Steelport is Under New Management! The Saints Row Retrospective: Saints Row The Third

 

Saints Row Retrospective Introduction here, Saints Row 1 here, Saints Row 2 here.

 

Here we are. We’re finally at the game that I had fully expected would finish up this retrospective series. Little did I know, however, that I’m slower than a fat baby wading through peanut butter at getting these written. So I could have finally finished the series up with just one more post after this one. But no, Volition and Deep Silver decided to spite me personally by releasing Saints Row IV while I was writing this, thus moving my goalposts farther away just as I was coming in for a homerun. Or however sports work. Whatever, I’m nothing if not flexible, I can roll with this. So, Saints Row: The Third! That’s a game! Here’s a giant freakin’ post about it! Read it and shower me with adoration!

Oh, and for the record, I still haven’t played Saints Row IV by the time this post comes out, so keep that perspective in mind.

It seems that Saints Row 2 was a bit of a surprise hit, and Volition/THQ was aiming to take advantage of that newfound popularity in Saints Row: The Third. Everything in the game has been overhauled, from the tone to the engine, even the blasted title’s changed format for this entry. And while I may not agree with all the changes, I can’t argue with their effectiveness; this is by far the most unique game in the series to date, drastically setting itself apart from all the rest of the sandbox crime simulators out there.

It’s the tone that does that, more than anything else. This game is where the Saints Row series leaves any ties to reality behind, leaping from the diving board of the rational and plunging right into the deep end of insanity. This is the game where you’ll be assaulting people with giant purple dildos, where you’ll wage war as a deeply immersed avatar on the internet, where you’ll get into tank battles while falling from 25,000 feet in the air. Saints Row: The Third pushes the reputation the series had gotten for blatant irreverence and wild gameplay to it’s breaking point, and then pushes it just a bit further. The series has always been known for being wild, and this game is the most blatant of the lot.

That’s not to say that the tone is everything. Behind the newly reached heights of ridiculousness lies the most highly polished game in the series thus far. Except maybe for Saints Row IV. But we’re ignoring that right now because Deep Silver did not get my permission before publishing. In what feels like pursuit of a broader audience, Volition has given Saints Row: The Third the smoothest gameplay the series has seen yet, and made player convenience the order of the day. Well, mostly. There are a few missteps here and there, but we’ll get to those. It may be telling that this is the first game I’ve pursued 100% completion while replaying them for this retrospective series. While part of that is because The Third is a bit simpler and smaller than it’s predecessor, it’s mostly that I found the gameplay so entertaining and each individual aspect so accessible. It’s a good game. It’s a really good game. So much so that it inspired me to write 22 pages of text on it. That has to be some sort of point in its favor, right?

Character Creation

Upon starting up the game, it becomes immediately apparent that you’re playing something different. After a tutorial mission that also serves to beautifully set up the plot while introducing one of the game’s main themes, you’re dropped into the character customization screen. Having a custom-made main character has always been a really important part of Saints Row, and The Third doesn’t disappoint. Saints Row: The Third’s character customization engine is one of the best in gaming. It’s about as far from the relatively ineffective one in the first game as you can get. As far as physical attributes go, you’re given a great degree of precision to work with. It’s a relatively simple matter to get exactly the look you’re going for. So if, for example, you’re lucky enough to be anywhere near as unfathomably beautiful as I am and playing as any character less attractive just grinds your nerves, you’re given exactly the tools you need to accurately recreate yourself in the game.

Saints Row The Third Char Creation

For example, this is pretty much exactly what I look like in real life.

Of course, you’re free to make any other character you want as well. I just don’t know why you’d want to.

There is a price to this, however. While the customization of your avatar’s face and body has been greatly improved, most other forms of customization have been simplified. You no longer get to play with the length and other details of your hair, you just choose a style and color from a list. You don’t get to mix and match layers of clothing anymore, you’ve just got a set collection of tops, bottoms, and shoes to play with. Moreover, it doesn’t feel like there’s quite as much variety in clothing as there was in the last game. It may be because of the whole layering issue, but it felt like it was a lot harder to find exactly the type of outfit I was looking for. For example, there’s almost no eyeglasses in the game, very few jewelry options, plain t-shirts are difficult to find, etc. Essentially, there’s a greater degree of customization in body and face, but less in clothing. It’s a trade-off I think is worth it, but it still would have been nice to keep the best of both.

Gameplay

 Saints Row The Third Gameplay 1

As we bring up Saints Row: The Third’s gameplay, there’s no getting around the question that I know is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The question that always comes up for most people new to the series. The question that you’ll see no end of arguments about on various gaming forums. That question goes a little something like this: “Oh Aether, you stallion of a man. How do you make beauty look so natural?” Unfortunately, that’s a question for another post. Instead, we’ll go to the secondm question on everyone’s mind, which is, “Is this game better or worse than Saints Row 2?” And to that, the only answer I can give is “Eeeeeeeeegh, it depends.” Like so much else in Saints Row: The Third, the gameplay’s been seemingly re-engineered for a broader appeal. What that means is that everything’s received a lot of much-needed polish, but some of the bumps and warps that made the first two games unique have been sanded away and the experience has been a bit simplified. You get the smoother controls, the fun handling, the weapons both exotic and comfortable, yet there’s plenty of features that we’ve grown used to yet are left by the wayside.

The game feels good to play. Great, even. The controls aren’t that different from the last two games, but Volition’s tweaked them until they’ve hit just the sweet spot of sensitivity. They’re very responsive, without being too frenzied, a testament to the amount of fine-tuning they’ve gotten. I’m not positive about this, but it feels like Volition’s developed a new engine for the game, rather than just using the same code from Saints Row 1 and 2, and that engine feels a lot nicer. Even if I’m wrong about that, the engine’s been tweaked drastically into something that perfectly suits what they’re aiming for in this game. Yes, we have pretty much the same shooting and driving that we had the last two times, but no they’re a lot simpler and a lot more fun to do.

 saintsrowthethirdawesomebutton

One new addition to the game is what the developers have dubbed the “awesome button”. You hold it down and it makes everything you do more awesome. Walking while holding the awesome button makes you run. Entering a car while holding the awesome button makes you leap into the drivers seat through the nearest window. Attacking someone while holding down the awesome button makes you leap onto them and ride their face down the street like a skateboard. It adds a lot of punch to your general moves, and gets you where you’re going just a little bit quicker.

 saints row the third gunsgunsguns

Gunplay is pretty much what is always was. Aim at target, press the button, kill the gangster, you know the drill. Aside from making the controls smoother, there’s not much different there. You now have the ability to upgrade your weapons, however, making them stronger and giving them neat effects. You can fire explosive rounds, damaging everyone in a small area; armor-piercing rounds, doing damage to the few enemies with protection; and incendiary rounds, which can ignite entire groups. They’ve taken away the ability to heal yourself by scarfing down food, now forcing you to run like a little sissy girl when you’re wounded. On the other hand, you’ve now got a separate key for throwing grenades rather than having them as a selectable weapon, making them a lot more convenient and creating the chance that you’ll actually use them once in a while.

 saints row the third police punch

Close range combat has gotten a huge power boost this game. Not through the melee weapons, those are almost useless and you’ll never use them unless you make a point of it. No, it’s mostly hand-to-hand that’s become so powerful. While you’ve still got the combos and finishing moves introduced last game, it’s the introduction of the new quicktime attacks that really have the biggest effects. Get in close and press the right button, and you’ll be treated to a brief quicktime event that leaves your enemy dead and you invunerable for the duration. Timing this right, it’s a simple matter to move from banger to banger, leaving whole groups of heavily armed foes in your wake with nothing but your fists.

Also, you’ve got a button that’s almost entirely devoted to punching people in the dick. You know, in case you needed one of those. I don’t judge.

 saints row the third driving

Driving is pretty much the same as it always was. General controls are a little tighter, powersliding’s a little looser, it all balances out. Unfortunately, it seems vehicles have received a bit less focus than foot combat this time around. You don’t have quite as much car combat this game as you did the last two, and I almost never found myself hitting the cruise control button to focus on blasting stuff. There’s not much in the way of new vehicle types this time, although the one noticeable addition, VTOL jets, are pretty neat. These are craft switch between helicopter- and plane-type controls whenever you want them to, granting you both the speed to zoom from one end of the city to the other and the precision to land on top of some poor soul’s grandmother, ready to jet away again as soon as you finish your business in that neighborhood. Overall, driving mostly serves just to get you from place to place, and doesn’t have quite as much play in missions as it used to. Kind of a shame, because you’re better able to engage in car combat than you were in Saints Row 1 or 2.

