Giant strippers, manapults, and luchadores…

You’d be hard-pressed to find a game that matches the debauchery and excess of Saints Row: The Third. Pushing its own boundaries and depravity to the limit, this sandbox action-adventure goes to great lengths to parody anything and everything in gaming and pop culture—even itself—all in the name of entertainment. Whether you’re driving around with a tiger in the passenger seat to prove your bravery, participating in Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax Japanese-style game show to earn big bucks, or then using said Professor’s manapult to suck up unsuspecting NPCs into a giant cannon and using their carcasses as projectiles, this game doesn’t exactly get the meaning of “overkill.” But all that wouldn’t mean a thing if the game weren’t fun—and, thankfully, it’s an absolute blast.

Saints Row: The Third picks up shortly after the end of the second game. The Saints, the street gang from the first two entries, aren’t persecuted or hunted like you might think—far from it. Instead, they’re treated like celebrities—or even superheroes. So when they go to rob a bank in their hometown of Stilwater, it’s more like a day at the office. But things quickly go awry when more police than the Saints have ever seen drop in on them, and they realize this bank robbery isn’t quite what they had in mind when it came to putting in some overtime. It seems a new crime organization called the Syndicate’s moved into town and after some action sequences that would put Nathan Drake to shame, the Saints find themselves having to rebuild in the sleepy harbor town of Steelport where they’ll reclaim their criminal empire before taking revenge on those who have wronged them.

Unlike in the previous Saints Row games, The Third’s designed to be more of an open-ended experience, with multiple paths that affect the ending. You’ve still got three rival gangs to deal with, but now they’re all working together to form the Syndicate: the Luchadores, a Mexican-wrestling-themed gang led by a masked man named Killbane, the cyberterrorist Deckers, and the gun-running and human-trafficking Eurogang known as Morningstar. But instead of picking these gangs off one by one like in previous installments, you’ll often have to deal with them on certain missions at the same time as you pursue the larger goal of conquering Steelport. And your gang wars will erupt to the point that later on, a fourth threat will make itself known—a special military unit, STAG, designed specifically to put you down.

As great as the campaign is, it’s still got its share of problems. Considering the scale of the world, you can forgive some glitches that crop up from time to time in the game, but some definitely irritate—and there’s nothing more frustrating than having to start a mission over because your cover mechanics glitch or your car suddenly hits an invisible pothole.

Competitive multiplayer, a staple of the first two entries, has been removed in favor of an emphasis on co-op. The campaign co-op does play very smoothly and isn’t really affected by friends dropping in and out of your “gang” over the course of the game, but honestly, I’d still just rather play by myself, since most of my friends and I aren’t on the same gaming level.

To make up for the lack of the multiplayer, The Third offers another co-op option aptly dubbed “Whored Mode.” And, just like that certain-sounding mode from that other game that revolves around wave after wave of enemies, Whored Mode’s best played with friends, where you can enjoy the absurdity together as you take down giant strippers, midgets in hot-dog costumes, or zombies—just because everyone loves killing zombies. If I had to choose, though, I’d still pick the competitive multiplayer aspect over Whored Mode, no matter how funny it may be—it just doesn’t provide the challenge of taking on a human opponent.

Despite my gripes with the multiplayer options, the 10-to-12-hour campaign’s still very much worth the price of admission, and it needs to be seen to be believed—trust me, this game’s done more than enough to earn its “M” rating from the ESRB.

SUMMARY: Not perfect by any means—but still a fun, off-the-wall sandbox that’s more than worth the price of admission.

  • THE GOOD: As over-the-top a game as you’ll ever play
  • THE BAD: Glitches sometimes get in the way of gameplay
  • THE UGLY: The zany enemies you’ll find in the new Whored Mode

SCORE: 8.0

Saints Row: The Third is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.