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The Alien CriticReviews...

TAC Reviews...The Saints Row Franchise

 

I had originally planned to only review the fourth game in the Saints Row series, however, as I wrote the review of Saints Row IV, I started thinking back over the previous three games and how they changed from their initial concept to how they ended up. By the time I had finished that review I had decided to look at the previous games with partial reviews of the other games in the series 

 

 

As a result following this introduction is my review of Saints Row IV and below that is an article about the games and how the Third Street Saints went from being an unknown street gang in the city of Stilwater to Leaders of the Free World

 

This section has gotten a little larger than I originally thought so below you will find my thoughts on:

 

Saints Row IV

The Third Street Saints

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

 

TAC Reviews...Saints Row IV

 

Not surprisingly the 4th game in the Saints Row series sees the leader of the Third Street Saints holding the highest position in American government, namely the President. I have talked about Saints Row before in my Saints Row Vs Grand Theft Auto article and whilst I have played all the games haven’t actually done a review of any of them. That, ladies and gentlemen, is about to change…before I get to that let me just say that Saints Row IV was originally released for PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2013 before getting a re-mastered edition for PS4 and Xbox One in 2015.

 

Saints Row IV Boxart

 

Let me give you a brief history of the Saints Row games, basically you (the unnamed protagonist) are attacked whilst walking through a neighbourhood of Stilwater. He or she (you design your own character including their gender) is saved by a group called the Third Street Saints, and decide to join them. You work through the ranks of the gang, liberating city suburbs from other gang control eventually taking over the city until the end when you are betrayed and end up on a boat as a bomb goes off seemingly killing you…

 

Jump to Saints Row 2 in which your nameless protagonist awakens from their coma and discovers that the Saints have disbanded and his friend Johnny Gat is on trial for multiple counts of murder. After breaking his friend out of jail, you once again set about clearing out the other gangs that had taken over in the wake of the Saints downfall after the first game. In this game you also have to contend with a company named Ultor that is seeking to wipe out all gangs in Stilwater including the Saints.

 

After conquering all of Stilwater in Saints Row 2 the action moves to a new city called Steelport for Saints Row The Third in which the game went, and there is no other way to say this, completely off the wall bonkers. The previous games had basically been a less serious Grand Theft Auto which prioritised having fun above everything else. However it was still somewhat grounded. In Saints Row The Third you contended with zombies, military forces, one hierarchy rather than separate gangs, and discovered none other than Burt Reynolds was the mayor of Steelport.

 

I am going to write an article about the other games in a bit more detail so that’ll either be below this one or I haven’t written it yet in which case it is coming soon…

 

So Saints Row IV this time around the leader of the Saints has become the President of the United States after stopping a nuclear warhead with their former gang members now taking up positions of power within his/her cabinet. The cushy lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of the Zin, a race of powerful aliens that kidnap the President along with most of his cabinet members, and are being led by Emperor Zinyak.

 

The President awakens in a 1950s style sitcom simulation (no really) that was designed to be his own personal hell in order to break his will. But after breaking out with Kinzie’s help he is put into a simulation of Steelport from Saints Row The Third. After managing to escape the simulation the President awakens in an alien pod (think of when Neo wakes up in The Matrix and you’ve got the gist) and must fight (I’m just going to refer to the President as a him even though I played some of it as a female protagonist) his way out of the facility where he is rescued by Kinzie and Keith David in a stolen alien ship. 

 

The trio discuss how to fight back against the Zin when Zinyak obliterates the Earth killing anyone that wasn’t abducted so Viola, Zimos and Oleg (all from Saints Row The Third) are all gone. The President learns from Kinzie that the key to defeating Zinyak is destabilising the simulated Steelport, and that his friends like Shaundi and Pearce are trapped in their own hellish simulations but if he breaks them out then they can take take the fight to the Zin, kill Zinyak and avenge Earth.

 

Right so I hope that from that introduction you haven’t been taking any of the opening seriously, even the destruction of the Earth, because no one in the game is. The game is the final chapter in the Saints Row series and is not trying to be a serious character drama, or redefine the crime-sandbox, what it is trying to be is fun. And for the most part it succeeds spectacularly because the game is immensely fun, read on and I’ll tell you why.

