Saints Row The Third vs. The World

By Shamus
on Jun 5, 2012
Filed under:
Game Reviews

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I’m sure you’ve noticed the thin gruel that’s been passing for content around here lately. If it wasn’t for Spoiler Warning this place would have been a ghost town last week. This is why. I’ve been playing Saints Row the Third.

I did a series a few years ago where I compared Saints Row 2 with GTA IV. Now I want to do the same thing with Saints Row 3 and compare it to… everything else.

Saints Row versus BioWare

Remember the awesome button video?


Link (YouTube)

Fans of the KOTOR era BioWare games (this is a set that includes me) were frustrated with the “awesome button” idea because it was more proof that our exploration, dialog, and character-driven adventures were being “streamlined” out of existence and turned into action schlock.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the real problem with the awesome button wasn’t that it existed. The problem wasn’t the change in tone and focus. The problem with the awesome button was that it completely failed to be awesome.

Saints Row the Third has an Awesome Button. The game even explicitly calls it the Awesome Button. When you hold the button, it modifies the other actions you perform. Why punch somebody when you can suplex them? Why enter a car through the door when you can enter feet-first like the Dukes? It’s analogous to the “high profile” button in Assassin’s Creed, only completely bonkers.

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BioWare, if you really want to make “awesome button” games, then this is what you’re up against. You’ve got that one button for talk, use, sprint, enter cover, exit cover, vault over, and move to new cover. You’ve got opposing actions bound to the same button. The controls of SRtT are more complicated than those of Mass Effect, and the pace is far more frantic, yet I never once had that awful frustration of being unable to wrangle my avatar in a tense situation because the game was misinterpreting my inputs. You should try to figure out how all the other buttons need to work before you try to make any of them “awesome”.

Saints Row versus Bethesda


Link (YouTube)

I enjoy the character builder in Skyrim. It’s nice to craft just the right face, even if that face is going to end up stuck on the same body everyone else has, and sooner or later it’s probably going to end up under a helmet.

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As with the previous game, Saints Row the Third lets you build an entire person. Age. Race. Gender. Physique. Do you want fat? Old? Supermodel? Beefcake? Grotesque? Do it. It’s all there. I’m pretty sure this is the only game where you can play as the transvestite / transgender person of your choice.

You can even play as a zombie, complete with zombie voice.

Saints Row versus BioWare. Again.

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At the risk of picking on BioWare, I really think they need to look at how players make choices in Saints Row the Third. In BioWare games, you make choices by pushing buttons or selecting dialog options. Even your big choice between Kaiden and Ashley took place within the context of a dialog tree, despite the fact that you were running around on the battlefield.

In Saints Row, you make choices by doing things. If the Kaiden vs. Ashley choice took place within the context of this game, then you would have picked who lived or died by going to where somebody was and saving their life. This sounds like a small thing, but it’s amazing how much more “free” a choice feels if you do it instead of making a selection like you’re at a vending machine.

Saints Row versus Rockstar

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Let us agree that open-world urban playground games are a genre in their own right, even if we don’t have a better name for them than “Grand Theft Auto Clones”. Obviously GTA and Saints Row fit into this genre, but we can arguably include titles like Mafia II, Scarface: The World Is Yours, or Driv3r. The formula of…

guns + cars + big city = superfun murdertime

…is a compelling one, and a lot of developers dream of hitting that sweet spot of satisfying mechanics, high replay value, easy headlines, and emergent “Did you see that!?” moments that border on the viral.

The point is: Saints Row The Third is better than Grand Theft Auto IV using any meaningful metric I can think of.

Yes, even on story. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Now, some people might argue that the title of “best” should go to Saints Row 2. Okay, I can see that. SR3 has polished a few mechanics from SR2, but it also removed some. A case can be made for either game. But no matter which game it goes to, I can’t escape the conclusion that developer Volition has done more than just beat Rockstar at their own game. They have humiliated Rockstar. Maybe the sales don’t reflect this. Maybe the scores don’t reflect this. But all it takes is ten minutes of actual gameplay to reveal that Rockstar has more money than brains and it’s entirely possible they never understood why people played these things to begin with.

Chris even devoted a whole video to discussing why GTA IV got such phenomenal scores despite the fact that it left such a comparatively small impact on the audience:


Link (YouTube)

In GTA, the side games are mostly grafted on. They take place outside of the urban playground. When you’re bowling, playing darts, or watching TV, you’re no longer interacting with the world. You’ve effectively stopped playing the core game and are now doing something unrelated. It’s the equivalent of hitting pause and playing Angry Birds on your smartphone for fifteen minutes. It doesn’t detract from the core game, but it doesn’t really add to it either. Worst of all, it doesn’t leverage the immense gameworld that Rockstar spent so much money bringing to life.

In Saints Row, the side activities take place right there in the world. Insurance Fraud uses ragdoll physics as a gameplay mechanic and encourages you to throw yourself into traffic for hilarious profit. Mayhem adds a combo multiplier and scoring to encourage you not just to blow stuff up, but to blow it up at a frantic and self-endangering pace to push the score as high as it can go. Yes, GTA has street races (with shamefully flagrant rubber banding AI) but Saints Row has Trail Blazing where you race against the clock and use environmental destruction as a means of earning more time. Trafficking has you riding shotgun in a mad chase across the city, trying to hold off the waves of attackers before they can inflict too much damage on your driver or vehicle.

Saints Row versus Every Game Designer Who Wishes He Was Making A Movie and Thinks He’s Quentin Tarantino

Far too many games slather their stories in swearing and blood in an attempt to tell something gritty and intense. This is like trying to set something on fire by painting it orange. Game stories end up getting bogged down and defeated by the inherent conflict between the one hour story they’ve written and the ten-hour game they’re making you play.

In contrast, the Story in Saints Row The Third is an epic tale that speaks to the very foundations of what it means to be a human being, and offers a deeply moving look into the nature of love and friendship.

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Nah. I’m just messing with you. The story is mostly idiotic nonsense, but I give it points for charm and audacity. It doesn’t work any better than GTA IV, but it has the virtue of being more consistently funny (assuming you have a high tolerance for lowbrow humor) and matching the tone of the gameplay.

In one mission, the writer decided that he wanted me to fight my way through this building. To make things exciting, there was a timer counting down to when a bomb would go off and destroy the building. To establish this desired scenario, my crew came in, set up the bomb, and then we invaded the building.

In too many games, the designer would stop there, because their goals have been met: The player is in a building full of guys and there’s a timer running to encourage them to hurry. But in Saints Row the Third we get this: (Paraphrase.)

PIERCE:
Ok, Bomb’s set and the clock’s ticking.

SHAUNDI:
Why didn’t we wait to do that until after we’re done inside?

PIERCE:
That’s…. a really good question. Uh, we should move.

Lampshading. The game designer lets me me know that he’s not expecting me to be stupid. It’s the characters who are stupid. That’s it. That’s all I need.

I admit this is much easier in the context of a farce like Saints Row and much harder to pull off in a story with serious characters, but it’s what you need to do if you don’t want players looking at their screens and sputtering, “WHAT?” when mission objectives come up.

I’m hesitant to use the word “better” when talking about the story in Saints Row. It’s dumb and obvious and sometimes lazy. It’s a much simpler work than the polished, visceral, Hollywood-ready script of GTA IV. And yet I can’t escape the conclusion that I enjoyed the story of Saints Row more.

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Both worlds have the same conceit: Everyone is corrupt. The cops, community leaders, the government, the media. Crime lords are corrupt, even by their own standards of amorality. In GTA IV this takes the form of ugly people doing ugly things. Literally. It’s shocking just how many people in Liberty City are just as grotesque on the outside as they are on the inside. It’s almost macabre. Saints Row does the same thing, but it’s played for laughs. Both games are trying to satirize American culture, but I think it works better in Saints Row because Saints Row begins from a humorous space and the world they’re making fun of looks more like the pop culture I know. I can laugh at its jokes. I can’t laugh along with the angry nihilism of GTA IV because I can’t even tell when the game is kidding. Wait, is this the part where you’re making fun of western culture for taking itself so seriously, or is this a serious part of the story? Because I can’t tell.

Saints Row versus Chest-High Walls

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I have an idea! Let’s take the frantic pace of a firefight and replace it with a simple timing game where you wait for enemies to stick their heads out of cover. Let’s take our expensive, super-realistic, gritty grimdark environments and clutter them up with obvious and contrived chest-high walls. Let’s punish the player for doing interesting things like moving around, and encourage them to just sit still and play whack-a-mole. Let’s make the battlefield linear and tightly scripted to remove any dangerous dynamism that might creep into combat.

Or I suppose we could do what Saints Row the Third does, and have mobile, open, dynamic, interesting battles on varied landscapes with a wide variety of distinct weapons and a broad palette of foes with different behaviors. You know. Whichever.

The combat is one area where Saints Row the Third really outshines its predecessor. These weapons are crazy fun to use. “Kinaesthetically Pleasing” is the phrase that comes to mind.

Saints Row the Third versus Saints Row 2

Sadly, this is one foe that Saints Row the Third just can’t steamroll. Third is a step up graphically. It’s far more stable. The underlying mechanics are much more polished. But there are things that this game is missing.

