it that everything about this new title, from THQ, is not to be taken seriously. The environment, the combat and the characters are all designed to take players on a wild ride full of ridiculous fun and action.
The story picks up with the Saints having conquered all the other gangs in Stilwater and branching out as their very own multimedia empire. They have their own energy drinks, bobble heads, comic books and more. All of which, of course, just makes them a target for the next crime group that wants what they have.
Players get dumped into a new town, Steelport, with new gangs to assimilate and a new government agency determined to get rid of crime. While the game evokes memories of "Grand Theft Auto" in some places, the missions are ultraviolent, outlandish and filled with enough "OMG" moments that the passing resemblance can be forgiven.
A cell phone acts as the jumping-off point for all your activities. It shows a map, list of potential missions, weapons upgrades, music choices and more. Get to know your phone because it will guide you throughout the game.
Feel like driving around at high speed with a tiger in your car? You can do that. Rescue hookers from a violent gang? You can do that, too. Dive out of a plane without a parachute and hit the ground in a tank? Yep.
There are more than 160 missions to be completed, but the basic storyline doesn't require nearly that many to complete. Many of the missions are repetitive, meaning once you complete one and get credit, you can do the same thing somewhere else to gain more money and raise your level.
Most of the missions involve killing someone -- or lots of someones -- so the combat is important. "Saints Row: The Third" is a shooter game with many weapons choices, from dual pistols to targeted air strikes. The combat is solid but not anything revolutionary. And your character can take quite a beating, so don't flee at the first sign of bullets flying.
The more mayhem you cause, the more respect you gain. Respect is how your character levels up and unlocks bonuses, new vehicles and weapon upgrades. And your means of transport from one scene of mayhem to the next won't just be on the ground. In addition to cars, you'll have access to helicopters, jets and tanks to destroy your opponents.
Some missions will end with choices for you. Making one choice over another will unlock certain benefits, or gameplay opportunities, while closing off other avenues. Some of these choices have far-reaching consequences, so think about the long term when deciding.
There is a lot of sexuality infused in this game. Prostitution and fetishes abound and are evident in everything from the surrounding environments to some of the weapons. Many buildings are also dedicated to selling sex, and players can gain money from buying those businesses and shops.
Excessive load screens do slow down the pacing of the game. There are too many instances of "complete mission -- load screen -- cut scene -- load screen -- go to new mission -- load screen -- arrive at new mission -- load screen." You get the idea.
While the load times for the most part aren't long, they are annoying in their frequency. Some of the cut scenes or mission exposition moments are only a few seconds long before you head off to wait on another load screen.
The dialogue is what really makes this game fun. The interaction between characters is outlandish and hilarious. There are many "she said what?" moments and places where you wish you could rewind for a few seconds just to enjoy what was being said again.
It's never too serious and ends up feeling like something along the lines of an action-comedy movie.
The game also has some star power. Actor Burt Reynolds makes a significant appearance as himself, and the lead character acts like a total fanboy around him. Quite funny. Also, Hulk Hogan voices a wrestling character (not much of a stretch). The character doesn't look like The Hulkster but does have some of his trademark moves.
Oh, and did I mention there are zombies? And a game show that uses the slogan, "Murder Time, Fun Time!"?
Co-op action is drop-in, drop-out, so a friend can join you on some of the activities. There are also specific co-op missions that are not part of the campaign, offering some variety. And there is a "Whored Mode," which is exactly what you think it is -- a horde mode involving 30 waves of increasingly difficult-to-defeat prostitutes. And let's just say the weapons you use against them are ... unusual.
"Saints Row: The Third" doesn't try to be serious, sending up a spoof on excessive violence, media and government control. It isn't even close to being realistic and doesn't try to be.
What it does offer is some laugh-along dialogue, high-paced combat and magnificent moments to make you go "wow" -- all with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It is a great change of pace from the more realistic games out there and will keep players busy for a long time.
"Saints Row: The Third" is now in North America, Europe and Australia. It will be available in Japan on Friday. It is rated M for Mature because of blood and gore, drug references, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual content and strong language. This review was done using a preview copy for the Xbox 360.