Overall, the game’s a lot easier. A lot easier. A looooooooooooooooooooot easier. It can definitely bring the action, it’s just a lot less likely that the action’s ever going to kill you. The ease isn’t necessarily a problem; Saints Row 2 wasn’t exactly breaking controllers in the first place, but it’s still worth noting. Even bumping up the difficulty settings, failure is still pretty rare. Once on this runthrough, just for fun, I decided to piss off one of the gangs and see how long I could last through their maximum aggression. After forty-five minutes of constantly facing at least a dozen enemies at any given tie, I had completely run out of ammo as had to resort to taken them all on with my fists before I finally fell. Sure, there’s the odd situation that might give you trouble, but they’re usually easily conquered, and rare is the circumstance that you won’t be able to overcome by being at least mildly clever or skilled.

 saint row the third freakin' invincibility

And that’s even before getting to the upgrades. Whereas Saints Row 2 let you upgrade yourself through completing activities, Saints Row: The Third instead has you unlock your upgrades through earning respect, then buy them with cash. So, in essence, upgrades are a lot more accessible in this game. They’re also a lot more powerful. Whereas Saints Row 2 topped out at, say, reducing the amount of damage you take from guns by 30%, The Third will eventually make you immune to bullets. In fact, if you get all the upgrades, you end up literally almost indestructible, you’ll have unlimited ammo and no need to reload, and you’ll essentially be able to stroll through the prickliest situations as if it were a Sunday walk. Well, if you choose to, at least. These upgrades are completely optional, and you’ll have to play a considerable amount of time to get to the best ones. Once you do, though? I found it so refreshing. Honestly, the game was never that challenging at the best of times, being able to stand up to armies and never flinch is pretty blasted empowering. There’s a huge amount of upgrades, and almost all of them are significant. If you love growing stronger as you progress in the game, RPG-style, Saints Row: The Third is a dream. By the end, you’ll be able to go toe to toe with a tank and come out of it unscathed, and that’s a beautiful thing.

The upgrade system does create something in Saints Row: The Third. Something revolutionary. Something never even imagined in a sandbox crime simulator. They’ve actually balanced the economy in this game! In Saints Row 1, you were always broke; money was hard to come by, and whatever you got you spent on bullets. In Saints Row 2, you had huge amounts of money coming in, but nothing to spend it on. Saints Row: The Third perfects the formula, with millions of dollars flowing into your account and flowing out just as fast. As befitting the head of a criminal empire, you’ll be making massive amounts of money, yet there’s almost always something to spend it on. The vast majority of your money will go to upgrading your character, but that just speaks to the huge amounts of upgrades to have. This game’s handling of money strikes a very hard to reach balance; making currency both plentiful and valuable, and it took me about thirty hours before I ran out of things to buy, far longer than most games of this type.

 saints row the third helicopter assault

Of course, now that they moved upgrades to an unlock-and-buy system, that must make the side activities pretty worthless, right? Nope, those are just as valuable as they always were. Your main source of money is going to be taking over turf, just like it was last game, but this time around, activities are one of your three main ways of doing that. Basically, you complete one of these activities, a brief side game where you fulfill certain criteria such as doing enough damage to yourself in ragdoll mode or earn enough money blowing stuff up, then you’re given a certain patch of the city to call your own that pays out money on regular intervals. Like much else in this game, activities are easier than you used to be, in fact, it was very rare that I ever lost at one. You’re not obligated to spend as much time doing activities, either. You’ll get the full benefits out of each activity after six repetitions, rather than twelve as in last game. Moreover, you usually get a bit of variation in each activity, whether in gameplay or in theme. For example, in the Escort activity, you’ll carry around hookers and their clients while evading paparazzi and fulfilling stupid requests for half the activity, then drive around a live tiger while avoiding animal control truck and randomly getting mauled for the other half. In Snatch, for half the entries you’ll rescue hookers from their pimps, while for the other half you’ll rescue informants from rival gang members. It’s not much, but it does help to keep them from going stale.

 saints row the third prof genki

The Third’s activities are mostly made up of a collection of the best (like Insurance Fraud) and the worst (Snatch) from the previous two games, but there are a couple of new additions. Most prominent is Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax. In this activity, you’ll be transported to a reality show obstacle course where you’ll kill mascots for money until you earn enough to escape while announcers provide a live play-by-play. It’s also the one with the most flavor, and frankly, those mascots had it coming. Seriously, just look into their beady little eyes sometime, and tell me they haven’t just taken a piece of your soul. Given that it’s the only activity without an income cap, it’s the most useful one if you’re needing some quick cash. Tank Mayhem is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. It’s just like the old Mayhem activity (which is also included, by the way) where you’re charged with destroying as much stuff as possible, except now you’re in a tank. Really, it’s a pretty obvious addition. And finally, there’s the Guardian Angel activity, which was actually intended for Saints Row 2 but was never completed. This one’s pretty simple, you’re either following your buddies around in a helicopter defending them from rival gangs with a rocket launcher, or perched on a rooftop with a sniper rifle keeping anybody from getting too close to your favorite Saint.

The other two ways of gaining turf and consistent cash are to just buy businesses property outright, and to clear out gang operations. Gang operations are pretty much where rival gang members sit around in a circle doing nothing until you show up and inject a brief moment of excitement into their worthless lives before ending them. Somehow, that gives you control over their territory.

 saints row the third hitman

Even outside of the activities, there’s still quite a bit to do. You’ve got the Hitman and Chopshop diversions, which you can activate through your cellphone. In Hitman, you go to a certain location, do a certain activity, then kill a certain person. In Chopshop, you go to the right place then steal the right car and drive it back to the right building. Both of these range in quality from the actually pretty good and clever to the braindead retarded, mostly depending on execution. Some of them are well put together and get you to try things you likely wouldn’t otherwise. Others just make you wonder who on the development team thought it’d be a good idea to waste your time like that. Finally, you’ve got the Challenges. With these, you complete a certain activity a certain number of times throughout the game then get a payout of cash and respect. Some challenges will be naturally fulfilled playing through the game, while others will require you to try some things out you probably wouldn’t see otherwise, but if you choose to do them, it’s just one more way to occupy your time in Steelport.

 saints row the third mission

With the reduced emphasis on activities and the greater simplification of most everything else you can do in the open world, Saints Row: The Third puts a much greater focus on its missions both from a development and a gameplay perspective. These missions are where the plot gets advanced and where you really move towards the endgame, as well as generally being the most strongly put-together part of the game. As opposed to Saints Row 2, where I generally had more fun just dicking around in Stilwater than I had doing the missions, I found the mission in The Third to be my favorite parts of the game. You’ve got about as much variety in the missions as you did last game, and you can tell the developers are trying to inject a lot more excitement into them as well. By their own admission, Volition made it a goal to have at least one “Holy Shit” moment each mission, and for the most part, they’ve succeeded. Some of the moments may fall flat or go on for a little too long, but generally, they work pretty well. As a side effect of that, though, the missions are much less free form than they used to be. All the excitement is saved for scripted moments, rather than letting the player develop them naturally. I never hit a jump while fleeing from the cops and crash landed into another car so hard that I clipped through it and ended up driving a two-car hybrid backwards, like I did in the first Saints Row. Nor have I ever had the opportunity to defeat a gang assault force by tossing each and every member two stories down onto a highway, trying to see how many I can land on top of an oncoming vehicle, like in Saints Row 2. But I did have a gunfight plummeting from 25,000 feet, I did disable a semi-truck with precision fire from a tank, and I did punch out a movie star and carried him over my shoulder out of a military base, all in nice, exciting, polished, set-piece moments. The player driven wild moments are still possible, but you don’t seem to come by them as naturally in this game as you did the last two. Essentially, they’re taking the excitement and crazy moments that used to arise naturally out of gameplay and making the come mechanically by developer fiat. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely different than how the series used to present it, and makes for less of a unique experience.

There’s a bit of a change of format in the storyline missions as well. Where previously, you’d have a separate set of missions for each gang and could go as far in any of them as you saw fit independent of the others, things have been simplified here. You’ve only got one plotline in this game, and while it does occasionally split into two or three branches that you can complete at your whim, it’s still pretty much linear. You do lose a bit of freedom, but in return they’re able to deliver a more focused storyline. Not that they do, you know, actually deliver a more focused storyline, but they’re able to.

 saints row the third brute

In a first for the series, you actually get some variety in enemy type. No more are you forced to fight your way past wave after wave of just “dude with a gun” and “dude with a different gun” while waiting for the excitement of facing down “dud with a big gun.” You’ve still got those, of course, but they’re supplemented by some new additions to your enemy forces: the specialist and the brute. Specialists start spawning when you reach level three hostility, and are different for each gang and the police. They’ve got more health and different attack patterns than your standard banger, and usually come with specialized weapons that you can pick up and turn against them. Brutes will come about when you’ve got level four or higher hostility with any of the gangs. They’re large, hulking, genetically engineered clones that come in three flavors: vanilla, minigun, and flamethrower. The basic brute is unarmed, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less dangerous than your standard thug. They’re strong enough to send you flying, and will pursue you relentlessly until they die. The minigun brutes are armored on their chests and, go figure, carry around a minigun that can cut through vehicles like paper, not to mention what they can do to you. The flamethrower brutes have flamethrowers. I’m sure you can figure out what they do by now.

