Saints Row: The Third review

2006 saw the début of Volition’s gangster filled open world caper Saints Row followed by its superior successor in 2008. Just over two years later and we’re back with the Saints, although this time in the new city of Steelport which has been overtaken by the all new celebrity machine that is the Saints. Rather bored with their new found fame, the Saints embark on a heist for the sake of it, a gargantuan task filled with helicopters, explosives and plenty of opposing forces biting the bullet. However, with Steelport being inhabited by some bigger organizations, the Saint’s actions have repercussions, and it’s here where the story begins.

With two games behind them, a GTA game to compare to, and lots of other competition, Saints Row: The Third comes at us free from any foreboding GTA game, and amidst a whole new set of rivals in the now crowded open world genre. Has time been favourable to the development of this game, and have past lessons been learned to present the best Saints Row game ever made?


To be frank and fair, Saints Row: The Third (SR3) offers identical gameplay to its predecessor with its main story, side missions and respect based structure. Progression is handled by earning respect (XP) which unlocks more of the game’s content. You’re awarded respect for pretty much everything you do, and so without much fanfare, Volition kept the core element of the game the same. It’s an easy system and means that you’re forever being rewarded for your efforts. Despite your celebrity status – which seems like an odd story choice to pursue – you still get to tear around city streets running over pedestrians, and getting into shoot-outs with the resident gang members. Stardom hasn’t really impacted much on your gangster roots, so now you’re more like street thugs with a bit of money and reputation.

Steelport is divided into three main islands, with each then broken down into sub areas. Each island is controlled by a gang and much like the previous game, your job is to claim it for the Saints. Aside from the entertaining main story, the extra missions make their presence felt whether that be the old classic Insurance Fraud, or the more destructive Mayhem moments etc. however this time these are woven into the main storyline as an introduction, and then left open for you to tackle at a later time. The story basically introduces the first level, and then leaves the tougher challenges to be completed at any time during your play; naturally as you “level up” you’re able to purchase extra abilities, which in turn improve your chances with the side missions.

The real noticeable improvement found in this game beyond any technicalities within the game engine, is the way in which the story missions have been expertly crafted. It must be quite hard to come up with fresh and new mission ideas especially with two games already filled with them, but somehow SR3 manages to keep the missions not only very different but highly spectacular and cinematic affairs. There’s a lot of comedic diversity woven with the serious undertone of the story, and this is conveyed precisely within the missions — to the point where you’re left wondering whatever crazy scenario the game is going to throw at you next. Cleverly, the missions utilize pretty much every asset the game possesses which draws you in and keeps you well and truly hooked whether you’re understanding the reasons why or not. This is certainly a game for those with short attention spans as you’ll find enough variety to placate the most wandering of minds.

Most of the gameplay feels pretty smooth and intentional, which means you’re always in control and never left fiddling with getting your character to do what you want. The only real gripe comes with the handling of some cars at speed and AI that tends to get stuck on occasion. It also seems at times that at every corner an algorithm is set where an AI vehicle is going to attempt to ram into you when you’re driving at breakneck speed, cars might suddenly switch lanes when attempting to zip past, or at a junction, there’s always a car crossing just as you attempt to whiz past. It’s these things which become predictable that indicates there’s something going on underneath, or a serious dose of bad luck in the air resulting in frustration more than anything. When the rest of the game is perhaps quite mellow in this regard, these jarring moments do stand out.

That said, shooting with various weapons in combat scenarios, hand to hand encounters, and some new automated killer moves are very polished and sit just right within the theme of the game, although gun fights seemingly make up the main bulk of the core gameplay, so expect some repetition. The new upgraded cell phone also is a breeze to use and makes getting homies, vehicles delivered and such like an easy process. Everything gels well together and with a handy map and GPS system which actually displays arrows on the roads means that you’re always moments away from what you want to do next.


