Before I start with this review, it’s only fair that I should address the obvious. You may be wondering where I’ve been, maybe asking “What happened to This Month In Metal?”, much like “What happened to Wrestling With Extra Sleaze?” before it. And much like WwES, I did get burnt out with TMiM (Yeah acronyms!) but in a different way. Instead of the way watching strippers badly wrestle got me down, I felt like simply copy-and-pasting an album release list and commenting on a few albums here and there wasn’t enough. So maybe I didn’t necessarily get burnt out but I was spinning my wheels. I know nothing about cars so do tell me if this analogy works out. So, between that and my attempts at chasing my current dream of becoming a stand-up comedian over the past year, I just simply don’t have time to follow a regular format, whether it be weekly or monthly. And for that, I apologize. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to write.
And here’s where 4R comes in. 4R stands for Ryno’s Random Reviews and Rants, in which I’ll still be able to do reviews of things of whatever I feel like, whether it be music, wrestling, books, movies, video games, whatevs. Or if there’s some sort of important pressing issue that has people up in arms like “Why doesn’t so-and-so win wrestling matches?” or “I don’t think some random celebrity chick is as hot as you think she is!“, I can comment on that too. And with my “busy” schedule, I’ll be able to do it whenever I have the time. So if it feels like I’m just throwing around my clout, waltzing in with a random article and walking back out, not knowing when I’ll return…that’s because I am. Deal with it. Just kidding, you guys know I love you.
Anyway, other than my burgeoning stand-up “career” (I’m still very much an amateur in every sense of the word), I’ve been spending a good chunk of time playing Saints Row The Third, a game I’ve been looking forward too pretty much since I played Saints Row 2. So I figured it’d be more than fitting to start off this new free-form format by profiling it. Keep in mind that I don’t consider myself a video game reviewer or journalist so I’m not going to be dealing with any sort of number scores but I will be judging the game on pertinent criteria and simply judging whether or not the game is worth playing. Because that’s all that matters, right?
Graphics – Unlike most stereotypical gamers, graphics have never really been a big deal for me, much less a dealbreaker. As long as I can play the game well and the textures don’t look like PS1 launch titles on a 64″ HDTV screen, I’m fine. So SR3rd’s graphics are good enough for me. They’re comparable to Saints Row 2, only slightly upscaled, with the improvements opting mostly towards a general aesthetic instead of crystal clarity. But if you haven’t played SR2, where does it stand up in comparison to other sandbox games? GTAIV? Nope, not that good. Just Cause 2? A bit more comparable but I’d say SR3rd still falls a bit short. There’s draw-in and pop-up issues, mostly when you’re parachuting/falling from a high distance or driving WAY too fast. And sometimes there looks to be a layer laid over the cutscenes making them a bit blurry or jaggy but all of these are really nitpicky issues. Otherwise, the graphics do their job. There are definitely glitches here and there but considering how seriously the game doesn’t take itself, they’re almost endearing. I remember one time I tried to go to Let’s Pretend and there were three pedestrians running in place in slow-motion stuck in the doorway. Sure, they were blocking the door and I couldn’t enter without killing them but it was still pretty funny.
Sound – There’s not really a lot to talk about when it comes to overall sound. The only time I’ve really been annoyed by sound effects is whenever a tire or two blows out on a car and I’m driving on rims…but I suppose being annoyed is the point so you’ll stop driving a damaged car. Voice acting is fine all around, as well. SR2 fans will be glad to know that the Cockney voice has returned as an option for your character, making them sound like a Statham-esque badass. I haven’t really tried out the other voice options but I can’t imagine them having as much character, save for maybe the “Zombie” voice. I do have one gripe with the voice acting and that falls on Hulk Hogan. Even though he did tone down his voice, I still can’t buy him as anyone but Hulk Hogan, let alone buy him as a Mexican luchadore in his mid-to-late-’30s. But I DO buy Rob Van Dam as a Hulk Hogan-esque color commentator during the Genki and Murderbrawl missions so I guess that’s an even trade.
What I do want to talk about is the soundtrack, with in-game radio stations chock full o’ licensed songs. In SR2, the formats for the stations were Pop Punk, Rap, Electronica, ’70s Funk, Indie Rock, Classical, Reggae, Easy Listening Instrumentals (Think along the lines of the theme song for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia with some polka mixed in), World Music, Metal and ’80s Music. In SR3rd, the stations are truncated a bit from 11 to 8. Gone are the Funk, Reggae, World Music and Instrumental stations The Pop Punk station seems to have adopted the Indie Rock format, focusing more on things hipsters would like than Hot Topic kids, while the ’80s station has expanded to include ’90s music. Personally, I would have stuck with ’80s music as it’s a bit confusing to go from “Relax” to “Return of the Mack” to “You’re The Best Around” to Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” on one station. (Writer’s Note: Butthole Surfers is still one of the greatest band names ever.) New to SR3rd is a Reggaeton/Latino station, which can be a bit redundant next to the Rap station, and an Adult Swim-themed station. I wasn’t sure how the latter would would work out but I will admit, the Aqua Teen Hunger Force theme does suit a drive-by shooting fairly well. As for the metal station, I’m a bit disappointed. It feels disjointed having great songs from Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan and Between The Buried and Me followed up by stuff from Drowning Pool and and Black Veil Brides. And with all due respect to Devin Townsend, “Love?” makes my ears bleed, and not in that cool “metal” way. More of the “My god, your high pitch screams can make a dog’s brain explode” way.
