So how would you feel about running around in an open-world action title smacking enemies with a giant dildo? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining whether or not you'll dig Saints Row The Third, which is, naturally, the third installment of Volition's sordid sandbox saga.
If that question made you laugh, utter some version of "hell yeah," or type "Saints Row 3 dildo" into your Google image search box, you and SRTT will get along famously. If you shifted uncomfortably in your seat, grumbled about kids these days, or fired off a how-dare-you email in the general vicinity of the Massively tip box, well, you can probably skip the rest of this week's MMO Burnout.
Fortunately, giant dildos are optional in Saints Row The Third, as is the game's Whored mode, which is sufficiently wince-inducing to ensure that even I am shifting uncomfortably in my seat at the thought of explaining it to you. Suffice it to say that if there is such a thing as a wholesome, politically correct video game, SRTT is its antichrist.
It's also a load of outrageous fun if you've got an irreverent streak to go along with your sandbox affinity.
The game casts you as the leader of the Third Street Saints, a street gang that spent the first two Saints titles taking over the fictional metropolis of Stillwater. Fast forward to the current game and the gang's leaders are international superstars heading up a brand-savvy pop culture revolution from their headquarters in the neighboring city of Steelport. The first clue that you're in for something other than the standard action sandbox comes during the introductory mission that you and your two lieutenants carry out while wearing huge bobblehead masks... of yourselves.
It's equal parts cheeky plot device and a clever delaying tactic that puts off character creation until you've had time to jump in and get a feel for the gameplay. After you've left a trail of bodies in your wake and are released into the game's character screen, you'll find the sort of nirvana that's usually reserved for fans of ridiculously robust MMO avatar options.
Body sliders, tattoos, and every imaginable outfit and article of clothing are yours for the mixing and matching, as is a laundry list of hilariously profane emotes from which you can choose your signature move. As you progress through the game's huge open world, you'll run across plenty of clothing stores and outfit upgrades too, so in spite of all the bling on display at the start, it's really just the tip of the customization iceberg.
Gameplay proper is a familiar mixture of story-based missions and a seemingly endless chain of sidequests. Steam tells me that I put nearly 15 hours into beating the game's primary narrative, and yet I've completed only a paltry 20 percent of the achievements and unlockables, to say nothing of the second ending.
Unlike serious business single-player sandboxes like Sleeping Dogs and Grand Theft Auto, SRTT is firmly tongue-in-cheek. The violence, profanity, and sexuality is so over the top that it's like playing a video game made by Chris Rock, Andrew Dice Clay, and Denis Leary. Assuming that Chris Rock, Andrew Dice Clay, and Denis Leary were pro game designers.
See, even thought SRTT goes to great lengths to offend, gross out, and ultimately tickle your inner (wo)man-child, it's also a rock-solid play experience whether we're talking about the third-person shooting mechanics, the air and ground vehicles, or the ability to wander far and wide through the game world and always stumble across something interesting to while away the hours.
You want to basejump off your megalithic skyscraper headquarters or streak down a city street buck naked? Be my guest. You can race cars, call in airstrikes, and pimp out your vehicles and gang member NPCs with an absurdly awesome array of visual and functional customization. You can also purchase businesses to supplement your income and take over neighborhoods from rival gangs, eventually turning the whole of Steelport into your personal playground.
That is, until the military shows up and declares martial law, at which point its back to ever more ridiculous (and ridiculously fun) set pieces.
Combat is standard action sandbox shtick, although I will say that I've never seen a game that features so many ways to blow stuff up. Upgrades, new shinies, and weapons of both mass destruction and of a more personal nature frequently find their way into your character's possession, and it's a credit to Volition that the game never seems faceroll-easy even though you're constantly winning the war of escalation.
Progression is level-based (with a 50 cap), and experience points are granted for completing story missions, side quests, and repeatable activities. Perks and attributes may be purchased each time you level, and the fact that your character upgrades are obtained with the same money that's used on the vehicle, gang, and gear upgrades mentioned above means that there's always a reason to ride around looking for trouble even if you're not in the mood for a story mission.
It's also worth noting that while Saints Row The Third is a single-player game at heart, Volition has included a serviceable co-op mode. The bad news is that the devs have axed the FFA PvP multiplayer from Saints Row 2. The good news is that Player Two may participate in all of your missions and earn credit for completing them in her own campaign. As mentioned earlier, I played the PC version of SRTT, but the game is of course available for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. In terms of the quality of the console port, I was completely impressed. I had nary crash nor a problem with jaggies or junked up camera angles for the entirety of my time in Steelport.
Ultimately Saints Row The Third is well worth the money if you like open-world games and you're not easily offended. And hey, you've got just enough time to give it a look-see prior to Saints Row IV's impending August release!
Burned out on MMOs? That's OK; there are tons of other titles out there featuring MMOish open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, or a combination of all three. Massively's MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems, not to mention a healthy dose of the best mods.