The Saints Row franchise, consisting of four primary titles, has been a go-to gangster sandbox since its 2006 debut. Starting as a run-of-the-mill Grand Theft Auto clone, it carved out its own identity as sequels piled up, with 2011’s Saints Row: The Third seeing the 3rd Street Saints delve into total absurdity.
Said absurdity made Volition’s crime playground stand out from the crowd eight years ago, but how does it hold up in its Switch re-release?
Saints Row: The Third is an orgy of mayhem, and that’s how it should be. The ability to hijack anything and everything that could possibly constitute as a ‘vehicle,’ rain carnage with a myriad of weapons, and commit a billion lifetime’s worth of debauchery showcases a game that wears its criminal craziness on its sleeve. A steady stream of unlockables grants hefty incentive to grind away at the oodles of content available, and it’s a great gameplay loop that feels balanced and rewarding
The bundled in DLC elevates said ‘oodles of content’ higher. Unfortunately, much of Saints Row: The Third’s extra goodies manifest as repetitive missions with predictable payoff, like unlocking homies and vehicles. The extra clothes and weapons are a treat though.
Saints Row: The Third‘s story follows its predecessors’ formula.
The 3rd Street Saints are a gang that set out to tear apart rival gangs; landing in new city Steelport, the purple rocking protagonists lock horns with the Morningstar (fronted by Belgian bad boy Phillipe Loren), the Deckers (hacker extraordinaires), and a group of lucha libre wrestlers called the Luchadores.
The baddies are compelling enough, but issues reside in Saints Row: The Third’s tonal execution. Whilst its predecessors won’t be winning story awards anytime soon, they at least establish real stakes, mingle them with a satisfactory cast and narrative, and handle it all with a degree of seriousness. This is why Aisha and Carlos’s deaths in Saints Row 2 feel impactful and sincere.
On the flip side, Saints Row: The Third pleads with players to invest in its story, despite an inability to nail tonal consistency. It’s hard to care about anything or anyone when dick jokes and outlandish spectacle are the bedrock of most exchanges, and the result is a non-self-aware muddle that doesn’t know what it wants to be. (This is rectified in Saints Row IV thanks to a story that is as unashamedly silly as its gameplay.)
Groan-inducing humor plagues Saints Row: The Third, too often falling on benign comedic tropes. Spouting gags about sex toys and strippers is amusing for a minute, but not for an entire game. Side activities are scattershot, with Tank Mayhem being destructive fun, but Heli Assault is the video game equivalent of a skin disease. Glitches are also prevalent, and I had to restart missions (and even the entire game) frequently due to them.
And now, a statement that some may find controversial: Steelport is the most unmemorable sandbox environment ever conceived. I’ve invested an approximate total of two hundred hours into this fictional city, spread across Saints Row: The Third for Xbox 360 and Switch, as well as Saints Row IV for Xbox 360 and PS4. But after this wealth of investment, I still don’t recognise a f***ing inch of it. Where Saints Row 2‘s Stilwater is awash with landmarks and variety (industrial districts, towering skyscrapers, a museum, a nuclear power plant, a prison, a shopping mall, a trailer park, and more), Steelport has nothing of the sort, serving as the epitome of generic.
Unfortunately, Saints Row: The Third can’t escape its age. Its gameplay and graphics have always fallen on the wonky side, but today this is more evident than ever due to the polish of modern open-world competitors like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Red Dead Redemption 2. When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was the benchmark, Saints Row: The Third’s buggy rubbish felt right at home, but the world has moved on. This haphazardly stitched-together headache just doesn’t tick the boxes anymore.
So with this cascade of complaints, is there still fun to be had in Saints Row: The Third? Well, some. It’s the video game equivalent of fast food: poor quality in almost every way, yet a comforting blast of mindless delight all the same. Going to town on Saints Row: The Third‘s world with an elaborately customised character, deadly tools of destruction in hand, and your brain switched on to autopilot will result in countless joys. Just don’t think too much about it.