Anyway, to wrap this up, you do have the option to make your own playlist which is probably what I’ll end up doing sooner rather than later as the radio MC banter adds little to nothing to the experience. Certain songs do add to the gameplay experience at certain times but, on the whole, I’m slightly disappointed if only for the reason that I wasn’t introduced to some new music like I was in SR2. Also, prepare to hear Kanye West’s “Power” A LOT, which is a shame because it’s one of the few tracks of his that I enjoy but I enjoy it a little less every time it comes on.
Customization – Anyone that knows me knows I’m a major sucker when it comes to creating in-game characters and things. Usually my level of interest in a game directly correlates with the game’s level of customization. Hell, there have been times where I’ll spend hours creating characters and NEVER even play the actual game (namely Soul Calibur IV and any Smackdown vs Raw game since 2006). Needless to say, I had a field day with the customization options given to me in SR2. But while SR3rd does tout that you can be anything you want from a furry to a cheerleader with Hulk Hands that make people explode on contact, SR3rd is actually LESS customizable than its predecessor. The actual character creator is still pretty deep, allowing you to make a fat old man made out of gold and wearing kabuki makeup, but the clothing and tattoo options are way truncated compared to SR2. That may not sound like much to you but that disappoints me when considering I practically treated SR2 like Pretty Princess Dress Me Up. In SR2, I started off as a homeless guy with a crazy look on his face who twitched when he walked and had spiky blue hair (and of course a Statham-esque voice). In SR3rd, I wanted to create the same kind of character (you can’t transfer characters from 2 to 3, by the way) but I kinda had to settle for a suave but battered mobster looking like Mickey Rourke’s rockabilly bastard son alternating back and forth between a Triple H beard and a GG Allin mustache…and a Statham-esque voice. On one hand, I kinda understand as they wanted to go for more of a current style. But on the other hand, I kinda felt like they were holding out on something (More on that later). As for cars, they’re pretty much as customizable as they were in SR2, with only spinning rims and hydraulics removed and underbody neon glow added. Weapons are upgradable this time around, adding new abilities with every level. And while only certain hideouts and cribs are upgradeable, the upgrades do have in-game benefits this time around.
Playability – For the most part, the core gameplay of Saints Row The Third is carried over from Saints Row 2. However, there are minor changes that tweak the overall game a bit but not enough to make a marked improvement or decrease in enjoyability. The Respect system is changed a little bit, whereas instead of needing Respect to unlock missions in SR2 (which never really was a problem beyond the beginning of the game), you accumulate Respect to unlock abilities for your character. I like this system better than in SR2, where you had to complete certain Side Missions to unlock certain abilities. So if there was an ability you wanted but it was unlocked by a Side Mission that you didn’t enjoy or was too difficult, you either suffered through it or just didn’t play it and did without the ability. As for the Side Missions, those too are changed a bit. Instead of playing through the same mission for six “levels” to complete them, each mission is separated by difficulty and you only have to go through each difficulty once for completion. And each Side Mission you complete, along with buying properties, gives you more and more control over the city and more hourly income. Think of it as a mix between the property buying of GTA: Vice City and the gang takeover aspect of GTA: San Andreas. It might seem like a big deal but it really isn’t. I’m not saying that as a negative but the whole process starts to feel like second nature after a while. When you’re not doing Story Missions, you’re basically going through the routine of Side Missions, buying properties, earning respect, earning money, buying abilities, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s just something you’ll do without even really noticing so I don’t really see it as a MAJOR improvement to the game, but it’s a good implementation.
As for control, that too is about the same as SR2, aside from some minor changes. Forgive me for going into nitpicky territory again but I’m not sure I liked some of these changes. First of all, driving feels a little bit too arcade-y at some points, especially with motorcycles that’ll veer off course at the drop of a hat. Powerslides are mapped to their own button separate from the brakes which took me a while to get used to, not to mention most powerslides are dramatically over exaggerated (depending on the speed of the car) which may veer you off course in heated car chases. Still, I’d rather have this super arcade-y driving than the stiff “realistic” driving of GTAIV. When it gets to the point where you’d rather take a taxi everywhere instead of driving in a game named GRAND THEFT AUTO, then you’ve failed at your driving mechanics. You may be slipping and sliding a bit more often in SR3rd, but not enough that you want to give up driving at all. Weapon selection is the same as it was in SR2, being mapped to the analog sticks, but I did find myself grabbing the wrong weapons, especially in tense firefights. But my biggest complaint, and this is going to sound REALLY nitpicky of me, is the exclusion of being able to pick up things. I know it’s not that big of a deal but one of my greatest joys in SR2 was walking around, picking up garbage bags and throwing them at random pedestrians. Or the ability to rip a pay phone right out of the sidewalk by my bare hands and beat people to death with it. Sure, you didn’t really get any reward for doing it, which is probably why it was taken out of the game, but it’s still something I miss. Even so, I’ll admit it’s something so minor that it shouldn’t really be taken into account in the grand scheme of things.