Even the basic police have upgraded their operations since the last two games. They don’t even carry non-lethal weaponry now, and have got no interest in simply arresting you. They’ll call in the SWAT Team specialists and helicopters much more readily than they have in the last two games, and when you reach max hostility with them, rather than bringing in the FBI like they used to, instead they get the freaking National Guard after you. Basically, what I’m saying is that the upgrades system may give you more fighting capability than you’ve ever had before, but your enemies are making a good attempt at bringing more types of combat.

Overall, this game seems a lot more stable than Saints Row 2 did, at least on consoles. I did still run into a few problems on PC. Nothing game breaking, but I did have to restart a few missions because some glitch rendered them impossible to complete. There was also one amusing part where the game seemingly forgot to load in part of a freeway, so I fell right through it while fleeing from the police. Like I said, nothing major, but it’s worth noting, and the game does seem to get a bit looser with glitches as you close in on the ending.

 saints row the third trouble with clones

Oh, and one final thing. You remember in Saints Row 2, how I complained the the DLC is pathetic and totally not worth the money? Well, they’ve remedied that a bit in Saints Row The Third. Genkibowl VII is a bit meh, as it mostly just introduces variations onto the activities that already come with the game, but Gangstas in Space and The Trouble with Clones are much more entertaining. They still have the same problem that the DLC in Saints Row 2 did, in that they’re very brief, but unlike the paid content in the last game, the missions here aren’t so aggressively stupid. They aren’t exactly fantastic packs of DLC, so if you’re on the fence about getting them, it might be better to just save your money, but if you do splurge, you’re in for a lot more quality than you were last time around.

Tone

Oh man. So lets back up a bit here. The first Saints Row was a bit wild, but played the important parts mostly straight. It was the goofy bits of the Grand Theft Auto 3 era games taken just a step further, but still firmly grounded in realism. Saints Row 2 leaves the realistic behind and fully embraces all the stupid crazy things players always want to do in a sandbox crime simulator. It’s where the reputation the series has for being WILD and EXTREME is founded. However, it also has a prominent dark side to it. You do some uncomfortable things throughout the story, and in the moments where that game takes things seriously, it has a very definite edge.

 saints row the third tone

Saints Row: The Third, by contrast, is a cartoon. It’s like Bugs Bunny had a lovechild with an axe murderer and it became a crimelord. While it can have its serious moments, for the most part, the game is just plain goofy. The sinister acts and dark events of the last two games have been replaced with black comedy, and while everyone’s still a mass murdering psychopath, they’re all a lot lighter and softer than they used to be, just as likely to crack a joke as they are to gun down a crowd. Well, except Shaundi. But we’ll get to her. All the thug life overtones, the serious story about street warfare, those are all gone. Now, the Saints are more of a business than anything else, and they fight against the likes of luchadores, Tron rejects, and commandos with laser guns. Humor abounds in this game, more so than it has in any of the two preceding it. And they over-the-top craziness is emphasized much more than it ever has been before. The developers were well aware of the reputation that Saints Row 2 was getting, and stretched it until is snapped back and slapped them in the face. This is a game about glorifying insane situations, about finding humor in the consequence-free violence, about wrecking everything you can see in ways you won’t expect. It’s not for everyone, and I know a lot of fans of the last game were turned off by this change in tone. If it is something you’re into, however, this game will deliver like no other.

Steelport

 Saints row the third steelport

After two games, you’re done with Stilwater. What are you going to do, give up control of the city just to take it back again? No, there’s nothing more to do with that town, nothing to threaten your dominance over it. Besides, it’d probably get boring, going through the same map, people, and challenges a third time. Nope, you’re getting a new toy to play with.

Steelport’s a lot like Stilwater in a couple of ways. It’s still made up of a series of islands, although you’ve got five major islands to work with now instead of Stilwater’s two. There’s a fair bit of disparity between sections; you’ve got your skyscraper district, industrial area, low rise residential area, etc. The level of technology in Steelport seems to be quite a bit higher. Whereas Stilwater was fairly modern, Steelport seems to be aiming for 5-10 years in the future. The police cars would be at home in a cyberpunk setting, you’ve got VTOL motorbikes, and you even come against laser rifles midway through the game. The city as a whole seems a lot less seedy. Whereas Stilwater had its rundown neighborhoods, its trailerparks, its slums, the worst areas of Steelport are firmly lower-middle class. Instead, they reach new heights with its downtown areas. The city proper is definitely a lot more metropolitan than Stilwater ever was, with higher skyscrapers, a more vibrant city scape, and lots and lots of pretty lights. I mean, just look at it…

And, of course with a name like Steelport, you’ve also got a significant industrial presence, and a prominent shipping area. You likely won’t spend a lot of time in those sectors, but they do present some nice variation.

Presentation

This game puts a heavy emphasis on its presentation, much more than any other before. In opposition to the almost entirely freeform enjoyment of the previous two games, the developers of Saints Row: The Third made sure to deliberately craft your fun, and to do that, they needing the resources to better connect with the viewer. Luckily, they’ve got some new tools to deliver just the experience they want.

 saints row the third presentation

Once again, the graphics have been updated. They’re a bit better than they were before. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is what they can do with it. The new graphics don’t really push the game forward much, but there is one area where they lend themselves to huge improvements. In the first two Saints Rows, the characters’ faces were absolutely rigid, as if some crazed surgeon had snuck into everyone’s home and night and filled their faces with the worst kind of botox. Mouths would move, but that’s just about it. I don’t know if it’s a new graphical engine that allows this or they’re just using tools they never bothered to before, but faces in Saints Row have a lot more points of articulation. It’s not exactly LA Noire quality here, but they’re a far cry from the planks with flapping gums look they had in the last two games. Why does this matter, exactly? Well, it makes the characters seem quite a bit more human. When someone’s angry, worried, whatever, you’ve got a lot more to use to make those emotions more believable. There’s a lot more range to showing emotions and adding to the voice acting through expressions. For example, you can be indignant…

 saints row the third personality 3

nervous…

 saints row the third personality 2

angry…

 Saints row the third personality 4

uh… whatever this is…

 saints row the third face thing

Anyways. Having characters that can show emotion is a good thing. This game does that. Next topic!

The music’s largely the same as it always was. A bunch of licensed tracks put together in radio stations that you can play off your phone whenever you want to and play by default whenever you enter a car. The choices are fitting, although not altogether surprising. In some non-intrusive product placement, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim has its own radio station that’s… not actually all that great, but whatever. The developers do work the music into the games setpiece moments in a nice way. Whereas previously, all you’d have is the sweet melody of automatic rifle fire to keep you company whenever you had to go out and end somebody, now you’ve got a soundtrack for your most momentous occasions. These songs will play in the background and repeat until the mission’s done. They don’t pop up too often, but when they do, the song choices are really appropriate. You’ll get stuff like Kanye West’s Power when ejecting people from your future headquarters, and Bonnie Tyler’s Holding out for a Hero when you need to go save some people. The background music to missions, when it does pop up, really helps heighten the emotional impacts involved.

And one final thing; I really have to commend whoever handled the voice direction on this game. It’s probably the single biggest improvement in the game’s presentation. While they didn’t always have the greatest material to work with, the characters here feel miles deeper and it’s all thanks to the voices. The protagonist in particular has much more character than he did in Saints Row 2, and the game’s a lot better because of it.

Plot/Characters

 saints row the third badass walk

We’re going to be handling this section a bit differently than we have the past two times we did this whole retrospective thing. I’m not doing a summary of the game’s plot. Instead, we’re going to trade that out for a bit more analysis. We’re still doing the character summaries, because I quite like those, but the full game recap is gone. If you really feel you need one of those, I’d recommend you start here and just keep clicking through the missions. That section takes forever to write, and probably isn’t that useful for people finding this page. Instead, we’re going to try to talk about a broader range of subjects.

Just in case you’re reading this but you haven’t played through the game already, I’ve got to put a Spoiler Warning here. We’re going to be going through the game’s events in the following sections, and we’re going to leave no care for the purity of experience of anyone who doesn’t know what’s coming in the game. You’ve been warned.

Are they gone? Did we scare all the newbs away yet? Ok, good. We can get started.

