Over the past week, I’ve had the unbelievable pleasure of playing “Saints Row: The Third”.  Very rarely have I bought, or in this case asked for it as a gift, a game I haven’t already played or played the previous games in the series.  When it comes to the Saints Row series, this is my introduction, and what a great way to start off.  After seeing commercials and videos of this game on several websites, I was immediately enthralled with the stylized chaos.  From the first look of the game, it is obvious that realistic graphics were not the first priority of the game designers.  What they obviously put a lot of attention into, and succeeded in so many ways, was making the most batsh*t insane game of 2011.

After the events of the first and second games, the Third Street Saints are now a merchandising superpower, with fans everywhere they go.  They have their own clothing line, energy drink, a movie in pre-production, and gang members Shaundi, Johnny Gat, and Pierce are household names.  In the opening scene of the game, the Saints rob a bank in their hometown of Stillwater, all dressed as Johnny Gat with oversized bobble-head helmets.  After the robbery, the boss (the nameless character controlled by the player), Shaundi, and Johnny are captured by the leader of a rival organization known as The Syndicate.  After an aerial sequence that makes the “Crank” films look like “Sesame Street”, the Saints find themselves stranded in a new town called Steelport with other gangs looking to take the Saints down.

To explain the crazy aspects of this game would take too long.  The opening is a blatant reference to Star Wars, there is a Tron level with a lightbike, a pimp with a tracheotomy and an auto-tuned voicebox, the use of a 3 foot “sexual toy” as a weapon, a wrestling match with chainsaws, a zombie outbreak, and MAYOR BURT REYNOLDS, just to name a few.  One thing that I found interesting was the ability to completely alter your character at any time during the game.  After the initial bank robbery, the player creates their character from top to bottom.  Usually when you are playing with a created character, you have the option to alter clothing during the game, but not physical features.  In Saints Row, you can take your character to a plastic surgeon at any time and change anything you want about your character, including sex.  One achievement trophy is obtained after playing as one sex for at least two hours, going to plastic surgeon to switch sex, and then playing another two hours as the other gender.  I played for three hours as my male character, went in and did a quick change over to female, and ended up playing the rest of the game as that character.  After games like GTA and Red Dead Revolver, Saints Row does something that almost no sandbox games have done before, and let you play as a woman.

As the story progresses, you are given several points where you get to decide to go in one way or another, and you are rewarded differently depending on your decision.  At the end of the zombie outbreak you have the decision to take the last virus container to your hideout, or dump it in the river per Mayor Reynolds’ instructions.  If you take it to your hideout, you can create your own zombie army that you can set on your enemies whenever you want.  If you abide by the mayor’s wishes, Burt Reynolds will become a “homie” to the Saints, show up to fight whenever you need as well as calling the cops off you and send the SWAT team to help.  None of these decisions change the course of the game, until the final mission.  At the end of the battle, your choice in direction determines what ending you get.  However, once you see one ending, the game takes you back to the start of that mission so you can play through again and select the other route to see the other ending.

To me, no sandbox game will ever top “Red Dead Redemption”.  But “Saints Row: The Third” has beat every other GTA game ever made.  The best way I’ve heard this game described is “Grand Theft Auto without all the class and restraint.”  If you’ve ever enjoyed a game like GTA, this is a game you must have in your collection.