 

Going back to The Matrix comparison because that is probably the best way to describe the game play of Saints Row IV, you are playing as Neo after he became the One. Within minutes of being released into the simulation you have unlocked your first superpowers, jump and sprint. Both of these can be upgraded allowing you to run faster and jump higher. It doesn’t take long for you to unlock some offensive powers such as telekinesis and a blast that will freeze enemies in place allowing them to be shattered like ice. All of your powers have different elements that can be used to set enemies on fire, or shock them with electricity, or even make them shrink in size. But you are not only limited to superpowers you also have guns, lots of guns, that can be used with your powers to make you truly unstoppable.

 

Once you rescue your Homies in the main game you can undertake optional personal missions for them which result in them becoming super-powered too. They can then be recruited to help you within the simulation plus doing these side missions will unlock you weapon upgrades and new powers. As you are hacking an artificial simulation you can become more powerful as you take over more and more of the simulation so being able to upgrade yourself makes sense within the context of the game.

 

Like the previous games you can steal and upgrade vehicles if you want, but here there is absolutely no point in using vehicles at all. Your super-sprint gets you around far faster than any vehicle because you aren’t limited to staying on roads, your jump means you can leap tall buildings in a single bound so structures don’t impede your movement, and you can even unlock the ability to run on water. So you have no real reason to ever get into a vehicle. Now as is usual with these types of games numerous songs have been licensed for use on the in-car radios but considering you are never in vehicles you now have the ability to listen to different radio stations…presumably in your head…because from your radial menu you can select weapons, and powers (you have a quick access for powers on the D-pad too) but you can also chose the station you want to listen to.  So you can have classics like “You got the Touch” or “Don’t want to miss a Thing” playing over the action as you tear through the aliens in Steelport

 

I honestly cannot remember if you were always able to upgrade weapons or if it was something they brought in for Saints Row The Third because I was completely unaware that I had to buy weapon upgrades. I assumed that once one was unlocked it was automatically included into your weapon in much the same way that once you unlock a new power it is incorporated into your abilities. But this was not correct. If you want to upgrade your weapons you need to go to an Ammu-nation and upgrade them paying a cost. Most of the time your powers are more than a match for anything you encounter in the simulation but there are times when you do need some additional firepower.

 

As in the previous games there are various side activities you can do which will earn you cash, xp and superpower upgrade points. These include insurance fraud in which you need to hurt yourself as much as possible which is pretty easy to do when you are super powered, and Mayhem which can be on foot or in a vehicle in which you have to cause as much damage as possible. The majority of these have three modes around the map, and will be Easy, Medium and Hard. Once you have done them all and unlocked Silver trophies then you tend to get a power bonus. If you get Gold then you will usually unlock something cosmetic so the game doesn’t punish you for not being very good at the challenges. With most of them you can get Gold if you put in a bit of practice, so more often than not I got Gold within three or four attempts. Which was good because it stopped them becoming an un-fun tedious grind. There was an exception to this which was the Easy [on-foot] Mayhem in which you have a Blackhole gun and must do $900,000 worth of damage in under 2 minutes which was impossible with the weapon you had, it fired too slowly, and did not cause enough damage to earn anywhere near as much money as required to succeed in the challenge. I looked up advice on the internet on how to complete the challenge and most people said it was just luck as most tried hundreds of times before succeeding. I discovered later that when I was doing missions for a side character the rewards I was getting were upgrades for the Blackhole gun but when I attempted that Mayhem again I wasn’t able to do it. It was then that I paid a visit to a previously unused gun shop where lo and behold I discovered that everything from its rate of fire, recharged speed, and damage could be vastly improved. Once I had sunk money into upgrading it I attempted the Mayhem mission again and succeeded in getting Gold on my first subsequent try. So if you are struggling to get enough kills with a certain weapon try seeing if it can be upgraded which should make things tonnes easier. Now one of the trophies says that you need to have killed 25 aliens with each type of gun and I swear I have done that but the trophy hasn’t unlocked. Some on the internet have suggested could be because if you upgrade the Inflto-Ray it actually breaks the achievement meaning you cannot ever unlock it. I don’t know if this is true or I just haven’t done something I needed to yet in order to get the achievement.

