It may have been fair to call Volition's first Saints Row game a Grand Theft Auto clone back in 2006, but since then the series has evolved into something that goes way beyond an attempt to emulate Rockstar Games' flagship franchise.
Saints Row has solidified its place in the gaming landscape by redefining what it means to be considered over the top. With Saints Row: The Third, Volition has presented its best chaos simulator to date.
The Saints have conquered their previous home city of Stilwater, and with the realization that their gang's brand has tremendous value, are now moving on to bigger and better things in the town of Steelport. Cops are the least of your worries here--it's the rival gangs you'll need to constantly deal with.
But first, a word of warning to Saints Row newbies. If you've never played one of these titles before, you'll first need to completely throw away your ability to be offended. Saints Row: The Third isn't ashamed of what it is and doesn't try to hide behind something it's not.
Outrageous is the name of game here, and it ultimately boils down to an insane amount of fun. Don't look too deeply into the story being told or try and relate to the game's goofy characters and their personas. For all intents and purposes they're filler, simply vessels to transport you to the next opportunity to blow something up.
The Third gives players immediate access to dozens of weapons, cars, activities, and other missions to raise your respect (level) and cash. Acquiring enough of these currencies allows for the upgrading of almost every aspect of the game, from weapons, health, and other abilities, to wardrobe, vehicles, and other gang members.
A surprisingly robust and easy-to-understand system guides you along the leveling-up process, which really streamlines the entire experience. Perform enough activities and missions and soon enough you'll harness the firepower and destruction of a hundred world wars at your full disposal.
These RPG-esque elements encourage players to go beyond just the story missions because you're rewarded for almost every single thing you do in the game. Progressing through nonstory items increases your overall rank and power, which leads to the opening up of areas that provide home free zones. Entering a store or building The Saints own instantly eliminates all threats that may be chasing you down--it's a great way to get a clean slate midgame.
Aside from the sheer satisfaction you'll get from driving a tank through a Steelport city street, The Third has an impressive amount of music and radio voice talent that really sets the mood. A handful of radio stations are programmed with tons of content ranging from metal to hip-hop and everything in between. I personally was won over by my character's impromptu karaoke version of Sublime's "What I Got" early on in the game.
Character customization is an enormous element in Saints Row: The Third as well, with a seemingly endless combination of styles to experiment with. Players can even choose from three voices, all of which stick with your character in cutscenes throughout the campaign.
Saints Row: The Third is truly a virtual adult playground that lets you get away with almost anything you can think of, but that freedom doesn't necessarily come across in a flawless fashion. There are a handful of graphical and mechanic bugs throughout the title, including some visible screen-tearing and frustrating deaths that forced me to restart missions over and over.
Some of the enemy character animations aren't very smooth either. For example, someone who is exiting a car won't get out in a single fluid motion. Instead, they'll inexplicably teleport out of a vehicle, making it tough to keep a steady aim while attempting to take them out.
Call it a guilty pleasure or mindlessly explosive fun, but Saints Row: The Third has a clear agenda that it expertly achieves on all levels. Nothing is overly complicated, and I never once felt like I had become bored with things to do in Steelport. The game's main campaign continually shocked me with chaotic mission after mission, and the various incentivized extracurricular activities are a great way to get rewarded simply by causing more destruction.
It's a fresh change of pace to get a title that doesn't take itself too seriously, and as long as you carry that mentality with you while you play, Saints Row: The Third is almost impossible to not enjoy.