One thing that I just have to note about the plot is that it’s really messed up. Saints Row: The Third was cobbled together from a lot of different ideas and projects, building a Frankenstein’s Monster of a game. In most aspects of the game, it’s not a problem. The setting, the gameplay, and the tone are such that it can easily handle a high degree of variance. The plot, however, is where the seams show, and they show vibrantly. There a so many obvious disconnects here, it’s a wonder the developers were able to string things together in the first place. They’ve got the framework for some very interesting things, but the plot’s execution never reaches the potential it could have, and it’s largely this disjointedness that’s the cause. Events and characters start and just fizzle out, things happen that don’t even make internal sense, the plot in general is just a wreck. But we’ll try to make sense of it as best we can.

 saints row the third planet saints

Much like Saints Row 2, The Third makes full use of the time in between games. Stuff’s been happening, and the Saints haven’t exactly been idle. They’ve become celebrities. People love them! There’s a movie based on them coming out, they’ve got comic books, Shaundi was the star of a dating show, there’s a chain of Saints-licensed clothing stores, basically, they’re the epitome of the over-exposed celebrity we’re all to experienced with in real life. That’s right, the Saints have become the Kardashians, the Hiltons, the other vapid celebrity that I don’t really know about because I’m bad at pop culture. The Saints have even merged with Ultor, creating the Saints-Ultor Media Group to manage all of this. It’s making them loads of money, seemingly more than they get by criming, but at the same time, it’s to be costing them their identity. Johnny Gat makes that point in the beginning, wondering what happened to the Saints, and it’s a concept that keeps being brought up throughout the game.

It’s gotten so bad that in the tutorial mission, where you, Gat, and Shaundi rob a bank to reconnect with your roots, citizens will approach you for autographs and pictures in spite of the exchange of gunfire, and the police even assume you’re just doing it as a publicity stunt. Nobody takes you seriously as the criminal terror you once were.

So it’s fitting that the police sell you out to the Syndicate, a consortium of three gangs from Steelport. They imprison you in their plane flying over the city for no other reason than that it’s dramatic. Much like Maero did in Saints Row 2, they make you a ridiculous offer; they’ll let the Saints continue operations in exchange for the lion’s share of your gang’s profits. I’ll let you guess how that deal ends up.

saints row the third plummet

here’s a hint.

You end up on the ground in Steelport, with a new mission, a new grudge, and a new city to make your own. And so your conquest for vengeance starts. You’ll rip Steelport out from under the syndicate no matter what it takes.

The Third Street Saints

 saints row the third saints

Of course, you don’t make your home on Third Street anymore, nor is there a Saints Row in Steelport, so you’ve lost your roots literally as well as figuratively. As I stated earlier, the Saints do not feel like a street gang anymore. All the THUG LYFE! aesthetics are gone. Instead, this is a mercenary force, engaging in street warfare against your enemy’s armies. They’re much better equipped than they ever were. Just after landing in Steelport, you have Pierce bring the gang over and they come in a fleet of attack choppers. It’s not long in the game before you get the ability to launch missiles from satellites, your gang can deliver you military jets at your command, etc. You’ve grown a long way from the street thugging days, the Saints are now a private army who just happen to be into organized crime. One of the benefits of your newfound wealth, I suppose.

The Saints, as stated before, have become celebrities, and they’re certainly living the high life. Your bases now consist of penthouses, privately owned skyscrapers, and other such luxurious locales rather than the underground hotel and broken down church you used to have. They’re all over the billboards and tv, and you can see people wearing Saints attire all throughout Steelport. Luckily, they haven’t gone complacent, and the Saints are still ready to throw down when the situation calls for it.

Just like last game, you get to customize your crew. You get a lot more options for what your bangers look like, but not so much for their vehicles. As always, their gang color is purple, and they’ve adopted a fleur de lis as their emblem. Throughout the game, the Saints will undertake a variety of activities, but the only illegal one they seem to do is handling prostitution. Otherwise, they seem to make most of their money from legit, or at least legally gray, sources.

The Boss

 saints row the third protagonist

Hey, it’s this guy again! Yep, you’re the same character as you were in the last two games, although much like almost everyone else, you’ve changed in the years between games. Largely, you’ve softened quite a bit, perhaps leading to the core decay the Saints have been going through. The first game, you were cold and effective. The second, you were vicious and hateful. The Third, you’re cheery and finds the joy in violence. You even let an adversary leave Steelport alive and in peace, something the Saints Row 2 Boss never would have done. At the start of the game, you seem more comfortable than Johnny with way things are with the Saints, although it that mindset gets shaken as the story progresses.

Personality wise, you’ve become a lot more like Johnny Gat. You’re always joking, finding fun in violent situations, and just in general having a good time with the chaos you’re inflicting on Steelport. I mentioned before that you seem to have a lot more character than you did last game and that’s definitely true. Your character changes a bit based on which of the voices you use, but all six of them feel a lot deeper than they ever have before. You’re the source of the game’s levity, and you take over Gat’s old role of being the perfect representative for both the tone of the game and the moods they’re trying to instill in the player.

You serve an interesting role within the Saints. You seem to be both the Saints’ leader and its enforcer. You’re definitely in charge of the Saints, you set their goals, you lead the troops, and you coordinate their activities. You’re also the first on the ground and immediately at the front whenever some violence needs to go down. However, you’re not much of a thinker, and you spend a lot of the game following the orders and plans of your lieutenants. Essentially, you’re in charge of the overall Saints, and you set all the long-term aspects of the gang, but you tend to leave the immediate direction to your lieutenants. Of course, you do plan out a few assaults yourself, and those plans tend to be crazier than any others.

Johnny Gat

 saints row the third johnny gat

This is the character that’s changed the least from the last two games. Well, maybe. It’s kind of hard to tell, considering he dies ten minutes into the game, so you don’t get a lot of time to gauge his personality. Right, I forgot to mention earlier, he stays behind and gets gunned down while you and Shaundi are escaping the plane. Well, maybe. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Johnny Gat was always the perfect embodiment of the values behind the game design, of finding absolute joy in chaos and destruction. What little you saw of him this game had him poised to continue that role. However, with the protagonist taking over that position, he was becoming somewhat redundant. His death is one of the most controversial things in this game. As I see it, the death itself is not a problem. With you and he becoming so similar, one of three things was going to have to happen. The developers would have to either a) find some way for the two of you to consistently play off each other, b) change the personality of one of you, or c) remove Gat from the equation. They went with the lazy choice, and while it’s not my favorite, it does make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is how they executed it. Johnny Gat is one of the series’ longest running characters. He’s been there since game one. He and the Boss are close, and they’re the only two original members of the Saints still involved with the organization. Moreover, he’s a very well established badass, and he’s one of the series’ most loved characters. So if the storyline calls for Johnny Gat to die, it needs to be a grand event. It needs to be something that pays respect to him, has a great emotional impact on the Boss, drives the narrative, and has Gat’s blaze of glory.

Instead, they killed him off-screen with absolutely no closure. He’s on an intercom, tells you to get off the plane, mentions there’s a bunch of dudes around, and then you hear the sound of gunfire. That’s it. It’s blatantly the kind of setup one would use if they were planning to bring him back later. But he never returns, except as a easter egg zombie after you’ve beaten the game. In fact, they were planning on bringing him back at the end of the game, except they scrapped that plan while never changing the script and still leaving the threads hanging. As a result of that, they’ve killed one of the best characters in the series and gained absolutely no narrative weight from it. His death just feels cheap.

According to the writers, Gat was killed to make the Syndicate look powerful, a traditional use of the old Worf/Wolverine Effect. The problem is that for the Wolverine Effect to work, where you have a new villain beat an established badass to make them look like a more powerful foe, the battle has to be memorable. Usually, it’s just a quick fight, which does nothing to cement the enemy’s power in the minds of the viewers. A more complex and established battle, however, will legitimately make the bad guy seem more powerful. In Saints Row: The Third’s case, you don’t even see most of the fight. It pretty much has the same effect as some misanthrope trying to prove he’s a deadly warrior by showing you the stats of his D&D character. It especially doesn’t work when it’s the first thing done in the game, when there’s no time to establish the Saints’ relative power level.

Essentially, if they had put Gat’s death later in the game, say, at the end of the first act, given it meaning and weight, and hadn’t crapped out on the execution with the initial intention of bringing him back later, this could have been a very powerful moment. Instead, the whole thing feels so cheap. And yes, I know they’re bringing him back in Saints Row IV. Just keep in mind that they seem to be bringing back quite a few decidedly dead people in Saints Row IV, that at least part of the game takes place in a computer simulation and not everything you see is real, and that Volition has lied to you in trailers before. Just sayin’.