I’ll talk more about these flaws in another post.

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A Hundred!202020208I bet you won't even read all 188 comments before leaving your own.

From the Archives:

  1. shlominus says:

    if i haven’t played any saints row game, which one should i play first? 2, 3? 1?!

    • Veloxyll says:

      2 on the PC can be a bit clunky with the controls. It is, at its heart, a console port (of course this isn’t a problem on a console!) It’s still a quite a good game though. The story is well enough written so you don’t find yourself going “wait what” at story things

      3 goes ridiculously over the top with story, and is generally a bit easier. The opening two missions really set the tone though. But after those you’re pretty much free to play whatever parts of the missions you want.

      They’re both fun though. So for your question um. I’m going to say 2 because some of the events are related to 3. Also 2 is probably cheaper. But they’re both REALLY good. If you like GTA-clone style gameplay at all, you’ll like Saints Row 2 and 3

      • O.G.N says:

        Note that if you try to play SR2 on a Windows 7 machine there is a bug causing the game to run at 150 % speed. This makes the game kind of hard. The Saints Row Powertools will fix that for you.

        • Raygereio says:

          Í’m really curious what the technical details are behind that glitch.

        • MrWhales says:

          I always wondered what the fuck was happening there….

          • Nick says:

            It’s quite simple, really. When you code for a console you have predictable time that it takes to perform certain actions every time, so you can save processing time by assuming that your graphics/game engine/other processing loops takes X amount of time without going through the motions of checking.

            Unfortunately if you don’t then fix this when you transfer to a faster or slower processor you have an issue.

            The original code for space invaders, for example, almost instantly loses the game for you on modern PCs because there was no timing loop, it just moved at the speed it could update. That’s also why they would speed up as you destroyed them.

          • Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

            Yeah my processor is actually slower than the 3.2ghz or whatever the 360 uses (mines 1.8ghz) and it still speeds up and is really wierd.

      • Eljacko says:

        It is also worth noting that Saints Row 2 is substantially longer, so you might want to take that into account when deciding whether you want a long or short taste of Saints Row.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Definitely 2.

    • X2Eliah says:

      IF you are looking at the PC versions, then definitely 3. 2 – on the PC – is a dreary, brown, supremely laggy mess of a port that’s by most definitions literally unplayable.

      • Woodthorn says:

        I found it easy to play, though I am more often than not the exception to every rule of what shouldn’t work on a computer.

        • Jakale says:

          2 worked fine for me too, and that was last March and on a Win7 machine. No gameplay bugs, just one minor cutscene graphics one(helmet floating the in the air next to the head it should be on) occasionally.
          I did kind of cheat at the controls, since I had a game pad and it was easier to drive with analog sticks, but easier to aim with a mouse.

          • Ateius says:

            I bought 2 on PC and it was completely unplayable. Even with all the settings cranked down to minimum (on a system that can run things like Skyrim and Crysis on max) I was getting at best 10fps and things were downright impossible to control.

            Basically, “Your mileage may vary”, but I’d recommend not taking the risk and just going straight for SR3.

    • Alphadrop says:

      Def number 2. 1 is alright but tries to be rather serious. However 2 is really where the game comes into it’s own. The vibrant characters and storyline and the wackiness that makes the series iconic tempered with enough grounding to give the story nuance. Something sorely lacking in 3 along with the customization options and weapon choice.
      Not to say 3 is bad, it’s very good just not as good as 2.

    • Mr Guy says:

      It really depends on whether you’re after the best gameplay or whether you’re trying to immerse yourself in the world.

      The original game wasn’t bad, and does the most to establish the player character. You’re about to be murdered, and you’re taken in by a father figure/gang leader who wants to end the violence. The “fighting to end the fighting” idea is pretty cool. Won’t spoil it, but eventually that leads to tension and betrayal within the gang. That said, it’s the weakest on gameplay.

      SR2 is what a reboot should he be. You wake up in a prison hospital after years in a coma after the events of SR1. The city has some similarity, but is significantly changed, due to an earthquake ex machina and a sinister corporation buying up and sprucing up most of the city. There are a few threads back to SR1 (Johnny as a character, the idea of taking over the city), but there are new gangs, new location, and new characters. SR2 is a revenge story. You’ve been taken back down to nothing, and you have to bring the gang back and retake what you consider your city from all who challenge it (including the aforementioned corporation). There are a lot of threads and independent plots, all of which are well done. The coda is particularly poignent if you played SR1, and doesn’t make a lot of sense otherwise.

      Gameplay-wise, SR2 has amazing variety (the most in the series). It introduces all the cool minigames (though IMO it makes you play them too often). It really makes the “you’re here to have fun!” evident, and clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously (oh, we need a mechanism for you to lose your police notoriety? We’ll have bunch of drive-through franchises called “Forgive and Forget!” where you can purchase forgiveness for a fee like you were at McDonald’s. That said, as others mentioned, it handles poorly on a PC.

      SR3 is another “back to zero” reset game, which could easily be annoying done twice in a row (e.g. “the way Zelda does it”), but there’s an interesting twist. In the beginning of SR3, you’re victims of your own success. You’re not a gang any longer – you’re a corporation, a marketing group. You’re so soft you’re taking an actor who is going to play you in a movie along on a bank robbery. A smart out-of-town syndicate of crime organizations sees your weakness, and hits you hard. You spend the game fighting back, on their turf in a new city. SR3’s plot really doesn’t build on SR2’s except as a premise – SR2 is the reason why you’re such big stars and so soft at the start of the game. Again, some callback characters and elements, but mostly new (the city is completely new). IMO the characters are particularly well done, though the plots and motivations of the other gangs are a little less convincing (way more over the top). The military plot is an intersting twist, and makes for some good combat (and throws a bunch of new cool toys at you). There are two radically different endings depending on a choice late (helpfully, the game lets you play both).

      The gameplay is much more polished. The money-based upgrade system works pretty well, and is an actual incentive to up your earnings. The minigames are less mandatory and more integral than before (you’ll have to play the intro version of a game as part of the main plot, then you can optionally play more for more respect/more city takeover). Professor Genke’s Super Ethical Reality Climax is my favorite new minigame. The combat is awesome if unrealistic (take 2 shotgun blasts to the face, duck behind a wall for a few seconds and you’re fine).

    • The Hokey Pokey says:

      SR3 is miles better than SR2. Sure there is less customization in the clothing department, but I think the available clothes in SR3 are higher quality. Vehicles are better in SR3 as well. They did cut a few activities, but the ones they added are a lot of fun.

      The most important thing, in mind, is that the story missions aren’t insulting in SR3. In SR2 you are be captured by two unarmed men, even though you have seven guns with infinite ammo. You give speeches all game about “owning this city” and being a super hard gangster type, but suddenly you care about fair fights and honor long enough to be forced into a terrible sword fighting mini game. After you win said fight without taking damage, the following cutscene shows that you actually lost and were foolish to think you could succeed. One mission forces you to drive your ultra fast, incredibly tough sports car in the opposite direction of your destination so you can take a slow and fragile jet ski around the long way. SR3 is a lot less idiotic. The one time you get captured, it is by overwhelming force. You never kill anyone only for them to get up an run away in a cutscene. It is just better.

    • shlominus says:

      thanks everyone for your input! :)

      i think i will choose door #3.

  2. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I have to say I don’t normally go for realistic settings, I’m a fantasy/SF kind of guy, but me and my buddy are slowly nearing the end of Borderlands and after watching Rutskarn play some SR2 and 3, and now reading this… you’re making a good case for this series. I mean, these games just look so goofily fun…

    • rayen says:

      yeah, you see you’re confusing “set in a time nearer to ours” with “realistic”. SR2 and SR3 are realistic in the way the matrix was realistic… the matrix and scooby-doo. combined. And agent smith was old man withers the whole time. yeah thats what SR2 is like.

  3. Andrew B says:

    Saints Row the Third is great. I enjoyed it from the ridiculous opening scene (“Why are we robbing a bank disguised as ourselves?”), but it really sold itself to me in two perfect moments. “Burt fuckin’ Renyolds” and the tremendously campy but amazing use of “I need a hero”. Both awesome to the power ten. And this is from someone who never played the previous two games.

    • krellen says:

      campy but amazing use of “I need a hero”

      I haven’t finished a second playthrough yet, but after that end sequence, I admit I’m going to find it really really hard not to go save the girls.

      • Dude says:

        You can do both endings in one playthrough! After the first ending, you still have the mission active, and if you play it, you can only choose the second ending, I think. Apparently the second ending sticks with your save file, so if you decided to not go for the “girls” the second time (ie, you go for them first), you lose ’em. But my game has them all available post-ending, anyway.

  4. jdaubenb says:

    Bad Shamus! Bad, bad Shamus! Don’t go and make me rue not buying the game when it was on sale this weekend. :-/

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Heh. I DID buy the game this weekend. Entirely because Shamus said, a week or two ago, “I’m playing SR3” and this place was soooooooo quiet… I said to my self “Self, Shamus is playing this game, and it’s clearly keeping him too busy to post. You should get this game.”