 

TAC’s note…since writing the above paragraph I have managed to get the 25 kills with each weapon necessary for the trophy. The reason that others may have struggled with it could be because the enemies killed have to be aliens. There is a military base where the soldiers will always attack you so count as enemies but because they are not aliens if you kill them with the various weapons then they don’t count towards the trophy. But confusingly in the game you need to kill a certain number of enemies to succeed in various challenges which can be either soldiers or aliens.

 

Right hopefully that has helped, now back to the review…

 

On that note none of the achievements seems too difficult so I might go for 100% of them, the only problem with doing that is that you need to have spent 40 hours in the simulation and I have completed the game in 31. Which means I’d have to spend nine hours just pissing about if I want to unlock that achievement too…which I am not sure I can be bothered to do.

 

Being the final game in the series Saints Row IV is all about parodying other games as well as being a huge roast of itself. It manages to not only create one of the best superhero games I think ever made it also manages to take the piss out of Metal Gear Solid by having you protagonist sneaking up on people whilst hiding in a box. You can romance members of the crew as in Mass Effect, but when I saw “romance” I mean asking Kinzie if [she] “wants to fuck?” or getting some oral service of an AI in a robot body, or asking Benjamin King for his autograph. Basically you can have sex with pretty much everyone onboard the ship, you don’t see anything but more often than not the protagonist simply says they want sex and off you go to do it. Bizarrely Pearce told my protagonist that “normally he wouldn’t swing that way” but would make an acceptation, but I was playing as a female character at the time so presumably Pearce is gay because no one else said anything like that. Anyway, the point is that the game is never trying to be anything other than something not to be taken seriously and even sequences which could be harrowing like seeing thousands of people trapped in pods on the Zin Mother ship all suffering through their personal hells aren’t seen as jarring changes of tone because you get to kick alien arse in a robot-mech suit.

 

On a side note, one of my favourite moments in the game is when the protagonist is talking about the past especially when they say that in the early days they were too shy to even speak which was a great throw away explanation for why the protagonist barely said anything in the original Saints Row.

 

The character creator is pretty extensive and you can create a super model or muscle bound hunk or a fat bastard if you so desire. Plus you can chose to have them voiced by Nolan North, and that isn’t just a generic voice as it literally says “Nolan North” under the voice options. As a result for the first part of the game when I was playing as a male protagonist who was wearing a superhero costume that covered his face I was imagining myself playing as Deadpool (as North voice him in his game adaptation in 2013’s Deadpool for PS3). After changing my character to a woman I picked Female Voice 1 which I am pretty sure was the same actress who did the voice of Rayne in the BloodRayne games which I played on the PS2. I also chose to dress my female President in a skin tight super hero outfit complete with its own cape that actually moved as she ran about or glided around and did not remain rigidly hanging down like a dead weight  like Neo’s coat did in Path of Neo.

 

Of the voice actors who return some reprise their roles from earlier games, and yet some don’t. Shaundi had a different voice actress in Saints Row 2 from the one in Saints Row The Third. In 2 she was basically a stoner who’d “fucked half of Stilwater” and was voiced by Eliza Dushku whereas in The Third she had sorted her life out somewhat and was now being voiced by Danielle Nicolet. Nicolet reprises the role in IV but even though there is a young version of Shaundi within the simulation she is no longer being voiced by Dushku. Maero the leader of the Brotherhood (from 2) returns briefly and is once against being voiced by Michael Dorn. The one that threw me the most though was having Benjamin King in the game because in the original Saints Row he was voiced by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, so to me it seemed a tad disrespectful to bring the character back and have someone else voicing him. However as I read up on it I discovered that Duncan did record some of his dialogue before his death and there is a moment towards the end when the cast are all singing a song together and everyone else’s voices fade out leaving just his singing and him talking in the recording booth, which is actually quite a touching tribute in such a care-free game. So for some of his dialogue it is Duncan but in the rest it is Terry Crews that has taken over as his voice actor. 