Shaundi

 saints row the third shaundi

Oh blazes. If you’ve heard anything about the Saints Row The Third characters, and it’s not about Gat, it’s about Shaundi. If you’ll recall from Saints Row 2, Shaundi was the stoner with hordes of boyfriends who was not much of a fighter but ran your drug trade and was really good at getting information. She was fun, easygoing, always down for a party, and just in general a good person to be around. The Third’s Shaundi has none of that. She’s angry, violent, vindictive, doesn’t bother with drugs, is useless for information, and her love life is only brought up in passing. So much so, in fact, that she’s constantly accused of being an entirely different character. And you know what? The people who make that claim think they’re exaggerating, but they might be on to something. Think about it, the anger, the fact that she seems to take a bath occasionally, the massive tits, don’t they remind you of someone? She doesn’t act like Shaundi anymore, because she’s actually Lin from Saints Row 1!

 One_Step_Ahead_Lin

Tell me I’m wrong! Tell me that doesn’t make perfect sense! Lin’s ghost took over Shaundi’s body, got some breast enhancement so she’d feel more at home, and stepped right back into her own role with the Saints!

Even just looking at this game alone, Shaundi’s still a pretty inconsistent character. She’s obsessed with destroying the Syndicate, and even gets angry at you for not killing them as fast as she’d like, yet when former Syndicate members join the Saints, she’s pretty quick to forgive and forget. Everyone tells you that she’s angry because she’s taking Gat’s death hard, yet she was pretty pissy even before anything happened to Gat. She’s established as a much better fighter than she was last game, able to headshot with ease, yet she gets captured and needs to be rescued no less than twice.

She may be a victim of the aforementioned Frankenstein Plot. She’s very active throughout the first act, then pretty much disappears, showing up only to go after a Syndicate leader in a single mission and to be the damsel in distress afterwards. Of course, you can call her up at your whim, but plot-wise, she’s pretty non-existent. It was planned to have her get some actual development in the game, with you watching as she becomes more sinister while coping with the Death of Johnny Gat, but that got cut for being “too dark”. Yes, too dark for a Saints Row game. Maybe that shift in focus is part of the problem with this game.

Pierce

 saints row the third pierce

Pierce Washington is handled a lot better than Shaundi. The character’s changed to reflect the time spent between games, yet is still very recognizable. He’s still the butt of many jokes, still self-focused, still has fun while taking gang life seriously, yet the years have made him a lot more competent. He seems to be taking over the role of second-in-command in Johnny Gat’s stead, and has grown quite close with the boss. His character gets some really good interplay with yours. He’s constantly at your side in missions, and plans out the early thrust against the Syndicate.

Pierce is still the Saints’ tactician, and probably the smartest man you’ve got on payroll. He’s the Saint most behind the gang’s new media-centric transformation, and seems to truly enjoy his celebrity status. He also makes a good foil for Shaundi’s new-found aggression. While she’s constantly trying to push for more bloodshed, Pierce provides the voice for reason, and well as the call to just lighten up once in a while. And really, that’s what you need in the world of Saints Row.

Oleg Kirrilov

 saints row the third oleg 2

The first new character to join your gang, Oleg Kirrilov is a genetically enhanced former KGB agent. He serves as the genetic template for the brutes the Syndicate throws at you. Until you free him near the end of act 1, he’s imprisoned in the Morningstar’s (one of the three Syndicate gangs) base, forcibly providing genetic material to clone the brutes. In the vanilla game, he’s probably the most useful gang member on your side, as he’s the only homie you get without the DLC that can fight the brutes on equal footing, so expect to be seeing a lot of him.

Oleg’s an academic with a deep appreciation for the arts and is second in intellect only to Pierce. He’s normally rather emotionless, and offers his advice from a purely logical point of view, advocating the path that would most directly reach the Saints’ goals in spite of what impacts it might have on the people involved. That said, he really hates the brute clones, seeing them as abominations, and wants to get rid of them as quickly as possible. He has a habit of breaking off from the group and tackling enemies alone, but he’s usually skilled enough to handle it.

Kinzie Kenzington

 saints row the third kinzie

Agoraphobic, shut-in, obsessively paranoid, computer nerd, Kinzie’s exactly the sort of person you’d expect to be willingly involved in organized crime-level street warfare, right? Right? No? Too bad, you have to take her anyway. As is Saints Row tradition, you get three lieutenants, one for each gang you’re combating, and Kinzie’s the one assigned to the Deckers. She’s a former FBI agent, but was fired when the Deckers framed her for selling state secrets and moonlighting as a dominatrix. Which is kind of insane, because just a few minutes talking to her makes it clear that’s a load of bull honkey. Kinzie’s very open about being a sub.

Anyways, Kinzie’s wonderful. She’s probably the best character introduced in this game. She’s a constant presence during your missions, and is incredibly useful. In addition to planning the Deckers campaign, she’s also a highly skilled hacker, and takes over Shaundi’s role as your information officer. And she’s quirky. And her quirks are actually entertaining, unquestionably making her better than that “quirky” chick in your favorite indie movie. You know the one I’m talking about. Yes, that one. She’s got no sense of boundaries or privacy, and it leads to some pretty great moments. She’s the kind of character that can’t work in a vacuum, but surrounded by others, she gets some really good interplay.

She’s also one of the few characters in the game to actually go through some character development, as subtle as it is. Initially, she’s very self-focused, likely an inherent trait of being a shut-in. She’s willing to help you out with the Deckers, but it seems to be mostly a personal matter. As she gets to know you better, she opens up a bit more, actually leaving her base to hide under tables in restaurants instead. Towards the end of the end of the game, she’s expanded her scope to help you with any gang operation that could use her unique talents, and is actually showing up at parties! The game never calls attention to it, but it’s certainly there if you know what to look for.

Anyways, Kinzie’s a sweetheart. Oleg develops a crush on her, but it’s unknown if she ever really notices.

Zimos

 saints row the third zimos

Supposedly Steelport’s oldest pimp. He speaks entirely in autotune, which is far more amusing in theory than it is in practice. He leads the charge against the Morningstar, at least at first. He also seems to be pretty friendly with both you and Pierce, being shown just hanging out with the two of you even when there’s no criming needing to be done.

At one point, Zimos was imprisoned by the Morningstar and held as a sex slave over a period of two years. This is supposed to be funny. I’d probably take issue with it if the game didn’t play absolutely everything else for laughs. Once you rescue him, he leads your prostitution activities, and is apparently very kind to his escorts. He treats them well, makes sure they’re protected, and even unionizes his working girls.

Partway through act 2, Zimos just disappears. You can still call on him to help you in a fight, but as far as the plot goes, he becomes a complete non-entity. His role fighting the Morningstar gets taken over by someone else, and he never shows up in any plot-important manner again until the ending where he just kind of walks around a little. The story isn’t exactly worse for lack of Zimos, he wasn’t that great of a character in the first place, but it’s still really sloppy writing.

Angel De La Muerte

 saints row the third angel

Angel was one of the founding members of the Luchadores, the third gang that makes up the Syndicate, so of course he’s going to help you fight them now. He used to be the tag team partner of the Luchadores’ leader, Killbane, but Killbane got jealous of Angel’s popularity and unmasked him, driving him to deep depression and shame. Oh yeah, pro wrestling’s real here, by the way. So this stuff actually matters.

Anyways, Angel becomes just as much of a shut-in as Kinzie, at least until the Luchadores conveniently decide to attack him right about the time you’re looking for new recruits. You save him, he joins your crew, and he proceeds to do pretty much nothing about anything. Oh, he gives you a few activities to do under the guise of training you for your eventual fight with Killbane, but really, he has no business doing that. Even in your new media-centric Persona, you’re still harder than Angel ever was.

Like Zimos, Angel spends most of the game pretty much nonexistent, although in this case, I imagine it’s because his voice actor, Hulk Hogan, doesn’t exactly come cheap. Unlike Zimos, however, eventually Angel gets off his ass and actually does something. Claiming that you inspired him, he steals his mask back and rises up to fight Killbane once more at the next big wrestling pay-per-view. It’s such a momentous occasion for the character! It’s inspiring! He’s found himself once more and rises above his shame to regain his honor! Then it turns out Killbane was always better than him and you have to finish up the fight against Killbane anyway.

Angel is a fairly cold and reserved character, although he freely interacts with his fellow Saints. He is incredibly single minded; the only times you ever see him he’s in his gym or he’s bringing the fight to the Luchadores. He places vengeance as his highest priority. He wants Killbane to suffer, no matter what it costs anyone else.