    • Jabrwock says:

      Same here. As soon as I saw this I went “oh, it actually sounds more fun than the advertising headeache made it seem”.

      Darn it, wasn’t it just on sale 2 days ago? Curses!

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But what about saints row 3 versus prototype 2?Granted,I havent played 2 yet,but if its anything like 1,it will be awesome.Sure,its fun when you can grab a rocket launcher and send helicopters and cars exploding,but its even more fun when you can munch on a soldier and become them,climb a tall skyscraper by running up the vertical wall,then dropkick a helicopter out of the air,and then go on to dive bomb hundreds of meters onto a tank.

    Using weapons is fun,but becoming a weapon is even funner.(and I cant believe funner is actually a word)

  6. Cody211282 says:

    You failed to mention the best part of the game! That you can make a guy with a cockney accent, in an expensive suit, with a bowler hat and has mutton chops.

    Basically you get to play as Reginald Cuftbert.

  7. Veloxyll says:

    Saints Row 3 is essentially the Painkiller of GTA-style games. They realised very early on exactly how goofy the premise was, and made a game to match. And it works on pretty much every level. The gameplay’s fun. The story is both fun, and interesting, and the characters are solidly written, and well acted. Including the main character.

    I don’t have much to add beyond that, and what’s written in the article, so I’ll just chime in saying I agree wholeheartedly.

  8. Aitch says:

    “like trying to set something on fire by painting it orange”

    that’s just… beautiful in so many ways. it’s a grand thing to have a smile this early in the morning.

  9. Dude says:

    And now you know what I’ve been doing all of this year.

    I get the manic urge people have to just keep going on in Skyrim/Oblivion/Fallout 3 for hundreds of hours; I never lost myself in those games that way. Fallout 3 came close, but no.

    Saints Row The Third on the other hand, I load it up for a twenty minute break (it’s perfect for a twenty minute break; absolutely perfect. Just like Vice City was), and then it’s four hours later. Every single time!

    Shamus, have you finished the main story yet? Try taking any of your homies out in a bunch; they do neat little conversations. Especially Reynolds and autotune guy. And everybody ought to play a female character in here at least once; because that mid-game STAG inflitration just isn’t the same without the surprise sex change.

    • Littlefinger says:

      I changed sex and voice set somewhere in the last 3rd of the game, and I didn’t really enjoy my choice. The male voices sound like they’re having a lot of fun hamming it up, while the female voices are a lot more reserved and distant. I had a lot of entertainment with the male hammy voices (though the raspy voice got on my nerves quickly), while the female voices sounded more like they were in a restaurant scene rather than the explosions-everywhere shooty bit that was actually taking place on-screen.

      • Dude says:

        I’m talking about a specific mission. The STAG mission where you infiltrate their aircraft carrier is that white haired guy. You go there as him even if your character is a chick. You get that sex change at an Image As Designed and the conversation right after might be different if you play a dude. I haven’t yet.

      • Kavonde says:

        I can’t say much about the Latina or Russian female voices, but I’m pretty sure that was intentional with Female 1 (a.k.a Jennifer Hale as FemShep). While all of the make voices are fairly goofy and over-the-top, Hale makes the Boss much more of a straight man/woman/whatever to the chaos and insanity around her, as well as an absolutely hilarious Deadpan Snarker.

        I played through the main game as an older British man, but had a sudden de-aging and sex change for the DLC. Now I’m wishing I’d stuck with BossShep the whole way through.

      • Raiser says:

        Amusingly, the raspy British accent was my favorite from the game, specifically because it’s what I used in SR2. It’s a great way of playing up the character from 2 to 3: he’s tired-sounding, he’s getting on in years, he’s an old hand at this stuff.

        My second favorite line from him (a random quote he sometimes says during a lull in activity): *musing aloud* “I wonder what it’s like to not get shot at all the time.”

        My favorite (spoken on occasion when stealing someone’s car without the use of the Awesome Button): *bored/annoyed* “I’m a Saint.” (There’s more after it, but he’s got three versions of the line. The delivery is the focus there.)

        You almost expect him to at some point stop beating someone over the head with their own dead cat and go on a lengthy diatribe about the absurdity of his life and how much things have changed.

        At least, prior to throwing the cat aside and picking up the family dog with a begrudging “Well, at least I’ve got my health.”

  10. EpsilonNaught says:

    I feel like passing over Just Cause 2 in any discussion of this genre is an enormous oversight. Largest, most varied world, most enjoyable transport, gunplay that is, not fantastic, but still above par compared to other entries in the genre. The story is horribly acted absurdity, but in an endearing way, and the activities may not be hugely varied, but I’ve found upwards of a hundred hours of entertainment in just cruising along a highway until I find a military outpost, then exploding it to bits. Also, beautiful, beautiful gameworld.

    It essentially takes the “make a sandbox full of fun stuff to do” idea and takes it to its logical conclusion, and the result is fantastic.

    • karthik says:

      Everything EpsilonNaught said, plus:

      Just Cause 2 is the true 20 minute game. Boot it up, blow stuff up, throw yourself off a mountain and relax. Then quit and come back to it tomorrow.

    • Mephane says:

      I particularly love the scale of Just Cause 2. Of course this banana republic island is still too small to be a feasible country in the real world, but it is large enough to feel realistic, even when flying around in a helicopter or plane (btw, I particularly love messing around with commercial airliners, that are about to take of, spent hours doing only that at the airport).

      It is also technologically very interesting. The game world seems effectively unlimited. It’s a tight group of islands somewhere out in the ocean, and there is no invisible wall. I’ve once flown an airliner (did I mention these are fun to mess with?) straight away from the island, but somewhere around 100km out I got bored and turned around. Amazingly, the system even dynamically creates clouds and a few lone military police patrols out there.

      • Eric Meyer says:

        It’s probably different between PC and console, but: on the XBox 360 version I grapple-hooked a jeep to a commercial airliner, took my place in the driver’s seat, and enjoyed the passing scenery as we flew northeast-ish to lands unknown. When we hit the edge of the map the game locked up so hard I had to manually reboot the console.

        Not that this kept me from immediately relaunching the game and doing Crazy Stuff™.

    • Woodthorn says:

      I especially love the final boss fight, which I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone. It’s immensely fun!

    • Sagretti says:

      I liked Just Cause 2 well enough, but the story and most of the characters were so bland to awful that I have to actively try and remember much of the game. I’d say it was a wonderful game mechanically with beautiful locations, but little to no personality.

    • Kdansky says:

      I have tried it, and I can’t tell what people like about it. Calling it a sandbox is about as fitting as calling a brick a multi-tool. After you’ve blown up one red base in JC2, you’ve literally seen everything there is. Diablo is a less repetitive game, because at least the enemies and scenery change from time to time.

      I literally can’t tell why this game gets scores above 3/10.

      “But blowing things up is fun!” – That’s not an objective argument. I don’t find Panzer General fun either, but I can understand what makes it a good or bad game.

      • Nimas says:

        I think it’s the fact that you could do so much random (non-repetitive) destruction in amusing ways. Sort of like when kids make a sand castle and spend hours on it and then you run in and jump on it, watching the tears form as the lovingly crafted sand is destroyed in an instant. Then their parents ask you what the hell you’re doing as an adult.

        It’s also good for making your own fun, for example one of my favourite things to do would be to get a sniper rifle, a jet and fly it past a military base while surfing it trying to pick off guys with the sniper rifle.

      • X2Eliah says:

        This was my experience with it as well. Started off fairly well – looked neat, ran well.. Made some stuff explode, shot some random generic guys. Then realized there’s nothing more to it at all. Just more identikit shooting of bad guys and exploding the same objects again in slightly different place.

    • LintMan says:

      For the glory of Panau!

      Just Cause 2 was a real blast to play, but only if using the “Bolo patch”. This was a program someone developed which allowed you to modifiy the game in quite a number of ways, such as making the grapling cable unbreakable, and allowing it to be attached to things at both ends. This allows you to do things like attach a pickup truck to a helicopter and fly around using the pickup like a wrecking ball. Or attaching bad guys to be dragged away by a passing car.

      The biggest flaw of the game, IMHO, is that it tries too hard to be a “challenging game”, which just gets in the way of the over the top mayhem that makes the game fun. For example, once you get past a certain point in the game, the enemy response to your actions starts to always quickly ramp up to HEAT 5, with helicopters and jets arriving nonstop, while soldiers bury you in enough grenades to knock you off your feet every few seconds.

      The missions also tended to be repetitive and less interesting than just wandering around the open world doing stuff. So much less interesting that I never managed to finish the game despite playing it for dozens and dozens of hours. The Saints Row model of just embracing the mayhem would have worked really well here. The gimp/rickshaw chase part of the sex club mission in SR3 is a thousand times more memorable than any of the dozens of “attack the base” or
      “assassinate the VIP” missions in JC2.

      • Mephane says:

        Just Cause 2 was a real blast to play, but only if using the “Bolo patch”. This was a program someone developed which allowed you to modifiy the game in quite a number of ways, such as making the grapling cable unbreakable, and allowing it to be attached to things at both ends. This allows you to do things like attach a pickup truck to a helicopter and fly around using the pickup like a wrecking ball. Or attaching bad guys to be dragged away by a passing car.