Replayability – Now here’s where a fuss has been raised amongst the die-hard Saints Row fans. For all the things you can do in the game, Saints Row The Third is not all that replayable. To give you a bit of an idea, I’ve put about 20 hours in the game and am at 51% completion. That may sound all well and good but a good chunk of those hours so far were being spent just walking around, punching pedestrians and finding collectibles and Easter Eggs. My roommate not only recently beat the game but has 100% completion and earned all Achievements in about 40 hours. The storyline, while pretty good, is actually shorter than expected. And even then, the first part of the story actually has Side Missions as Story Missions. While I’m sure it’s supposed to act like a tutorial, it really feels more like padding, especially for people who have already played the previous games. Not to mention that there are actually LESS Side Missions than SR2. While people are psyched about the new Tiger Escort mission or Cyber-Trailblazing, they really are nothing more than slight variations of their previous incarnations, which are still included. When you consider that missions like Septic Avenger, Fight Club and Crowd Control have been removed, the additions don’t necessarily counter-balance the removals. Also, there are no options for Mission Replay or even Cutscene Replay like there was in SR2. Personally, I’m more angry about not being able to replay the cutscenes as that ability would be so simple to implement that there’s no reason to remove it in the first place. So, when you 100% the game and find everything, what else is there to do?
That’s right, DLC. THQ raised some red flags early on by not only announcing an “Online Pass” but rumors that there would be about 40 weeks worth of DLC after release. I’m not going to go into the whole Online Pass controversy as I personally don’t play online, hence why I haven’t gotten into the Multiplayer aspect of SR3rd. (For the record, I think the decision to get rid of the Competitive and stick to Co-Op was a good idea and Whored Mode seems like a decent time waster but nothing really too substantial.) I’m not necessarily accusing THQ of cutting the game short so they can sell more of it later on, but when you release a game where in certain aspects falls short of its predecessor and then sell more add-ons to it, that’s going to raise some suspicions at best and short-sighted outrage at worst. Right now, the only DLC released is a “Season Pass” allowing you to get the three planned mission packs at a discounted price (I have no idea how many missions those packs consist of), a cheat pack and a few themed weapon/clothing/vehicle packs. The cheat pack seems kinda shady but it’s not like they’re trying to sell ALL the cheats. But if they keep the additions to small themed packs for a cheap price, I’m willing to let it slide and maybe even buy a few. However, negative points go to THQ for mishandling their Professor Genki Pre-Order pack, especially for how heavily they promoted it. Unless you pre-ordered at GameStop (where they printed the codes on the receipts) or direct from THQ, you just straight up didn’t get your codes as they didn’t come included with the game. And even if you did order straight from THQ, you still had to contact them a day or two later when you realize you didn’t get the code, you just got you pre-order bonus after release but faster than if you had pre-ordered anywhere else but GameStop. I pre-ordered at Best Buy and after having gone through the rigmarole of calling the store’s Customer Service, being forwarded to the store’s Gaming Department, then being forwarded to the corporate 1-800 number then forwarded three more times before before being told that the code would be e-mailed to me within 24 hours, only to wait and find other people online having the same problem, only to be told that they were told to wait 48 hours, only to wait a few days and find that you should join the Best Buy community forum and PM a moderator to get a code, only to wait a few weeks to be told to PM a different moderator, only to wait a couple more days to finally get the code; I finally got my pre-order bonus about three weeks after I’ve had the game. Sure, I finally got my code but this should have been handled WAY better. I’m not even really blaming Best Buy as they’re not the only store that’s had to do something like this (though their methods could have been better too) but THQ’s decision not to include the code with copies of the game. Who cares if people who didn’t pre-order would still get the code, at least they’re buying the games. That’s what matters in the end, right? Money?
Alright, rant over. Find your happy place…find your happy place…
Overall Fun – In the end, all that really matters is if a video game is fun or not, right? Sure, you can nitpick or bitch on a forum or play fanboy but is the game enjoyable? That’s the reason you play video games, right? (With some video game “fans”, I’m not so sure anymore) Yes, Saints Row The Third is a fun game. Quite fun, in fact. It has it’s shortcomings but I never felt like I was disappointed or ripped off. And if anyone should be disappointed, it should have been me as I literally waited for this game the second it was announced. Once I finally beat it and feel the temptation to shell out for some DLC, maybe a part of me would die inside. But I’m holding out hope that THQ won’t screw its fanbase over TOO badly.
So, should you get it? If you’re a die-hard Saints Row fan, chance are you already got it, or probably beaten it by now and/or already complaining on the boards about it. If you’re on the fence or low on cash, I’d suggest either giving Saints Row 2 a shot (which you can find for $20) or waiting a little bit for a price drop, especially if you plan on getting some DLC and want to offset the cost a bit. Regardless, if you enjoy sandbox games and generally creating havoc all around, you should play Saints Row The Third at some point.