The Syndicate

 saints row the third syndicate

Like the past two games, the Saints are on their own against three other gangs, tasked with dismantling all opponents in order to take control over this city. Unlike both your runs through Stilwater, the gangs of the Syndicate provide a unified front, having combined their organizations into one cooperative entity. You might think this gives them strength. You might think that by combining their efforts, they’d be your biggest challenge yet. Well, you’d be thinking wrong. The Syndicate, as a whole, is the single weakest enemy organization faced in the series thus far. Even the Los Carnales led by Angelo could shove the Syndicate around and take their lunch money, and those guys did nothing but suck and die.

It’s obvious that these guys were supposed to be set up as something more powerful than you’ve ever faced before. They’re supposed to be the new dragon at the end of your quest. That’s what the developers say they killed Gat for in the beginning, after all. But here’s a tip for all you budding writers out there; if you want to make something seem strong, it might be helpful to have them do something once in a while. Outside of kidnapping you and killing Johnny Gat in the opening, the Syndicate is absolutely impotent. The only other harm they’re able to do against the Saints is turning PR against them in the start of Act 2, and your character barely even cares about that. They never even slow you down at all. They are almost constantly on the defensive, just waiting for you to come a wreck their operations. They had all the tools they needed to be an intimidating force, but they just rest on their laurels as you grind them to dust from the bottom up. It’s possible this baby’s first organized crime is a result of old fashioned executive meddling. I’ve seen a few places online where the writers claim to have planned bigger things for the Syndicate, only to be told those plans were too dark. So instead they declawed the lion. The Syndicate’s got a lot of roar, but when it comes down to it they’re completely helpless.

 saints row syndicate 2

The Syndicate as a whole seems a lot more like a business organization than a street gang. They’ve got scores of legitimate holdings, have director meetings, and in general seem to only whip out the guns when you come along. Supposedly, they operate throughout the world with their headquarters in Steelport, but aside from one bank in Stilwater you see none of that. They’re fairly high-tech, making extensive use of cloning and hacking, and are incredibly wealthy. Their leadership is composed of the leaders of each gang that makes up the organization, but it seems that they always have one person leading the overall organization rather than operating democratically. They seem a lot smaller than your previous enemies, although that’s likely because they only have five major characters across all three gangs. Their symbol is a star, and most members of the organization have that worked into their appearance somewhere.

Morningstar

 saints row the third morningstar

The first of the three Syndicate gangs you’ll deal with are the Morningstar. They’re actually composed of two separate gangs thought up in the game’s development, an all-male one and an all-female one, merged together in the final product. As such, they’re the gang with the highest variety, and the hardest to nail down on a consistent culture. The men of the Morningstar seem stylized after the traditional Russian mobster, wearing nice clothes with buzzed heads and blank expressions. The women of the gang wear trench coats and lingerie. They look like this, in case you were wondering:

 saints row the third morningstar 2

The Morningstar import and sell guns as a legitimate business concern, although it’s pretty likely they also supply the Syndicate with weapons for… activities of a less than legal nature. They’re in charge of the Syndicate’s cloning operations, and are the one creating the brutes you’ll be killing by the dozen. They also run prostitution rings and sex clubs because they’re the only gang with named women and it’d be creepy for anyone else to handle it. Not all of their women are exactly willing to be part of the sex industry, and that becomes a vulnerability you exploit in some of the missions and activities. They’re lead by Philippe Loren, with the DeWynter twins as his seconds.

They’re probably the wealthiest of the Syndicate gangs, driving luxury vehicles and being the only gang to send helicopters after you. There does seem to be a bit of infighting within the gang, as opposed to the other two who generally put up a united front. They start out holding more of Steelport than the rest of the Syndicate, but the end up losing all their leadership shortly after the start of Act 2 and lose storyline traction shortly afterward. Their gang color is red, and their specialist is a sniper that will usually attack you in pairs from the air.

Philippe Loren

 saints row the third loren

Straight out of a spy thriller and into your video game, it’s Philippe Loren! At the start of the game, he’s the head of the Syndicate, and he’s the first of their members you deal with. Additionally, he’s in charge of the Morningstar, and the person most involved with Johnny Gat’s death. If you were to write a computer program to create the most average Bond villain ever, you’d come up with Philippe Loren. He’s European and not from one of those popular countries, so of course he’s going to be a bad guy, but he’s more apt to deliver placid threats to you in a business meeting than to insert foreign objects into your kidneys. Whereas a good Bond villain will have a strong, complicated plan, Loren sticks to the basics. He follows a two-step plan throughout all his appearances in the game. Step 1 is to piss off the Saints, and Step 2 is to die.

He was obviously being set up to be the primary antagonist of this story, but in a nice twist, he gets surprise killed at the end of the first act. In a cutscene. It’d be nice to have had the character exist in gameplay somehow so you could slap him around a bit, but it was not like he was ever a strong antagonist in the first place. Due to his early death and the Syndicate’s complete aversion to ever doing anything, it’s really hard to nail down his personality, but from what we’ve seen he seems to be completely focused on financial gain, and simply doesn’t care about the methods of getting it. He is able to hold the Syndicate together well, as evidenced by its fracturing immediately upon his death.

Viola and Kiki DeWynter

saints row the third dewynter

The DeWynter twins are Loren’s lieutenants, and manage both the gang’s finances and the prostitution trade. Viola comes off as more bland compared to the fiery Kiki, but that may be simply because of the voice actor. Sasha Grey certainly does do a better job than her fellow pornstar Tera Patrick from last game, but she’s still not elevating the heights of acting beyond what that industry is known for.

Kiki gets killed shortly after Philippe’s death for disrespecting Killbane as he siezes control, driving Viola to defect to the Saints, who apparently instantly forgive her for her part in Gat’s death and the attempted extortion at the beginning of the game. She completely pushes Zimos out of the picture in the fight against the Morningstar, taking the lead on that project. She’s also heavily involved in resisting STAG, the military’s anti-gang unit, when they pop up.

Deckers

saints row the third deckers

The Deckers are a gang of teenage hackers who read Snow Crash one too many times and probably still live in their mother’s basements or something. This Tron-inspired gang dresses in gothic neo-cyber punk fashion and always carry around swords. They speak in possibly fake British accents, and seem to favor automatic weapons. Obviously, their main criminal activity is hacking, and your missions and activities with them often deal with information or disrupting their online activities. They hold the least territory out of all three Syndicate gangs, but they’ve got quite a bit of reach online, where they have the sort of deep immersion internet 90s cartoons could only dream of. They largely drive family vehicles, such as sedans and minivans. Their specialist is a speedy woman with both dual sub-machine guns and a massive shock hammer.

saints row the third deckernet

Matt Miller

saints row the third matt miller

Meek and timid, the 16 year old Matt was never cut out for a life of organized crime, much less standing up to the 3rd Street Saints. He drains the Saints’ bank accounts soon after you land in Steelport, and manages to crash a helicopter on command because the internet can totally do that, but that’s about the limits to his success. From a distance, he’ll talk a big game, but as soon as there’s a chance he might actually die, he becomes a total kitten. He follows the commands of the other leaders of the Syndicate gangs without question, likely because he lacks the guts to lead the Deckers in an independent direction. You never face him personally, but you do fight him in the “You die in the game you die for real” Deckernet, where, upon beating him, he begs for his life and you let him buy you off. He then leaves Steelport, fearing for his life, never to be seen again. Ever.

Luchadores

saints row the third luchadores

They’re a gang of masked wrestlers. Obviously, this makes them the greatest street gang ever. They’re the last of the Syndicate to really be in any sort of standing order, surviving like a cockroach after you’ve stamped out the other two gangs. Obviously, they wrestle as a legitimate business concern, and they also operate a mostly above-the-board casino. On the dark side of the law, they run drugs and steroids, because somebody has to. They’re an all male gang who likes everything big. I’ll let you make your own jokes here. They like big muscles, big guns, and big vehicles. They hold the more lower-class and industrial areas of Steelport, although they’ve gained a considerable amount of territory there. They drive big trucks and bear the color green. Their specialist is a large thug with a bullet-proof vest and a grenade-minigun.

Eddie “Killbane” Pryor

saints row the third killbane

Honestly, the leader of the Luchadores is probably the most nuanced antagonist we’ve seen in the series thus far. It’s just a shame he’s stuck in a game that casts their villains as the most ineffective beings ever. He’s intended as a reflection of the player character, but let’s forget about that because they did a horrible job in the execution. Instead, let’s take a look at what they did right with Killbane.