        I assume you played it on a console? I have the PC (Steam) Version and what you describe there worked for me as a built-in ingame mechanic, no additional player-made mods required.

        • LintMan says:

          No, I played on the PC. I’m pretty sure that the grappling cable was breakable in the base game, but for the other part, you’re right – I think what I was thinking of was that the bolo patch also let you have 2 separate cables out at a time. (The bolo patch also let you turn off the HEAT, instantly summon vehicles and other stuff as well).

  11. Lovecrafter says:

    … Is that a hulked-out agent Francis York Morgan? Awesome.

  12. kikito says:

    Before saying something positive about Saints Row II – please try it on the PC.

    Seriously. Worst PC conversion ever.

    I’ve got two completely different computers. In one, SR2 goes too slow. This was kind of expected. But on the other one… it goes too fast! So fast it is unplayable.

    I can get a sloppy conversion that goes too slow. But come on! Too fast? How lame was the programmer who did this? It takes around 1 line of code to ensure this doesn’t happen.

    I was outraged. I felt cheated. I promised myself I would never buy a Saints Row game ever again.

    GTAs have their share of issues, but at least they are decently programmed. I just don’t trust the SR devs after SRII PC. Fool me twice, and all that.

    • Sagretti says:

      I’ve never subjected myself to the atrocity that is Saints Row 2 on the PC, but I can still definitely say that Saints Row 3 is loads better. It runs completely smooth on my computer and I think I’ve only ever had the game crash once or twice, even with some of the truly insane things going on. Even if you don’t want to pay full price, the game will probably be on sale again during the Steam Summer Sale (whenever that starts).

      • kikito says:

        Thanks but no. After SRII PC, I’m done with them. I will spend my money on something else.

        • Tam O'Connor says:

          If it makes you feel any better about it, the developers also thought the SR2 port was terrible, which is why they did the porting in-house this time.

        • Dude says:

          The SRTT PC version was developed from the beginning, not with the intention of being ported on later on. It runs like an absolute dream, and I highly discourage you from denying yourself the game based on a crappy conversion of its predecessor’s console version.

          • Raiser says:

            A crappy conversion, mind, that is made significantly less crappy with the Gentlemen of the Row patch. (They’ve even got a Gentlemen of Steelport version on the same page! Although that’s not nearly as complete.)

            Honestly, if it weren’t for the game crashing as much as it did, my roommate and I (who played through the entire thing together, and are doing the same with SR3 now) would’ve enjoyed it a whole lot more. Nearer the end of the main story, we started getting intermittent crashes, but for the large portion of the game it was fast and fun.

            The fact that we hit the airport shortly after start, got helicopters, and then got the Perfect Base Jumping bonus of no fall damage made it more awesome, of course; it was a few dozen islands and a grappling hook short of being Just Cause 2.5: Scorpio in Stillwater! Not too many games out there allow proper F.A.S.E.* jumping.

            *”Fall, Activate, Smash, Enjoy”, so named for the act of popping your parachute in Just Cause 2 approximately four inches from the pavement, taking little-to-no damage despite traveling at terminal velocity and skidding about twenty feet down the road. Alternatively, hit the side of a mountain and enjoy ragdolling the whole way down without damage. In SR2, much of our F.A.S.E. jumping was upon arrival at mission points; we’d grab an Oppressor at the crib, zoom by overhead, and see who could get closest to the mission start marker. (Bonus points for hitting vehicles/pedestrians.)

        • Mr Guy says:

          You’re entitled to your opinion and your money. However, your specific criticism here is unreasonable.

          SR3 has a known bug that causes it to run too fast. This bug, as far as I’m aware (I had it as well and did some research on it) happens ONLY when SR3 is running on Windows 7. SR2 released in 2008. Windows 7 released in 2009.

          There were a lot of problems with the SR2 windows port that were clearly the dev team’s fault. Failure to anticipate a bug related to an OS that wasn’t released yet doesn’t seem like it fits that category.

    • X2Eliah says:

      I cannot second this post enough.
      After being quite frankly tricked into buying it on the PC after hearing so many reports of “GTA4 except done right”, well – no, not on the PC. It was so godawful and unworking that I have 0 desire to make any concessions regarding that game’s PC version.

      That said, SR3 is a really good PC port. I really mean good, btw – properly good. If you’d put a relation GTA4:SR2 for the ports, then similar equation would hold for SR3:GTA4, with the latter being the crappy one.

      • Tse says:

        I played and finished it on the PC. The driving was awful, but everything else seemed to be playable.

      • DirigibleHate says:

        I’m afraid I can’t say anything about GTA4, but the San Andreas port was miles short of SR2. I did have some issues getting SR2 running, but unlike SA mouselook functions with a modicum of sense and my first action in-game wasn’t to rebind the keys so I could reach them with one hand+mouse (Which didn’t work anyway).

        Put simply, Rockstar produced for me a far worse PC port than SR2 ever was, and I couldn’t solve any of the issues that came up.

    • krellen says:

      Oddly, I never had that many problems with my PC version of SR2.

      • X2Eliah says:

        And your point is… what? That those problems don’t exist? That because you were lucky enough to have the correct processor clock frequency that everyone will have it swimmingly?

        • krellen says:

          That assuming that just because you have problems, everyone will is stupid?

          • X2Eliah says:

            If the game actually, you know, requires such a nebulous thing as money to obtain, then it would be better to at least bloody warn them about the possibility their money could be wasted in the gutter, no?

            And saying that “just I” have problems is damn rich, considering there’s a whole user-created tweak specifically for people who can’t run then game properly due to *gasp* CPU frequency not matching that of the Xbox’s.. OH WAIT NO, ACTUALLY THEY MADE THAT THING SPECIFICALLY FOR ME AND ME ALONE. I am just that imporant, you see. All the bugreports are always about only my game, yess…

            • krellen says:

              “Worked just fine for me” is just as valid as “I had XYZ problem with it”. You’re the one attacking me for posting my experiences, not the other way around.

              • Jabrwock says:

                “Works for me” is not a valid tech support response.

                Obviously if it works for you, but not for him, then there is a bug that is dependant on factors that most likely differentiate you from him.

                The trick is to figure out what those factors are, and move on from there.

                I’ve always found that “works for me” = “you’re doing something wrong, it can’t be broken”. And that just irritates me when I’m trying to get a problem solved.

                • Mr Guy says:

                  PC hardware varies, so experiences will. Whether it works for a given individual is largely binary – it works or it doesn’t on your specific setup.

                  If there’s a game that works on some hardware and not others, I’d want to know whether the problem is widespread or not – does everyone have issues? Most people? Just ones running on certain platforms? Or is it a small-but-vocal minority? No one’s person’s experience is sufficient for you to determine this.

                  “It works for me” in this context a datapoint, and IMO a useful one. He’s not saying “I don’t believe anyone else could have had problems” or “It worked for me so clearly there are no problems.” He’s not tech support for Volition closing a problem ticket because he personally didn’t have the same issue. He’s reporting a different result than someone else had.

                  Why exactly are we hating on this?

                  • LintMan says:

                    This.

                    “Works for me, so your PC sucks” is obnoxious, but “Works for me” by itself is fine and useful.

                    If I’m reading these posts and trying to decide to bother with SR2, I want to know if people are having problems with it. But I also want to know if some people did not have any problems with it. If only the complainers are allowed to speak up, then there’s no way to tell how extensive the problem is. Is it everyone, or just a handful of people? I want to have a feel for the odds I’ll have a problem, too.

                    Also, about:
                    ““Works for me” is not a valid tech support response.”

                    I’d like to note this is not a SR2 tech support forum, even if some people are discussing the game’s problems, so expecting everyone to conform to this standard is a bit unreasonable.

                • crossbrainedfool says:

                  See, it’s funny. Krellen’s original comment acknowledges that his experience was atypical. If he hadn’t lead with the ‘oddly’ then you might have some ground to stand on here.

                  Also, not everyone has a point to make. Sometimes we’re just contributing observations, which is especially common on such a friendly and close-knit place like here.

                • krellen says:

                  I do tech support for a living. I don’t do tech support on Shamus’s blog – and neither should anyone else (it’s not really the appropriate venue for it).

                  • somebodys_kid says:

                    I was considering purchasing this game, but I’m worried due to all of the problems mentioned above. What hardware are you running, Krellen? Is it safe to assume you have XP?

                    • krellen says:

                      I was running XP until the beginning of the year. SR2 is still playable on my new Win7 (64 bit) machine – I just futzed around with it this morning: stole a car and took it to the chop shop.

                    • Volfram says:

                      There is apparently a fan-made patch you can get to fix the problem which someone mentioned higher up.

                      I intend to dodge around the whole thing by picking up the Xbox version.

    • Irridium says:

      I don’t know, I’d say the PC port of GTAIV is just as bad as the Saints Row 2 port.

      At least, from my experience with it. Ugh.

      • Rosseloh says:

        GTAIV was just horribly optimized, no matter what platform you were playing it on. I don’t know how many times I’ve had it crash on the PS3, and you STILL can’t play it on max graphics settings on a PC despite the fact that it’s nearly 5 years old. (or is it 5 already?)

