Saints Row: The Third – Top dog for open world?

I’ve only had a brief flirt with the Saints Row series, which unfortunately was the very weak PC port. However I decided to give the latest installment a go this week on the Xbox 360 and I have to say, its frigging awesome.

I have always been a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series believing it to be the benchmark for open world titles. The original introduced us to comical violence in a living, breathing city, building up to Vice City where you got to play as a Scarface like character, rising to the top of the crime world in amongst glitz and glamour. San Andreas then threw in a whole host of chaos. We then had the disappointment of GTA IV. It seemed to move further away from the what I loved about the earlier titles with characters that after hours of gameplay were still, well… jakey bastards. Rather than feeling that I was going to be a slick gangster who “owns this motherfucking city”, I felt I’d still be a piece of crap who’d rather play pool than shoot up a building of rival gang members, However I was wrong to believe that what I loved about those earlier GTA titles was lost because Saints Row 3 takes the core gameplay and updates it to include all the bells and whistles of a mordern game.

To be honest, I was a bit put off by the start. Having very little experience of the game I didn’t know the characters so. You might argue that being the third in the series I *should* know but if the designer makes the assumption that its player base has played all the previous games then the game is destined to be at absolute best, just as popular as the previous title. Given there will always be players who don’t return, perhaps because they didn’t enjoy it or just have other games to play. Therefore you want to bring in new players and ensure that the start is welcoming to them. Despite this it wasn’t the most sohpisticated of deep plots so playing catch up was okay. What didn’t work about the opening sequence was that it was based on existing characters then mid way through you create & customise your character. I opted to give my character a gender change!

There was one other issue that I’ve had with the opening 15 minutes of play… I didn’t know the controls. Of course the manual probably would have told me, or I could have used the pause menu, but the game seemed to make assumptions that I knew how to play Saints Row. As it turns out, I didn’t. For a while I was stuck weaponless and spamming buttons to try and pick up those scattered on the floor. In an old school PC FPS game this wouldn’t be a problem as controls are fairly simple and standard. Whilst basic move, aim, shoot controls were the norm for the genre, things like sprinting, jumping, crouching, reloading and switching weapon vary from game to game so you need to be clear. To be blunt, this was a poor start. The adrenaline & high octane gameplay was there, setting the scene for the “what” of Saints Row 3 but no effort was made to bring the player upto speed on the “why” and more importantly, “how” of the game.

Thankfully I soon became immersed in the core gameplay of outrageous gun fights, explosive missions and a lively open world with activities everywhere. There’s no friends wanting to play pool or needy girlfriends when I want to shoot folk. One criticism is that the raids on my properties seem to happen too often for my liking. Given there’s a load of side missions available from the in game phone as well as open world territory battles that the player can initialise I don’t think there’s a real need to be thrusting combat on them. In particular when you have a variety of shops and other properties to travel to and interact with, along with customisations. Some times I wonder why open world games do this. Players are so often provided with a wonderful sandbox to play around with the told what to do.

Anyway, it is a wonderful game. There’s a few minor gripes that I have with it but in all it seems to be a splendid title. If killing enemies by the hundreds, using over the top weaponary and running your own gang sound like fun, get this. Its the best since GTA: Vice City… possibly better.

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