Not nearly often enough.
Saints Row: The Third, developed by Volition, Inc. and published by THQ, is the “Pineapple Express” to GTA IV’s “Godfather.” It’s a pure lampoon of every open-world, carjack-happy urban shoot-em-up released from Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series to lesser known titles like Activision’s True Crime: Streets of L.A. or Team Soho’s The Getaway.
It is, however, a fully functional satire of heroic proportions.
The humor is beyond meta. Basically, it’s a video game glorifying violent, sociopathic criminals whose storyline hinges on the media’s glorification of violent, sociopathic criminals. Think “Natural Born Killers,” but with fur suits, dub-step and Burt Reynolds.
The action is also larger than life.
It’s just about 15 minutes into the game when “Boss,” the fully-customizable player character, nonchalantly dives through a cargo plane’s cockpit and out of its loading bay (after snatching a replacement parachute, of course) following a sequence of events that would make even Michael Bay say: “That’s just not physically possible.”
To be completely honest, you’d be hard-pressed to not restart the game just to see this scene again.
That scene sets the tone for the rest of the game, which begins as the 3rd Street Saints, now heads of a media mega-corporation and subjects of their own huge PR campaign, set out to rob a bank as a publicity stunt disguised as themselves—with giant bobble heads.
The bank, however, is owned by “The Syndicate,” a multinational group of criminals vying for, what else? World domination.
The Syndicate consists of “Morningstar,” a kinky-looking European human trafficking/BDSM sex ring, “The Deckers,” a group of cybergoth hackers focused on money laundering and “The Luchadores,” an illegal gambling racket run by—well—luchadores.
At any one time, the player will find themselves dropping a dominatrix with a Hurricanrana in the middle of a firefight, or smacking a cop in the face with a floppy pink sex toy, or even sack-tapping a furry with the butt of a shotgun. All the while, dodging the para-military Special Tactics Anti-Gang (S.T.A.G.) units sent to augment Steelport’s regular police.
It’s like a never-ending rollercoaster of belly-laugh-inducing pandemonium and anti-establishment chaos.
Following the ridiculous intro, The Boss and a few other Saints drop (from the plane) into Steelport, a motley blend of industrialized cities closely resembles Pittsburgh or Detroit, and decide to set up shop in a nearby Morningstar penthouse to screw with The Syndicate’s operations.
At this time, the player is introduced to the “activity” system, bit by bit, through story missions. These include a variety of absurd things like jumping in front of cars for insurance fraud, chauffeuring celebrities around to various perverted hot spots (while avoiding paparazzi), pimping, zipping through cyberspace on a tron-like bike, busting caps into a bunch of furries in a deathmatch room or even just downright “Mayhem,” akin to GTA’s old “Kill Frenzy” mini-games.
Each is short enough so that the player can burn through the lackluster missions as fast as the good ones, a very decent model of mission progression.
The characters are equally over-the-top. One of the most ridiculous of the bunch is a pimp named “Zimos,” a man who speaks entirely in auto-tune due to a special tracheotomy. The Boss encounters him in the depths of a BDSM sex mansion wearing a gimp mask, a ball gag and a saddle, strapped to a drivable rickshaw the player uses to escape from other kinky rickshaws. Oh, and the rickshaws explode when shot for some reason.
To say that this game takes much of its essence from Grand Theft Auto would be an understatement. Nevertheless, this tastefully tasteless rip-off actually falls together quite nicely.
The gameplay is simply a highly evolved form of previous iterations of GTA, like Vice City or San Andreas, even recent releases in the genre like Eidos’ Just Cause 2, but taken to a degree of ludicrous outlandishness previously unseen by games within this field, which is quite the achievement in its own right. Pushing the envelope was the entire point of the game. Steelport looks curiously like Liberty City of old, dating back to the GTA III days.
Sadly, to focus on Co-Op, multiplayer was axed, a common occurrence in today’s game releases.
It’s an obvious homage, as opposed to an insult, to the type of game gamers worldwide have grown quite accustomed to. It fills the zany void that GTA’s recent foray into Scorsese-esque serious crime drama left painfully empty.
It’s not a game for everyone (definitely not for kids), but it’s certainly quite the experience.