    • Volfram says:

      By your logic, Spider-Man 2 is the worst video game of all time, and nobody should ever try another Spider-Man game again.

      Fortunately for me, I’m pretty much the exact opposite of you. “Oh hey, what’s this thing? OH I KNOW WHAT IT IS NOW! IT’S PURE AWESOME!”

  13. Infinitron says:

    Excellent post, Shamus.

    One quibble – “KOTOR era Bioware”? What exactly does that describe – a grand total of two games? (KOTOR itself and Jade Empire)
    It was really just a fleeting transition period between the true Bioware Golden Age of Baldur’s Gate/NWN and modern day BiowEAr.

    • Shamus says:

      KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1.

      They weren’t perfect games, but they really scratched my particular itch. I keep playing their new stuff, hoping that magic will happen again. Of course, they’re pretty much a different company now. Their staff, their focus, and their company culture have all changed.

      • KremlinLaptop says:

        To my mind KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1 were games that pointed the way forward.

        …And then Bioware stuck their fingers in their ears and did a 90 degree turn into a ditch.

    • karthik says:

      Also, PCgamer’s visit to Bioware (Austin, I think) when they were working on Mass Effect 3 suggested they are now organized like a movie studio (in terms of designations, labour assignment, scriptwriting, etc), not like most game studios are.

      I don’t have an opinion on what this means; it’s just something interesting.

    • Infinitron says:

      It’s interesting. If you look at Bioware’s release history, they went through a dormant “hibernation period” between 2003 and 2007, when the only game they released was the rather small Jade Empire.

      What was going on during those four years? It’s hard to imagine an independent developer surviving for that long without a single major release nowadays*. Of course, it may be no coincidence that they stopped being independent at the end of that period.

      *(to be fair, they probably also made some money from licensing their game engine to Obsidian and to CDProjekt, and also from selling Neverwinter Nights premium modules)

  14. X2Eliah says:

    One reason why SR3’s story feels so good even when upon examination it’s ludicrous shallow nonsense (no offense) is because it is perfectly matched with the actual gameplay mechanics. You never get the disconnect from hearing Niko lament the killings of two people 20 years ago as he casually drives down twenty people on sidewalk every 2 minutes.

    SR3 is bombastic, ‘action-movie-esque’ and decidedly over-the-top, and both the gameplay elements AND the story design support that.

    I think the best description of SR3 i’ve read has to be “It’s very smart people telling stupid jokes”, and that’s fairly accurate. The humour is mostly low-brow, there’s a lot of crudity and shallowness, but it’s all done quite masterfully, with attention to detail and plenty of lampshading, witty movie/culture references and a nod and a wink, you certainly sense that the developers making this were quite clever – not like, say “Oh Alan Wake is the bad writer, the game’s writers were not…right?”.

    As for your final note, Shamus.. Eh, I’ll just plain disagree. SR3 definitely steamrolls SR2 by merit of being goddamn actually playable and not a completely bloody broken pile of steaming dung.

    • Darkness says:

      The social misfit driving down the sidewalk is … you. Just saying.

    • Loonyyy says:

      If you can get it working (Mine sort of worked, lagged out while driving around any corner as it recalculated draw distances, I assume), SR2 is usually better. It feels longer, there’s all around more stuff in there, the faction play is much more interesting and the stories more fleshed out.

      That said, SR3 is definitely more polished, but it loses something in that transition.

      • X2Eliah says:

        I’ve tried to get it “working”. Never got it to an acceptable level of performance – the closest I got (dealing with the idiotic game speed changes to account for CPU clock frequency) still resulted in the game looking like utter rubbish, running really poorly, everything popping in about 10 feet away, and vehicles being undriveable with a keyboard. That lagging out while driving, yeah, that was still there. I got up to a point where I had to do a mission that was a high speed car chase where I had to also kill that car by shooting at it.
        Yeah. Shooting at a car whilst also driving it via keyboard, with other cars popping in about 1 second before they crash into me, with the game lagging out like all hell – that’s the definition of unpassable. So screw that game and screw any wasted time getting that POS into “running” state >:|

        • Loonyyy says:

          Hey, no need to get all riled up. I know exactly how frustrating it is to have a game that doesn’t work, and to me, on a personal level, if my game doesn’t work, it gets a zero in my mind.

          That said: I believe on the quality of the game, performance (And SR2 has dreadful performance, as I said, mine lagged out while driving around corners) asside, SR2 is better.

          I’d be cautious recommending SR2 for the PC, simply because it’s a pest in the performance department: My old rig wouldn’t run it, though it met the requirements, I had to upgrade to a beast of a machine to get it to run. That clearly isn’t good enough. But I’d suggest if you have a console, pick up SR2 over SR3, PC or console. It looks like **** (Really, really terrible, seriously), but it’s a zany kind of fun which the second sequel kind of loses in the attempt to make everything crazy. You’d lose the mods, (Oh Gentleman of the Row), but I’d confidently say that you’re getting the better game.

          That stupid port still annoys me when I think of my first attempt at co-op. The horror.

  15. Abnaxis says:

    In Saints Row, you make choices by doing things. If the Kaiden vs. Ashley choice took place within the context of this game, then you would have picked who lived or died by going to where somebody was and saving their life. This sounds like a small thing, but it’s amazing how much more “free” a choice feels if you do it instead of making a selection like you’re at a vending machine.

    Caveat: Choosing by doing is much better than the vending machine method when done right, but much worse when done wrong. This is because when you choose through a dialog tree, you can guarantee that the choice is always there. There are plenty of other examples where there was a choice was completely ruined because the designers didn’t set it up right (see also: Skyrim, a couple places in Fallout IIRC) and wound up obliterating the element of choice entirely.

    • A hairless monkey says:

      Please to be elaborating a little? What happened?

      • Pete says:

        Probably not what Abnaxis was thinking of, but I remember in the beginning of Skyrim you were supposed to pick between following either the empire guy or the rebellion guy… except that this fact is quite easy to miss since the player is probably going to care less about the two guys with swords yelling at each other and more about the giant firebreathing dragon currently orbiting the courtyard. I actually didnt realise there even WAS a choice until I talked about the situation with a friend.

        • A hairless monkey says:

          Ah, I see. The choices in SRTT are not so subtle. You get giant glowing letters on the screen in the direction of your HQ with “Go to your HQ to ” and another set of glowing letters in the direction of, say, the enemy base with “Go to the enemy base to “.

          The choices in themselves are usually mostly inconsequential, but the UI for making them is very noticeable and intuitive.

          • lasslisa says:

            The particular example of Kaiden vs. Ashley, however, is one where “choose by doing” would have been, literally, “run to one place or another”. So if someone gets turned around on the map… I suspect that part of the motivation for forcing a choice in dialog was so that the developers could then lock the doors going in the other direction.

            That said, there are ways to integrate such choices with your normal actions in the game, and make it feel smoother. If you were in your usual spacecraft navigation interface, and the choices were “Go to Planet HasKaidenOnIt” and “Go to Planet HasAshleyOnIt”, for instance. But this particular example, I can see both sides (though there’s an easy answer: make it more obvious which way you’re going / who you’re running towards).

    • Jirin says:

      If I remember right, Alpha Protocol had a moment a bit like this near the end: you’re told one of your allies is in danger, and can either go save them or not, but you’re provided with two identical waypoints in different directions. It’s basically just luck whether or not you pick the one you wanted.

      It’s been a while, though, so I might be remembering wrong. Or I just might not have been paying proper attention.

      • Jarenth says:

        No, you’re completely correct. There are two doors, and the only confirmation given when you go through the Screw Them door is (I think) a muted explosion and one villain saying something about it.

        I missed the second door the first time around. I missed it up until the point where I beat the game, and it told me that character was dead.

        EDIT: The ‘correct’ door does have a grainy viewscreen of said character surrounded by dynamite over it, though. So there is an indication. Just a very poor, easily missed one.

  16. Mr Guy says:

    My favorite moment in the game is actually almost a non-gameplay moment. Early in the game, you and Pierce are on a long drive across the city to the start of a mission. You’re bantering back and forth, then Sublime’s “What I’ve Got” comes on the radio, and the characters spend the rest of the ride just singing along. I’ve never sang along with a video game before.

    • Veloxyll says:

      when I actually reached the destination, I stayed in the car for a couple of minutes to listen to them singing together badly :3 SR3 has several good parts like that. And it is wonderful.

      • Raiser says:

        My roommate and I loved that part, even if we didn’t know the song. If you’re playing co-op, even the second player sings along too.

        A black man, an old Cockney fellow, and a Russian woman, singing along to a Sublime song on the radio.

        We got there maybe forty seconds into the song. We sat and listened to the whole thing. Felt like they were three old friends just enjoying life.

        Then we got out and one of us ran down an Attrazione that just buzzed by, jumped in the windshield with both feet, and the other took out a cop that started shooting at the first one with a shot to the narts.

        Still loved that bit.

  17. Jokerman says:

    I thought you would be busy with Max Payne honestly Shamus….

