By now you’ve heard the wide swath of positive reviews singing the same chorus: Saints Row The Third was gifted with the biggest pair of balls for 2011 and could care less if you don’t like its assless chaps. I’d venture that its success owes most critically to the obvious pitfalls it avoids. There’s plenty of groan worthy puns and innuendo, but only a limited reliance on internet memes and those instantly-stale pop culture jokes. By wisely avoiding this crutch and instead sticking to the fundamentals of comedy – funny characters and scenarios – the whole game gels. The tone works and so suspension of disbelief is that much easier.
Volition knew this sticking point was no laughing matter. They were aware that the fulcrum point of the high functioning absurdity lies in the humor of their world. If the tenor wasn’t (un)funny in the right way, things would fall apart.
This Saints Row struts its newly found self-assurance, in both mission and execution. Volition has established an independent approach to har har that firmly sets itself apart from GTA and discards previous hang ups with coherence. Gameplay follows the lead: the upgrades you can buy eventually grant you god-like action star status. Spray a limitless number of bullets and absorb just as many without flinching; or fall off the tallest building into the biggest explosion and shrug. That’s entirely literal, no exaggeration. Volition had the aplomb to let you ultimately break the game, rendering everything a cakewalk unless you’re really pushing the envelope. A challenge to create challenge.
What tickles me most is pretending that Saints Row is a kind of nightmare manifestation for all of the idiotic (perhaps just bored?) Congressional meatheads trying to regulate gaming. Their worst fears realized, the boogeyman Eager and Co warned us of. It’s what GTA: San Andreas was made out to be to ignorant parents but in reality fell far short of. All of the baseline depravity, obscene violence, lewd scenarios, and limitless potential for cop killing that was contained in those game, but now blown way out of proportion. Could The Third be simply a psychical projection of their distilled dread?
It’s already banned in countries in the Middle East, and Australia has created a new R-rated classification for it, in lieu of a full on ban. THQ’s swagger is not deterred though. How do they respond to claims that their game glorifies blowing up gas stations?
Of all the vicious acts you can commit, why hone in one blowing up gas stations? No matter, it’s a perfect opportunity to display their thorough going facetious attitude. Talk about staying the course.
Really the ultimate irony is that Saints Row The Third is an all-around excellent game, a would-be contender for Game of the Year if not for a few other notables. My bet is that the ignorant haters on video games in general and this one in particular would feel slightly more comfortable if only the gaming press shunned it for being a crappy title. Condemnation from all sides. Sorry haters, no dice.