Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Saints are back in town!

Sorry about not posting in a while. Been playing so many games. I'll be trying to post a ton of reviews over the Christmas holidays. For now here's my thoughts on Saints Row: The Third:

Saints Row: The Third

You know what I miss about gaming sometimes? Fun. Pure fun and laughs. It doesn't sound right that I would say so would it, I mean gaming is about having fun?! But in a world of realism and heavy plots it’s nice to just sit back and play something that has a completely way-out story, tons of jokes, politically incorrect scenes and comments in the dozen, humorous violence and swearing like no tomorrow.  All backed up by blowing up cars, airplanes, people and firing endless rounds from heavy weaponry.

Welcome to Steelport then, or more precisely the game in which Steelport is a fictive city: Saints Row The Third. First let’s make it clear that I have only briefly played the first two Saints games and have very little prior knowledge to the series. There may be game elements that have been thrown away since the last games, but this third game is in a sense a reboot. Sort of.

"Freeze, dis iz da police!"
SR3 takes a more cartoonish look on its characters and simply takes everything up many notches in the let’s-go-all-the-way-with-ideas department. It kicks off with a laughable bank robbery that goes wrong. In which your character wears a large mascot mask so you don’t see him/her. Even this first mission goes an extra mile. From what is a normal robbery, it goes to hanging on to a huge safe being airlifted by a chopper off a skyscraper. All while gunning down SWAT-like teams. It starts off fun and action packed and thankfully it stays so all through the game.

You get to build your own character from either a finished figure or from scratch. The character creation is very free and you can make some very funny or great looking characters here, you can even change your appearance during the game if you felt like you didn't quite nail it the first time. This personal touch gives SR3 a cooler approach to sandbox gaming than taking on the life and troubles of a set character like in for instance GTAIV. It suits the genre well. It’s all about what you as a player wants to do.

My character, admiring the skyline of Steelport.
There are tons of options for the face, hair, clothing and physique in the character custimization.
And of course lots of really cool weaponry to blow stuff up with!
I like the sheer variation of the singleplayer in the game, or the main storymode if you like. Every single mission is different and it always feels like you simply aren't playing a typical GTA-like game. The shooting mechanics are free (no auto lock-on rubbish here) and feel precise, you can upgrade each weapon and there are lots to choose from. The missions put you in anything from ordinary shoot-outs against soldiers, gangsters, helicopters etc., while others put you in a wrestling brawl, air combat or car chases. You even end up in a simulated computer world in one mission. It so incredibly funny and combined with the really entertaining dialogue it’s a top-notch gaming experience. I must stress again, you don’t actually think you are playing a game in this genre during the missions, the game mechanics are actually so well made they feel like real third person shooter.

Add to this already solid game then; lots of side-missions, character levelling (which lets you become invincible against fire, bullets, police forgiveness etc.), buying different shops and taking over gang controlled city areas and you are in for hours, many hours of gameplay. We are talking about 30-40 hours at least of gameplay here. Speed through only the singleplayer hitting only about the seven hour mark and you have missed the point of a free-roaming game. You should, and are rewarded to explore. Wanna steal a plane at the airport? Drive there and do it! Want to dress up as a pink rabbit and fire rocket launcher rounds from a skyscraper before jumping off in parachute? Do it! Wanna jump through a front window of a sports car at the driver and kick him out, steal it and then drive it straight into a gang controlled area and start a shoot out with at least 20 people? Do it! Or stand surfing on a moving car, or drive an army motorboat with a canon or… get what I'm saying. Have fun!

The way the game awards you with money is also done in a perfect sort of learning curve. The really great awards are very expensive and the game never lets you get way ahead of it by levelling too fast. There’s always something that costs a little too much to buy that you simply want. Money is earned through for example missions, stealing vehicles, doing hitman work or buying up buildings and shops to get a timed income. You’ll never get bored, there’s always a next thing to do or something that distracts you away on a new adventure. You choose what to do yourself.

Stealing cars by jumping through the front window is hilarious and never gets old.
You can also jump in from the side!
Drifting around!
Are there some downsides then? Well there are some. The most obvious is the framerate the game runs in. It dips, and it does so a lot. Especially driving fast through crowded areas. It looks and makes the game feel sluggish when it kicks in. Combine this with a rather short draw distance I feel this game could have done with some more optimizing. There are also some bugs that occur and put you in awkward spots, but these type of games usually have a few of these. All in all though, this doesn't pull the game down so much for the whole experience. Large free-roaming games have a tendency to have an unstable framerate.

If GTAIV was simply to serious and very repetitive for you, I would warmly recommend SR3. In fact I actually think it’s one of the best games this year. Its release came as a surprise on me, it took itself far from serious  and I loved every minute of it. The storyline and main missions are incredibly varied and really fun to play. The city itself offers a huge amount of missions and tasks to occupy your time with, it simply drains gaming hours out of you. Hours which seem like minutes because the game has so much entertaining going on. You’ll simply be smiling and laughing all the time!