    I loved Saints Row 3, maybe more than 2….they are both great in different ways – i liked the customization, story and mission structure. Saints row 3 like you said underlying mechanics are better – the driving is a slight step away from the madly arcadeyness of 2, the shooting is much better plus the zoomed in aim is on the left trigger where in 2 you had to press in the Analog stick to toggle it.

    3 did suffer from less Johnny Gat too.

    • LegendaryTeeth says:

      The lack of Johnny Gat (and lack of hat tilting options) are my only complaints. The just-after-the-intro sequence with the plane is the finest moment in gaming, bar none.

  18. Droid says:

    I picked it up last week since it was on sale and finished it Sunday night. Good game, really enjoyed it.

    I think that it’s telling that last night, Monday, I fired it up again just to tool around the post-campaign game world and simply… mess around. I never did that with GTA IV.

  19. empty_other says:

    Recommendation: Play the campaign with a friend!
    They have added functional co-op main-campaign! It was… AWESOME!

    • Loonyyy says:

      I was playing with a friend, we got into a crazy gunfight with a gang control area, and we decided to leg it. I picked him up in a stolen sports car, then, since I was running on 36 hours without sleep, I passed out, and crashed into a wall.

      There were no survivors.

      Co-op rocks.

    • Jarenth says:

      I second this notion. Some of the mini-games (Escort, for instance) have even been designed so that the ‘second’ player gets a different role, instead of (as I imagined) just being background fodder. It’s so great.

  20. X2Eliah says:

    Actually.. I think I can come up with one thing that gta4 does manage to pull off better, though..
    Emotional linking to environments.

    In SR2 and 3, the game world is, well, it’s just there. It’s very generic, and copypaste-feeling (even though there genuinely are decent features), all because the missions, cutscenes and events do not particularly capitalize on the environmental features. All the places are just random places where stuff goes mostly boom, that’s it.
    Contrast to GTA4 and 3, which actively tied importance to environments. For instance, the russian-owned cafe where the fat loan shark usually resided in gta4. The cabin on the steep hill in rural San Andreas where you get Catalina’s missions from. The ghetto areas in Los Santos. The Malibu bar in Vice City. The run-down garage/car chop-shop in San Fierro (the docks, the chinatown district with Woozie, the goldengate bridge), etc. etc. -GTA games always have placed emphasis on making the environment rather unique – especially the bits where mission stuff happens.

    That, I feel, is Saint’s Row’s one stumbling point still, the locales in which events are set are just far too bland and forgettable, made undistinct by their unremakable appearance, often-copy-pasted setpieces and detachment between the action and the locations.

    • Dude says:

      Their excuse for this is that they spent most of their hours/money developing the engine. Considering how incredible the game has been for me, I’m willing to believe them and give them a chance to make a Hack-Slash version of GTA IV’s vibrant world for Saints Row 4.

    • Mr Guy says:

      I think some of this is the result of a mechanic I actually like – the phone-based mission system. I don’t HAVE to go to any one specific place to meet a quest-giver to get a quest, so there aren’t as many places I am forced to frequent/become familiar with to get my quests.

      There ARE some quests where I go to Person X’s place as part of the quest, but it’s not all the quests, and when it happens it’s more a “pick me up here” waypoint rather than somewhere I spend time in.

      • X2Eliah says:

        Myeah, that’s a valid point as well. Waypoints is the exact right term for this, all the locations simply act as random waypoints in a generic structure (even if they aren’t) for most missions – the big setpieces being the exception (Decker virtual reality endmission, um.. uhh.. the final mission..).

    • Loonyyy says:

      Yeah, I felt that the world of GTA IV certainly got me more invested. Actually, SR2 tended to give me a similar investment: I gradually got to know areas from going there regularly for missions. The contrast between areas for different character missions was intriguing too:
      In GTA IV: There was the rich area skyscraper for the Arabic playboy, the slums for Roman, the Ghetto for the drug dealers and the like.
      Saints Row 2 gave me Gat’s house with Aisha (No idea how to spell that), the Saints hide out, the various faction areas. Not quite as constant in the repeating, but still more definate.

      Saints Row 3, the only places I remember are my spawn points. I loved the Saints hideout on the skyscraper you steal in that mission with “Power” playing, but I only saw that once or twice outside of spawns.

      The phone based mission system was a combination of good and bad for me. It made starting missions easy, but when I had to travel to their pickups, I was typically half a city away without realising.

  21. Johan says:

    I’m not trying to attack your opinions Shamus, but I wanted to write out some of mine and my responses to what you wrote. I haven’t finished the game so maybe I’ll feel better about SR3 once I have, but so far I’m having the exact opposite reaction to you, this game
    is really underwhelming.

    Of course I haven’t just STOPPED PLAYING yet, so it must be doing something right, but I’m not sure if I’ll end up liking it near as much as some of my other favoritest games, including SR2

    “yet I never once had that awful frustration of being unable to wrangle my avatar in a tense situation because the game was misinterpreting my inputs”
    Wow, really? I haven’t been playing as long as you have but I’ve had this all the time. The big offenders here are Take Human Shield, Hijack Car, and Buy Things. If an enemy ganger just exited their car and I want to use it to get out of here, far too often I’ll be looking in just the wrong direction and the game will interpret my frantic attempts to jump in the car as wanting a human shield, wasting me precious seconds as I tackle the enemy to the ground and bring him back up, all while getting shot at. Then there are the times that I want a human shield. Several of the “survival” diversions are set around stores. At first I thought I was being clever hiding inside the stores for cover, then popping back out to shoot once my health had regen’d. Unfortunately I dropped this tactic after a while. The enemies would try to run into the store, I would try to take one as a human shield, and instead end up in the “buy things” menu.

    “In Saints Row, you make choices by doing things”
    I HATED the choices in SR3 because they felt so damned EMPTY. It was nice…ish that they gave me the choices within the context of the gameworld. But I’ve had 2 choices so far and neither of them have mattered at all (to me). Blow up the building, or don’t? Why should I care? This wasn’t a recognizable landmark to me among the sea of highrises, and the reason to make the choice wasn’t even given to me until after I made it. Blowing it up makes it easier to get respect, keeping it makes you more money. And then worse, “keep the whores or sell them?” WHY DO I CARE? This felt like nothing more than a threadbare choice system shoehorned in, none of it felt like it mattered at the time or would matter down the road

    Maybe I’m being to hard on it. I haven’t finished the game, maybe the choice system will turn out to be better than I thought with later choices

    “And yet I can’t escape the conclusion that I enjoyed the story of Saints Row more.”
    I haven’t played GTA4, but I’m a ways through SR3 and I am NOT enjoying the story at all. The big problem is that I never feel like I’m moving forward towards a goal. At the onset I’m given much the same task as in SR2, “take out the three rival gangs” (in this case
    they’re working together as “The Syndicate” but it’s the same theory).
    The problem comes in in that outside of exactly ONE mission (the kill Loren mission) I haven’t felt like I’ve ever contributed to this at all. That’s not to say that my missions are the stuff of nonsense, whether I’m sent Trailblazing for Kinzie or Escorting for Zimos or any of the other things, I’m certainly always given a prefacing phone call with “OK, this is how we’re going to do some damage to the Syndicate/Morningstar/Deckers/whatever.” But the problem with this is that from a gameplay perspective you never actually “damage” anyone.
    Enemies will continue to spawn infinately in the game until the exact moment when you kill your final boss. So all talk of “damaging” the enemy is hollow. SR2 had this as well, every game like this has it, but SR2 hid this by giving you obvious faces of your enemy to punch when their time came. I wasn’t just playing around with the hordes of Generic Ronin, Brotherhood, and Samedi the way I am with the Syndicate. I killed Jyunichi, then Shinji, then Akuji. I roughed
    up that Brotherhood Guitarist, then I killed Jessica, then Maero. I killed Verteran Child, then Mr.Sunshine, then The General. By giving me names and faces to punch in, SR2 gave me a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of reward in what was otherwise the exact same formula of story as SR3, where I haven’t felt like I’ve accomplished anything since killing Loren

    Secondly I hate the villains, not ingame, but out of game from a standpoint of “could I PLEASE have someone else as my enemy?”

    I think the Spoiler Warning crew discussed this in their Half Life 2 episode in Nova Prospekt, an enemy feels “fuller,” more real and more, well INTO being your enemy if they occasionally attack YOu, instead of the dynamic always being the other way around.

    SR2 had this in spades, there were several missions in each gang tree for this. I can remember 2 for the Ronin, 2 for the Samedi, and 1 for the Brotherhood when the enemy decided to take (or try to take) the fight to the Saints. And that’s now counting the random “pushback”
    instances, which once again gave the feel that the enemy is more than just dudes to be killed in their base. I’m trying not to forget anything but I can only remember ONE time the Syndicate does this to
    you (after the opening sequence). As soon as it fails the big Luchador guy kills his underling for failing him. He’s obviously mad, he wants to kill the Saints, in a previous cutscene he was ranting about “we need a General, not an Ambassador!” And then he goes and does… absolutely nothing. After (and before) that point, I can’t think of a single instance of the Syndicate bringing the fight to the Saints. In fact, Killbane’s big plan seems to be to go on talk shows or something.