In a lot of ways, Killbane is an exercise in moderation. He’s ruthless, to the point that he probably takes out more of his own men than he does yours, but he’s also calculating, and only resorts to violence when the situation calls for it. He’s full of himself, but not to the point where he lets it color his perspective. He will kill people for calling him “Eddie” out of disrespect, but will politely correct them if they call him that by mistake. He has a powerful temper, but rarely becomes consumed by it. He reacts violently when people try to leave the gang out of distaste for his rule, but when Matt leaves out of fear of death, he is very courteous and respectful. He’s a violent brute, yet has an appreciation for art and Roman culture. Killbane’s one of my favorite characters in the series. I’m just a little depressed that he didn’t end up in a game where the writers could put together something coherent.

saints row the third killbane (2)

Killbane took over the Syndicate directly after Philippe Loren’s death, cutting the expected heirs, the DeWynter sisters, out by force. Then, like Philippe before him, he makes his one move before going on the defensive for the rest of the game, successfully turning the public interest against you. Then he kills Kiki DeWynter for her disrespect and settles in to quietly wage a propaganda war against the Saints while waiting for them to come knocking. You get two major battles with him throughout the game, one where you meet him in the wrestling ring and possibly subject him to what he considers a fate worse than death by stealing his mask, and another time at the end of the game where he tries to escape by plane and you reenact the end of the Los Carnales line and shoot it down before snapping his neck in the wreckage. Unfortunately, for all his reputation, Killbane’s actually pretty weak, and both those battles are incredibly simple affairs.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here’s what he looks like without the mask:

saints row the third killbane 3

There’s some truth to what he’s saying in the above image. Killbane is definitely a major factor in the change your main character undergoes in the series. It’s through your battles with the Syndicate under his leadership, rather than Loren’s, that causes your character to move back towards his/her roots and away from the celebrity lifestyle. Killbane seems to focus more on harming you through public opinion than through battle, and it’s because of that that you become the hard motherlover that you once were. You owe a lot to Killbane for getting your conviction back.

It seems that in the original versions of the script, Killbane was a much more powerful villain. Rather than turning the public against you, instead he makes his move by nuking Stilwater. Alas, that’s yet one more thing that was considered “too dark” and taken out so that The Third could better appeal to the masses.

STAG

saints row the third stag

Partway through the game, the new Steelport gang wars get bad enough that the United States Government decides to drop the heavy end of the hammer on you. So enters the Special Tactics Anti-Gang unit, a military force that occupies Steelport with the express purpose of hunting you down like a wild dog. Unlike the Syndicate, these guys actually do something once in a while, and you spend several missions on the defensive from them. Armed with laser rifles, tanks, and military jets, this isn’t some diversionary force, these guys are loaded for bear and they’re not going to leave until either they or the gangs in Steelport have fallen.

Like Killbane, STAG focuses their early efforts on propaganda, trying to get the community behind their operation. Gee, I wonder if we might be seeing a theme here? Unlike Killbane, however, they don’t care so much for the public opinion, and only do so because their overseers require them to. Indeed, you disrupt a couple of their early PR efforts, and it doesn’t seem to slow them down at all; they’re happy to hold the city by force if they need to.

STAG provides the much-needed threat to the Saints after the Syndicate firmly establishes themselves as a bunch of kittens. They manage to make you flee your headquarters, imprison your members twice, and really drive your character to great lengths in order to stop them. They’re more than willing to kill anyone they need to to get to you, and end the game by attempting to level the city to try and catch the Saints in the ashes.

Senator Monica Hughes

saints row the third hughes

Yes, that’s Hughes, wife of the man that Julius killed on that fateful yacht at the end of Saints Row 1. She’s a little sore at you for that, in spite of the fact that she was perfectly willing to hire you for her ends last game. She spearheads getting the STAG Initiative approval in the US Senate, and oversees STAG once they’ve taken over Steelport. However, she’s also the force reigning them in, forcing them to try and get the populace of the city on their sides rather than just driving a tank through their living rooms trying to find you. She wants you dead, but she’s not unreasonable about it.

Cyrus Temple

saints row the third temple

Cyrus is the leader of STAG and a man who holds his mission above all else. He will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals, and cares not for the collateral damage that results. He advocates a total war policy the entire game, and readily scorches the earth around you as soon as Hughes gives him the opportunity. He’s not really a clever man, however, and seems to have a bit of trouble keeping up in situations where he can’t resolve problems through superior firepower.

Kia

saints row the third kia

Troop Commander for STAG, Kia is the absolute best at kidnapping Shaundi. Seriously. If you ever come across Shaundi, and decide you want her kidnapped, Kia’s your girl. She’s gotten so good at kidnapping Shaundi that she can do it without anyone even noticing Shaundi’s gone. Kia’s like a ninja. A ninja who just kidnaps Shaundi all the time.

Kia was a big fan of Aisha, but having to live through her idol’s death twice drove her to a commitment to eradicating gangs. She’s just as cold, ruthless, and committed to the cause as Cyrus is, although she’s much more of a loose cannon about it. Whereas Cyrus will stick to his orders no matter what he thinks about them, Kia will freely break off on her own to get things done. She’s also much more of a schemer than Cyrus, and has no qualms to playing dirty.

Zombies

saints row the third zombies

Yes, there are also zombies in that game. That virus Tera Patrick was working on last game? Yeah. You could always get zombie characters as an easter egg, but this is the first time they’ve been up front as part of the plot. I have no idea why they’re here. You get one mission out of them, and that’s it. But you have the option of summoning zombie Saints to fight alongside you, so I guess all is forgiven.

Plot Implementation

When watching people discuss this game online, you’ll probably see a statement something along the lines of “the plot doesn’t really matter!” as in, the developers just wanted to use the plot to get to the insane set pieces and nothing more. In fact, some of you reading this now are probably wondering why I bother putting so much thought into a game’s plot that’s merely set dressing. Well, I’m not so sure I buy that. I’ve got no problems with an excuse plot, but it seems to me that the developers have put a lot more work into their story than just that. There’s too many characters, twists, and emotional torque going on for the plot to be a complete afterthought.

No, instead I believe the scenario writers were trying to put together something good, but bits and pieces just got lost in the implementation. The suits wanting to stay away from anything too dark would definitely contribute to that, as would trying to fit together several separate plots into one contiguous whole. While the plot definitely does serve the gameplay more than anything else, it feels to me that more care and thought went into the plot of Saints Row: The Third than in either of the two previous games. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have been better planned and less sporadic.

Why would this game want to have a solid plot, however? It is, after all, based on the fun of finding yourself in insane situations and solving problems through ludicrous violence. Well, there are two things the plot could deliver here: characterization, and emotional height. And I have to say, with a few reservations, it’s really solid in characterization. The protagonist and Pierce both feel a lot deeper than they ever have before, and Kinzie’s just great. Seriously. I can’t gush enough about her. As for emotional height, well… that’s kind of an individualized thing, but it kind of falls flat for me. I can see what they’re going for. Crushing the Syndicate does feel a lot more rewarding if you’re out for vengeance for Johnny, after all. It’s just the gaps in the implementation that really keep me from feeling it. On a case by case basis, it can work well. It can be exciting to knock a STAG plane out of the sky in a dogfight, rushing off to rescue Shaundi can be a tense moment, and diving into the Decker’s VR net can be quite exciting. Taken as a whole, however, the holes keep it from really gaining emotional momentum. For example, I believed Johnny was going to come back right up until the end of the game my first time through, and it’s hard to really get the lust for vengeance under those circumstances.

Theming

Selling out vs. Sticking your Roots

saints row the third celebrity

As I said a while ago, Saints Row The Third is the first game in the series where it feels like they’re going for a deliberate theme in their narrative, one that’s shows up all over the otherwise mongoloid plot. As I also said, they completely screw that theme up. Let’s go over how they do that.

Johnny Gat brings up concerns over the Saints’ new media-centric culture early in the game, feeling that the gang’s become a lot softer and lost its cause as a result. And he’s only the first of many to make this observation. Stilwater’s police definitely think this of you. As does Killbane. And Kia. The question of whether this is a good thing or not seems to pop up all over the game. Because of the Saints-Ultor media empire, you’ve lost a lot of the respect you once had, ad have to devote a lot of effort towards making your enemies fear you once again.

saints row the third choice

And it’s not just in the cutscenes, either. You’ll periodically be given a choice of how to react to a certain situation. Each choice will have their own gameplay benefits, and you could certainly make your choices based on which benefits you want, sure. But most of these choices also fit into the Selling out vs. Your Roots theme. Will you destroy Philippe Loren’s headquarters out of spite, or keep it as a profit center for the Saints? Will you unmask Killbane, or accept his bribe? Will you keep the prostitutes you just rescued for Zimos, or will you sell them right back to the Syndicate?

