There’s a TV advert doing the rounds at the moment that helpfully points out that Saints Row: The Third is available at Argos. As well as nudging you towards an impulse purchase, while treating that special person in your life to some Elizabeth Duke jewellery, the advert also acts as a - presumably unwitting - reminder that Saints Row is of course the Argos Grand Theft Auto.
Cut and paste gaming at its most cynical, the series thus far has practically been a photocopy of GTA, albeit a bit smudged and ratty around the edges. We’re not sure about the legal issues, but surely if you did this sort of thing in any other medium there would be court cases involved.
Rant over, let’s judge this game purely on its merits, particularly as we didn’t have to venture into Argos to buy it. It’s great, albeit utterly preposterous and wholly over-the-top to the point where you almost become un-shockable, reduced to simply shaking your head in resigned acceptance at every increasing level of wrongness.
First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the sex toy. SR3’s signature weapon of course is a massive purple rubber phallus that is actually a reasonably effective addition to your melee arsenal.
Ludicrous though it is, it’s the thin end of a sexually-obsessed wedge that threatens to set gaming and gamers back several decades. It’s difficult to defend the medium when great swathes of the enemies are scantily-clad women and there’s a level called Trojan Whores, along with the additional Whored Mode, which is of course a hilarious play on Gears Of War’s Horde Mode. The game certainly knows it audience though, as in our first stab at co-op play we were aided by a topless woman, which never happened in Modern Warfare 3.
Desperate But Not Serious
You may have ascertained that Saints Row: The Third doesn’t take itself wholly seriously, and how much you enjoy it probably depends on whether you do the same. It’s actually hard to take offence when something is so relentlessly puerile, and you ultimately find yourself glibly going along with it (or penning an angry letter to The Daily Mail).
What helps to win you over is the fact that it is sometimes genuinely funny. There’s a pimp character whose only form of communication is singing into one of those Cher vo-coder things, a curious affectation that had us actively seeking out his missions so we could hear more of it. The fact that he was introduced in a gimp mask and ball gag as the ‘horse’ in a BDSM chariot race to the strains of The William Tell Overture only makes us love him even more.
Music plays a big part, via in-car radio stations, and there are plenty of ‘angry gamer’ tunes from the like of Marilyn Manson, as well as the obligatory urban channels. There are also a few pleasers for the Dads, with a bit of Adam and The Ants and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, with a special mention for oft-overlooked Scouse crooners, The Icicle Works. And while we’re ashamed to admit it, there was a very strong moment when we were in the midst of a murderous spree and Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero kicked in, elevating it from mere gaming into something approaching high art.
But how does it all work, you’re probably crying. It works absolutely fine, taking the GTA template and making it a solid, playable, ludicrous experience. The driving is up there with any titles in the open world genre, as indeed is the on-foot mechanics, with both competent shooting and decent melee. The level of character customisation is almost infinite - nostril width anyone? And your absurd creation manages to look picture-perfect in the cut scenes.
The missions are varied and silly, and at one point we had to assassinate a DJ for playing too much trance - not the worst idea. As for the core story, such as it is, there are shocks for series enthusiasts, but the whole thing is merely an excuse to throw increasingly ridiculous action at you, with the opening stages alone featuring more exploding helicopters than Bruce Willis’ entire career.
Not one for the chin-strokers, Saints Row: The Third is, on paper, an absolute disgrace, a morally reprehensible ultra-violent orgy of destruction and sexual depravity that should never have seen the light of day. It’s also immensely entertaining, and a timely reminder of when games used to be fun.