    Will this all be an elaborate and grand master plan that will be revealed later in the game? I don’t know, but I’m doubting it. The villains just feel so token and barely even there, the random Syndicate on the streets seem to have more personality than the main guys, I love how they all try to act like they’re in the real world, or maybe a modern shooter. They yell “cover me!” and “need to reload!” and I’ve occasionally heard the sarcastic (and maybe sometimes not) “oh nice teamwork.” The dissonance between that and the rest of the game is hilarious. But their leaders are so threadbare as characters that it’s infuriating

    Also, this is a minor quibble, but SR3 is very lacking in good music on the radio. I’m a very musically minded person, I like to have songs on no matter what I’m doing. I’ll often stop in a game and listen to the background music if I like it. SR3 had barely anything I liked on the radio and a lot of stuff I couldn’t stand. This is, of course, what we call a “personal problem,” because I’m sure there are other people out there who hated SR2’s music and loved SR3, but I spent a lot of long, musicless drives across the city wishing there was something better on the radio.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Hm. The closer-to-end missions for the enemy faction branches are better than that, though. The initial filler is essentially a tie-in of the repeatable random missions, which is a bit of a shame, as they are, as you said, rather unfocused.

      Also, you’re spot on about the music. Such poor radiostation selection, sigh.. Though to be honest, GTA4 without the biker/tony dlcs also had a very lackluster radioscene.

    • Johan says:

      OK, I’ve played the game more, and now I’m hating the choice system EVEN MORE

      Because the ONE time I get to PERSONALLY come face to face with a villain who has annoyed me to no end and who I’ve been doing unending bullshit (sorry, “Missions for Kinzie”) trying to kill, the game gives me a choice

      But not the choice I want

      Not the choice I would likely choose
      I am forced to let him go, and I get a choice of what discounts I want

      It’s not game ruining, to be honest I haven’t really felt invested in the story for a long time now, but the possibility of finally feeling like I was ACCOMPLISHING something perked me up for a moment. And then the game threw me back down

      audible sigh

  22. Perivale says:

    I know this is going to sound utterly ridiculous, but no matter how much I may have enjoyed a lot of Saints Row 2 (haven’t played the 3rd one) I always felt that it was just a bit “mean” for want of a better word, even when compared to GTA IV, hence I enjoyed playing GTA IV more. I’m not going to argue whether one is better than the other, I think maybe I just disliked the protagonist in Saints Row more. I just didn’t feel I saw where he was coming from where with Niko Bellic, he was clearly a broken man and so I could understand where his dark side came from. The main character in Saints Row seems to just be a jerk for being a jerk’s sake.

    • MintSkittle says:

      Switching a guys tattoo ink with radioactive waste, locking a main rivals girlfriend in the trunk of her car and parking it in the main arena of a monster truck rally to be crushed, threatening to permanently destroy a guitarist’s hand if he doesn’t tell you what you want, then doing it anyway once he’s spilled it. Yeah, the main character is a ruthless asshole.

      • DirigibleHate says:

        I actually prefer SR2 for that very reason. The GTA games have never really felt that powerful to me, they’re portraying a city filled with gang violence but it seems more like they’re trying to offend my mother than anything else. SR2 said “ruthless gang violence” and had you run with it.

        Any game could have your enemies go after the Promising New Recruit, but how many will have them torture him, and how many will have the playable character respond in kind? In Mass Effect, for instance, the alternative to “Spare him, he’s not worth it” is just “Shoot him”.

        I think it’s important to note that while your character’s an asshole, so are the antagonists. I was shocked by some of the protagonists’ actions, but it never really felt unjustified. Cruel? yes. Ruthless? Certainly. Excessive? Sure, but not past what I’ve already been presented with.

      • Fnord says:

        It’s funny, the Brotherhood storyline is one of my favorite parts. Because even as your character does all the nasty, brutal things, it makes you understand what’s driving them forward. I found it a very interesting artistic examination of blood feuds and cycles of revenge.

        But that’s if it works. The “respect” system has some flaws, and they particularly stand out in that story. If you’re forced to do some side missions between Carlos’s death and your revenge, it can really kill the feel of the story.

  23. Torsten says:

    I bought Saints Row III after seeing Josh play it on the hilarious new year stream session, and have been putting well over 100 hours on the game since, more than anything else on my Steam library. I would go as far as to say that SR3rd sets the new standard for the genre, I like to call them “gangster sandbox” myself.

    Is is not a perfect game. The choices you do are rather meaningless or so far of each other that there really is only one reasonable option. Also the story does not have much replay value. Personally I think the driving mechanic could have been better, but the game is not really about driving. Despite the problems it is the most fun game I have played in a long time.

    The game also runs really well on pc. My computer barely meets the minimum requirements yet I have not had any problems with it.

  24. James Schend says:

    Shamus, did you play Crackdown? (The first, not the awful sequel.)

    How does Saint’s Row compare to Crackdown, fun-wise?

    • krellen says:

      I’m not Shamus, but having played Crackdown, SR2, and SR3, I would say that the Saint’s Row series comes out ahead of Crackdown, if for no other reason than there’s a hell of a lot more to do.

      Still, SR would benefit greatly from Crackdown’s extreme level of parkour-ability.

  25. PhoenixUltima says:

    Huh. I never tried SR2 or 3 because I played part of 1 and it was completely godawful. I may have to give SR3 a try sometime. Tell me, does SR3 continue the story from 1 and 2, or are the SR games unconnected story-wise, like Final Fantasy?

    • Johan says:

      I’ve never played 1, but 3 does very much follow from 2.

    • X2Eliah says:

      I played the third with having not played the previous two (first completely, the second.. Well I *tried* to play for about 5 hours, and gave up after having no end of technical issues), and it’s actually pretty much on the level.

      The only things you need to know are roughly what the saint’s are (A big gang turned into pop culture celebrities) and that the main guys (protagonist, Pierce, Shaundi and Gat) are friends in a way.. That’s about it. The rest is pretty self-consistent, imo.

    • DirigibleHate says:

      2 follows on from 1 but it’s not a requirement in any way. My only experience with Saints Row 1 is Buggy Saints Row: The Musical but I didn’t feel I was missing any story by not having played it.

    • krellen says:

      SR3 flows from 2, and 2 from 1, but you get all the info you need about the previous titles in the series from the opening of the later ones – ie, 2 gives you all the backstory you really need from 1, and 3 gives you all you really need from 2 early on.

  26. MatthewH says:

    I’m always torn on GTAIV/SR style games. On one hand, causing mayhem really is fun -and in short bursts the moral dissonance with my natural Lawfull Good is ignorable. But I always feel bad when I play the stories or when the rampage results in more or less innocent people getting caught in the middle.

    I’m playing Driver: San Fransisco and having a blast, but every now and then I shift into a car where the story, rather than being funny, is guilt inducing. The bullying driver’s ed teacher deserves every spinout, wreck, and jump I put him through. The wife arguing with her husband who finishes with “I want a divorce!” followed by a head-on collision with a fleeing felon is jarring.

  27. JPH says:

    The only aspect of SR3 I’m angry about is how drastically they changed Shaundi’s character. Pierce wears different clothes, but he’s still Pierce in the way he’s written and acted. The protagonist is just as villanous, straightforward, and badass as she was in the last game. But Shaundi? She’s practically a whole different person, and a much worse character. And the worst part is that nobody ever acknowledges this.

    Other than that, I LOVED Saints 3. They turned the wackiness up to 11, and while some apparently didn’t like that (see Yahtzee’s review) I thought it was glorious, especially the Deckers plotline.

    • krellen says:

      They should have killed Shaundi instead of Gat. Kinzie’s way more hilarious anyway.

    • Aulayan says:

      Yeah. I loved Shaundi in the first game, her and Pierce’s interactions killed me.

      But in this game? No. The character change made SOME sense due to events, but the actress change was the real problem. She just wasn’t…good. And sadly she wasn’t the only one. Viola’s actress I found to be quite boring and bland.

      … I think you can guess which end-mission I chose.

  28. TheAngryMongoose says:

    Just bought it for £10… did it not sell well?

  29. Goliathvv says:

    Know the moment I fell in love with SRTT? This moment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8AUU06AMog

    I actually reached the objective location, but instead of leaving the car, I just kept rolling around the neighborhood, enjoying the event.

    Simply put: the game is fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it just lets you roll and enjoy it!.

  30. Reach says:

    I don’t want to spoil this for those who have not yet played but are earnestly interested in playing this game, so only peep this spoiler if (you think) you are certain you will not buy SR3.

    There is a part in Saints Row the Third where, while escaping with a rescued lieutenant, you wind up in a high octane chase entirely involving S&M pony carts. When one of these carts takes enough damage, it explodes, for no reason whatsoever.

    This ranks up there with the ability to karate-kick a helicopter in the “must play just for this part” category.

    edit: At first I was upset that strike didn’t cover the link, but now, I’m okay with it.

  31. Darkness says:

    On the opposite end of the spectrum here. First I watched my son play SR2 and really didn’t like it. He showed me the cool bits and explained stuff but there was nothing for me to get into.