You can even see it in some of the characters. Pierce and Zimos are definitely all for the celebrity. Shaundi gets pissed off at gang operations that don’t involve killing the Syndicate. You may even say this has affected the protagonist. You used to be absolutely brutal. You remember when Dex managed to leave Stilwater, and you retaliated by killing everyone he’d ever remotely cared about? You remember when you buried Akuji alive for interrupting a funeral? You remember when you made Maero kill his own girlfriend after he killed Carlos? You’ve lightened up quite a bit in the new Saints. You’re friendly, and funny, and you find a lot of cheer in what you do. You let Matt Miller live after trying to kill you, and when’s the last time you’ve done that? Hell, you even agreed to be stripped, drugged, and pose as a sex slave after Zimos told you to “Get in the car, bitch”. In either of the two previous games, you would have slapped the autotune right out of him for making a comment like that. You’ve softened up since the last game, and it’s likely the money and attention are to blame.

So where does this theme go wrong? The single biggest moment that screws it all up is the ending. This is a game of many firsts for the series, and one of those is that this is the first game to have multiple endings. In one of the final missions of the game, Steelport’s broken down into an all-out war between the Luchadores and STAG and you’re trying to settle it, when you get a series of phone calls and a choice to make. Kia’s kidnapped Shaundi, Viola, Steelport’s mayor, and a handful of Saint thugs, and is going to kill them all in an explosion that will destroy one of Steelport’s major landmarks in such a way that will look like the Saints did it and give STAG the escalation they need to turn their full might against you. At the same time, Killbane’s on a plane heading out of town, and this is your last chance to kill him because obviously you can’t just hire someone to track him down later, what are you crazy? You only have time to make it to one destination, so you can either rescue Shaundi et al, or finish of Killbane. If you save the Saints, you also save the landmark, become the people’s heroes for doing so, your celebrity power rises and the final mission is you making the Gangstas In Space movie you were against earlier. In short, this is the sellout ending. If you slay Killbane, the kidnapped Saints die, you get blamed for destroying the landmark, and this gives STAG the leverage they need to bring in the heavy artillery and begin carpet bombing Steelport, killing more citizens than they do gangsters. The final missions consist of the Saints waging full-out war on STAG, defeating them and saving Steelport, then leading the city to secede from the United States in retaliation for the government-approved attack.

There are a couple of problems with this setup. The first is that the story very obviously swings in favor of staying true to your roots. Early on in the game, your protagonist decides to not even bother with the publicity battle, leaving it up to the Saints’ PR team without your involvement. Even when Killbane is speaking out against the Saints on the news, even as the number of anti-Saints protestors rise, even as you’re dubbed the Butcher of Steelport, your character only grows closer and closer to what you used to be. Even the endings show this bias. Go back to last paragraph and read those summaries again. One ending is faaaaar more powerful than the other. For the plot to be this unbalanced, yet still present selling out as an option, is a little disingenuous.

The other problem is that the context of the final decision doesn’t even match up. If you’ve been making the “roots” choices so far, you’ve already taken Killbane’s mask, which is very explicitly stated to be a fate worth than death for him. So is killing him really that high of a priority, rather than making him live through his shame? On the other side, the selling out decision? In previous games, your character went berserk whenever one of your gang members was at risk. You went into a frenzy trying to reach Veteran Child when he kidnapped Shaundi, you swept through like a hurricane when Carlos was being killed, and after Lin was drowned, you did not stop until William Sharp joined her in the afterlife. That saving your comrades leads to the selling out ending seems to show that the scripters themselves really misread the protagonists’ character.

If anything, this theme may apply to the game’s development as much as the plot itself. It’s obvious that this game was designed with a more broad appeal in mind. The writers have been restricted from using their darkest ideas, gameplay has been a little simplified, and the street gangster aesthetics have been traded in for more humor. Saints Row The Third has sold a great many copies, but in doing so it’s also become something very different from its predecessors.

So! We’ve established that the deliberate theme doesn’t work so well. Is there any way to salvage it? Well, yes, actually. They might have missed the mark on the theme they were aiming for, but they did accidentally hit a related theme that fits much better.

Hearts and Minds vs. Shock and Awe

saints row the third hearts and minds

This one’s handled a little differently. It’s not so directly applied as the above theme, but it’s still just as prevalent throughout the game. In fact, while I’m not so sure that the writers worked this in there deliberately as I am they did with the selling out theme, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had it in mind throughout a significant part of the development process.

In this game, everybody starts out trying to win the public’s hearts and minds. The Saints have already won the public over before the game even started. Killbane immediately starts his reign by trying to turn the public against you. Temple argues about being forced to use celebrity spokesmen and do community service by Hughes when STAG first occupies Steelport, and uses the exact words “Hearts and Minds” and “Shock and Awe”.

saints row the third murderbrawl

Of course, things don’t stay that way, with everyone trying to win the war by winning over the people. You and the Saints slowly transfer over to using shock and awe tactics throughout the course of the game, leaving your celebrity behind as Killbane successfully turns the city against you. As your goals shift from simply making lots of money to crushing your enemies, you realize that popularity is not going to help you, and adjust your tactics accordingly. STAG drops their heart and mind tactics entirely in one of the endgames to match yours, and become the deadliest they’ve ever been because of it. Killbane and the Syndicate are the only group who truly stick to the hearts and minds strategy, and you’re able to use it against them, forcing Killbane into a match with you if he’s going to compete at the big pay-per-view event.

The Final Word

Saints Row: The Third is a really fun game. No matter what flaws I may point out, that’s something you really can’t take away from it. Is it more fun than Saints Row 2? Eh, kind of depends what you’re into. Yes, the gameplay is simplified, yes, it’s a lot easier, but at the same time, it’s a much more polished experience. It feels like they were finally able to get the engine tweaked juuuust how they wanted it, and I really can’t understate the positive impact that has on this game..

The experience as a whole is less organic, but some of those big set-piece moments work really well. The plot’s something less than competent, but the characterization is the strongest its been in the series. Really, the game’s making a lot of trade-offs, but it undoubtedly creates a very balanced experience in the process. As for how good it is… well, there’s a lot of reasons it took me so long to write this post. There’s general life crap, the sheer size of this thing, and of course:

2013-07-15_00043

This was the first game where I felt driven to 100% it over the course of this retrospective. I had a hell of a lot of fun with it. You probably will too. There’s a reason I love this series, and Saints Row 2 and The Third both exemplify it in different ways. I’m not sure which I’d rank better, but hey, they’re both worth playing. Try ’em out, and see how you feel about it.

Saints Row Retrospective Introduction hereSaints Row 1 here, Saints Row 2 here.

6 responses to “Steelport is Under New Management! The Saints Row Retrospective: Saints Row The Third

  1. I got through about the first quarter before I had to stop, but wow. I’ve never given much thought to the Saints Row series, and now I might have to consider trying it out sometime.

    • I’m pretty sure putting this much thought into the Saints Row series is the first symptom of a wide variety of mental disorders. But yeah, the Saints Row series is pretty great. Except for the first game. The other two, if you’re into sandbox crime simulators at all, they’re at the top of the heap.

  2. i chosed the save shaundi scenario then go after kill bane because
    if you save shaundi then you will do the gangsters in space epic
    conclusion then go after both kill bane and cyrus temple to say
    that you face him during the opening prologue to act four after
    you find out that he manages to escape his tragic plumit to the
    ground during the last scenario of stag film but either way shaundi
    survives and i chosen of handing josh burke to cyrus scenario
    and i still unlock him once the optional final outcome story mission
    is completed but i even went for blowing up the syndicate tower
    then saving it because i went for respect than cash to say i end
    up rich and as for the end scenario of deckers must die i went
    for extra garage space to say i have upgraded my arsenal but sophies
    choicing this video game is bonkers just like the optional scenario
    in gta iv it still end either way but you get to replay the three way scenario
    again but those brutes are really not needed but the cover tagline said your rules
    but i find it missleading that according to the angry joe show that the gangs and
    law enforcers are in cahoots it’s them has all the rules not the saints but do not
    try to get into a full stellar war with them you won’t win and end up forcing to
    flee with your life into a store or bribe foregivness through the cell phone
    even stag is really a part of the syndicate that are rellentless with dirty
    tactics like sending a vtol after you with it’s laser guided weaponary
    in a bid of cutting you down to size but my advice never engage in a war
    that you can not win and all uses taunts to threaten you but ok with
    compliments but not all willing to play nice the greatest assets for this
    video game is legends burt reynolds and hulk hogan to inject humour
    lastly and kicking soundtrack including kanye west and robert tapper
    but a weeker ending choice should have stayed as one with in all
    quite hillarious and deeply entertaining video game for mature adults.

    frankie smales
    SMALES TV UK

    • That is a massive sentence. I’m in awe. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a sentence so huge. They should make an award for that. And you should get it. Because seriously, humongous sentence.

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