There’s certainly some improvement with the general looks compared to the previous game but also with the new more flamboyant art direction means that there’s a lot more static eye candy. After two years, it’s expected to that there’s improvement with the visuals and rightly so, although for the record, a number of the NPC characters are incredibly raw looking despite having a fair number of solid reaction animations. The main characters do look good though, and with your avatar being customizable at any time in the game means that you’re spoiled for choice – if you want serious you can have that, or if goofy is more your calling then pink dog outfits can be yours.

Once again you can customize aspects of your gang although sadly, cannot change colour schemes from the default violet. The character creation tools for the head are quite detailed but do require some time investment if you’re going for look-a-like characters. Luckily if you’re connected online, you’re able to import/export designs from the community website which is a cool feature and puts the most strange to some very good designs into your game quite speedily. There’s plenty of clothing items and sublime costumes to play dress up of your male or female character and with everything easily accessible from your base of operations (cribs) means that playing around with looks is quite an accomplished distraction. The same rules extend to your fleet of vehicles you can earn or steal, and this makes for more personal touches you can add to your game.

Steelport is very much the more interesting locale from the three games and feels vibrant by design, but on occasion somewhat devoid of activity. Where there should be bustling city streets are often simply sparsely populated and not really much happening outside of your own input. The frame rate seems steady and although there’s some issues with the AI getting stuck, for the most part, Steelport works and looks the part regardless of what you’re doing. Some finer details are lost when using aircraft for example, but having the whole map open from the get go, is a small sacrifice to make especially when there’s attention to detail such as changing weather and a more subtle day and night cycle on offer.


SR 3 offers some big characters, some annoying, and others that are likeable enough although on occasion having too much to say. Your character has a choice once more of voices (three for each sex) and this does impact how your character comes across in subtle ways although doesn’t change the story. The voice acting in general is well produced and presented by some talented individuals which helps keep the game’s teen humour on top form throughout. There’s some more subtle voice over work too such as the announcers making WWE style quips as you play Genki’s mini game.

The sound effects are pretty standard fare, but if you simply stand around on any street corner you’ll hear a fair bit of ambient noise which adds to the overflowing character of Steelport. There seems to be less music this time, but what is on offer over the eight radio stations covers pretty much most genres you’d want to listen to when tearing up the city streets. The music is also neatly placed at specific times within the story to add a bit more drama when needed which is a welcome touch.


Aside from a reasonably lengthy main story and then 56 activities to embark on, some extra tasks such as assassinations , car collecting and collectible items and you have quite the single player offering. If you’re looking for a change of pace from the main game then there’s the additional Whored mode which can also be played solo. Expect to sink some 20 plus hours into the game and a whole lot more if you’re going for 100 per cent completion. For those of you looking to share the experience, then there’s online co-op which does require an online pass (included in new copies of the game only). This allows for drop in and out co-op play through the entire campaign which is an excellent feature.


Saints Row; The Third is a perfect example of a polished game series in its third iteration. It’s obvious Volition have learned lessons and honed the elements that worked in the two previous games to make a more rounded and focused experience. Whilst the game’s story might be more over the top than before, it’s filled with some excellent action set pieces that epitomize the fun aspects of gaming. Sadly though, when you look beneath the surface you’ll find a lot of familiarity in the respect that there’s really not much difference between this and the previous game. It certainly feels like a fully fledged more polished sequel, but offers no major changes and more subtle additions to separate it from its predecessor in both design and gameplay. If you’re a fan of all things Saints, then this latest offering is highly recommended, however, if you’re new to the series, then picking up Saints Row 2 on the cheap might be a better option. Saints Row The Third is an accomplished game filled with over the top action and some crazy scenarios making it good fun to play, but just loses out due to some repetitive moments and a lack of new gameplay ideas.



Written by: Rob Cram

Rob Cram has hundreds of video game reviews, thousands of articles under his belt with years of experience in gaming and tech. He aims to remain fair and free from publisher/developer influence. With his extensive knowledge, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement with his views are entirely optional. He might have a bias towards cyberpunk.