    Same son also showed me GTA4. That got me back into gaming. Even bought a PS3 and an XBox (after Asshat Sony stole linux). I have several hundred hours in GTA4. Played it twice on the PS3 and picked it up on the XBox just for fun.

    Niko is totally fucked up. There was nothing that was going to work out for him and I liked the story. I didn’t drive down the sidewalks killing grannys unless I was in rampage mode and I rarely saved those games. Good story and the anti-hero has no prayer. Cool.

    Bad news, cut scenes almost hell. The second time I refused to date the damned Irish nun and she was still important to the end of the game. Screw that, I let her die. Ashley deserved her death but dumb a box of hammers Kaiden took one for the team EVERY time. So a little consistently on my side.

    • Dude says:

      Sounds like you’re mixing up GTA IV and Mass Effect, man.

      • Darkness says:

        I don’t think I am confused.

        I played GTA-4 three times (2 PS3, 1 XBox).
        I played ME-1 five times (should have been four, level 58 finish).
        ME-2 was once and a half (cover mechanics).
        I played FallOut 3 three times and have one pass almost done in New Vegas (waiting for GOTY to drop in price). And FO3 SUCKED on the PS3 but I got all the way through it.

        Don’t get me wrong, I love ME1 way more then any other game period. I ran a FemShep and she was a fantastic, ass-kicking, jumping back and forth between Paragon and Renegade wonder woman that wanted to raise blue babies.

        GTA-4 was just my first re-entry to games. I hadn’t played for over a decade. So GTA-4 is special to me and I might have rose colored glasses on. But Niko just didn’t stand a chance. Fate had him in the Fuck You cross hairs and the game was a significant step up from games a decade before. And just to put the icing on the cake you could go out and rampage all over the city while trying to get trophies. I was 15 seconds from max minutes at six stars.

        My son hooked me on GTA-4 and FO3. He tried on Oblivion, SR2 and a number of others I cannot even remember. ME-1 was my own because it was on sale and ME-2 was coming out.

        As far as games without a Story then Borderlands has more of my time, money and just plain fun then all my other games combined. So Story isn’t the only thing for me. I just like a bazillion guns.

        • Dude says:

          Er, then what does this paragraph you wrote have to do with GTA?

          > Bad news, cut scenes almost hell. The second time I refused to date the damned Irish nun and she was still important to the end of the game. Screw that, I let her die. Ashley deserved her death but dumb a box of hammers Kaiden took one for the team EVERY time. So a little consistently on my side.

  32. Daimbert says:

    I don’t generally like these sorts of games, but this post is making me interested in this one, but how hard is the combat, or does it have difficulty levels? I’m not that interested in combat grinds, and not that good at it besides, so if it’s too hard this would just be another game that I buy, try to play, and quit because the combat is frustrating me too much.

    • Shamus says:

      You can put the game on casual difficulty and enjoy being a quasi-invincible bullet sponge.

      • Daimbert says:

        Ah, that’s EXACTLY what I’d be looking for. Thanks. The next time I’m around a gaming store, I’ll remember to look for it … and add it to the very massive list of games that I intend to play and finish someday [grin].

        • acronix says:

          If you level up enough (which isn’t really hard) you can even buy immunities to certain sources of damage, if you wish.

          • John Lopez says:

            At the very top end of the level scheme you are invincible to nearly everything. You will finish the game’s story long before then if you are even half trying, but I loved the fact that I could just level if I wanted to and eventually I *was* the “I win button”.

            • Shamus says:

              I just discovered this last night. I’m doing my second play-through and trying to do all the side-activities. So I wasn’t even to Act III yet and I was level 48. Then I looked at the bonuses and saw “Immunity to bullets”. Pretty much 100% breaks the game. It also makes you immune to energy weapons. Really crazy.

              Glad I didn’t run into that in my first play through.

            • Loonyyy says:

              I made sure not to use the “Prevent ragdolls from explosions”. Sure, I don’t like being injured by explosions.

              But being flung by exploding vehicles? Isn’t that what man was born to do?

  33. […] the excuse that Shamus Young is giving for not updating much over the past while is Saint’s Ro… I can’t even use that as an excuse; for me it’s mainly been work and then being too […]

  34. rayen says:

    To all those who have bemoaned the SR2 conversion i don’t know whether to agree or disagree. the first time i played it, I found it completely unplayable, the driving was impossible, the mouse was laggy, the controls were messed about and i gave up on it thirty minutes in. And it sat in my steam library for six months. unplayed.

    then for some reason i came back to it. I said “self it’s sat there for all this time either play it or free up the disk space.” so i gave it another shot. For some reason it worked that time. It was a great game. I dunno what changed if there was a patch or something, but if you have it you’re steam library still and haven’t played it since you first bought it, i suggest giving it another shot. I dunno if it’ll work for you the way it did for me, but that my story. i would agree with all the people saying it’s terrible before my second try, but now, well, it worked for me.

  35. Fallingwater says:

    Sorry, but after having played both, I enjoyed GTAIV rather more. Granted, part of that is my preference for serious games over screwball ones, and it’s not like I can’t see your point concerning minigames and such, but there’s one crucial aspect in which GTAIV absolutely creams SR3: car handling. Driving in SR3 feels like the dumbed-down, simplified-for-children version of what GTAIV offers. And considering how much time you spend driving in these games, that’s pretty darn important.

    • Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      I find the GTA:IV car handling to be completely broken. For one, you can fishtail in all cars extremely easily, and the drifting is downright broken, letting me spin out all the time instead of allowing me to take a corner. Plus, if I want to reverse in GTA:IV I get immediately spun around to the front if I so much as touch the left analog stick.

      In SR:TT I found the driving to be extremely fun, and actually alright with a keyboard. The drifting is kind of broken if you hold the space bar down, but cars don’t fishtail much at all.

  36. Eric M. says:

    Shamus, I have to completely agree with your assessment of grim/gritty stories attempting to be satire. There is a reason social satire is usually comedy. The audience can laugh at the situations and get the deeper societal criticism without being turned away by horrible descriptions. As you pointed out, when played straight this kind of humor and societal criticism gets confusing.

    What can be accomplished by using this gritty/grim style of narrative and clever comedic writing, which Rockstar knew how to do at one point, is a satire of said setting and its oversaturation in current games, which I think is long overdue.

    That was my two cents, anyhow. I really enjoy your blog and especially your game reviews, and its nice to see a new one, keep ’em coming.

  37. Matt says:

    Put me down as another GTA IV (and Rockstar in general) fan. I played Saints Row 2 and can definitely see why some people would prefer it, but for me the largest appeal by far about these games lies in the world they create. SR2 feels exactly like a sandbox – a place for you to play – but as a result it never feels real to me. I never have that feeling of ‘being there’ which engages me, motivates me and keeps me playing. Also, the Jackassish humour of SR2 (and SR3, from what I’ve seen) doesn’t particularly appeal to me.

    I wonder how much of a correlation there is between players who prefer GTA 4 and who generally prefer playing ‘good guys’ as much as the game will let them. Personally I never really went on major rampages in these games; for me, the most enjoyable mucking about was grabbing a motorbike and zooming around San Fierro in San Andreas. As a result there was never the disconnect between how the game stories present their protagonists (especially Nico) and what the game allows them to do.

  38. He / she still looks like he’s 30. Amazing.

  39. Brandon Fox says:

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with you on several points.

    The choices were pretty much meaningless in Saints Row 3. You say that choice making there was better because you do something different rather than picking it out of a dialog tree but you’re missing the big picture about Mass Effect. It wasn’t that you just picked Ash or Kaiden off your wheel and that was that, you still had to go and save them. It wasn’t like a “vending machine” at all like you put it. Your choices in Mass Effect stick with you with all their consequences. When you meet your survivor in ME2, you as the player will inevitably think about the one who died and this was your choice, and you have to make the best of it as you can. That’s the beauty of Mass Effect trilogy.

    In SR3 however, most of the choices you get at the end of main missions of campaigns were completely pointless. The to save the Tower or not to amounted to either having a small respect increase or having a permanent small cash generator every day. Big whoop. Arguably the only choice which mattered was to either get your revenge on Killbane or save Shaundi.

    I really enjoy the Saints Row games (haven’t played 4 yet though) but story is obviously not its strong point as opposed to GTA IV. What GTA did better than Saints Row 3 (or rather, what Saints Row didn’t do at all) was tell a meaningful and deep story. GTA touched on many themes and had powerful storytelling. The emotion was rich. Saints Row was more hectic fun and lightheartedness. It’s kind of illogical to compare GTA 4 and SR3 because they’re different games and aim to do different things. What GTA did was amazing, and what Saints Row does is great in its own right but it’s like comparing a porn movie to Blade Runner. They do different things.

    You can definitely screw around a lot more in Saints Row’s world that is true, but that is because that’s the aim. It’s fun, but as a result you never feel that you’re actually there, unlike in a GTA game where the world feels so vibrant and alive. It feels easy to connect with characters such as Niko. I don’t play GTA to jump in a tank and kill everyone, I play it for the characters and engaging story. If I want to have some stupid, but nevertheless fun, I play Saints Row.

    The car handling is also without a doubt, way better in GTA. It feels very simplistic in Saints Row, almost like you’re sliding around on an ice rink.

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