 

Probably the biggest surprise comes in the form of Daniel Dae Kim returning to voice Johnny Gat. The character was in Saints Row returned in Saints Row 2 and was unceremoniously killed off in the opening of Saints Row The Third. His death happened off screen and it was a shame for the character to be so casually dumped by the series. In IV we learn that whilst Gat was fighting to cover the Protagonist and Shaundi’s escape at the beginning of The Third he was actually abducted by Zinyak who viewed Gat as being the only one that could stop him if he was left on Earth. It is a dismissive hand wave explanation for how Gat can still be alive, but you know what, it works so I’m not bothered and it is good to have him back in the game again.

 

It isn’t all good though, when you are fucking about in the open world sandbox map you have access to all of your superpowers, however there are missions in the game where for some reason you don’t have them. Any missions that take place in the “Real world” are fair enough because there you are only human but why give you an array of powers in the simulation then take them away from you for no reason? No sorry there is a reason, in some of the missions Zinyak has hacked your mission so is trying to kill you, or there are others in which you just fancy a challenge so they are arbitrarily turned off for the duration which seems a bit pointless. Why give you powers and get you used to using them if they are just going to be turned off when you need them most??

 

Bizarrely whilst you don’t have any superpowers in the “Real World” if you have upgraded your weapons to unlimited ammo that will cross over to outside the simulation so that I don’t get either.

 

Plus if we are playing a simulation then why are we back in Steelport which wasn’t as much fun to be in as Stilwater from Saints Row and Saints Row 2?? Obviously this was so the makers wouldn’t have to create a whole new sandbox but why couldn’t the two maps have been spliced together to make “Stilport” or “Steelwater” or something. Steelport was always a bit grimy and dull whereas the previous map had a bit more life and colour to it. Getting around is easy with your powers so it would have been nice to have had something a bit bigger to play around in rather than the same map we drove disinterestedly around in during Saints Row The Third.

 

Some of the collectables also seem a bit pointless there are over a thousand clusters to be found around the map, but I never actually determined what the purpose of them was. I don’t think they made my protagonist more powerful or gave them a health boost so what was the purpose of them being there other than to give you a collectable to, well, collect?? In Infamous finding blast shards increased the amount of power Cole could contain so collecting them served a purpose but in Saints Row IV they just seem to kind-of be there without actually having a point.

 

TAC's additional note...since writing the above I have realised that the clusters are used for upgrading your powers. In my first playthrough I collected them anyway so didn't realise they were for buying new powers. But they are. The faster you collect them the quicker you can upgrade all of your new abilities.

 

It was also a shame that there was no day/night cycle or weather conditions. The game is permanently set to night and has a massive ship hovering over the map the whole time. It is a shame that you are forced to spend the whole time staring at it in the dark as it would have been good fun to be able to play it in the day or charge around in the rain or whatever.

 

Realistically my criticisms of the game are pretty small and overall the game is the best superhero game I have ever played. I have enjoyed games like Infamous and Prototype but Saints Row IV gave you so much to do with your new superpowers. Yes there are some side missions that came dangerously close to being irritating rather than fun challenges but on the whole it was great fun from beginning to end.

 

I am going to give the final game in the Saints Row series my rare 2 Thumbs Up because like I said it is probably the best superhero game in existence. But more than that it is a massive piss take of films like The Matrix and even games I loved like Metal Gear Solid because in the end it knows that game are played to have fun, and that is what this game is, it is really, really great fun.

 

 

9.5/10 – Despite the amount of fun and time that I have had with the game I still cannot give it a full 10/10 simply because there are some issues with it. Some of the challenges are a bit tedious and forcing you to go through the side activities does get repetitive. However, it is a truly excellent game and includes Michael Clark Duncan’s dialogue from before he sadly passed away in a very touching tribute. There is no better superhero game in existence so if you enjoyed Infamous and Prototype play this because it is way more fun than those, and knowledge of the previous games in the series is not a requirement.

 

TAC Reviews...The Third Street Saints

 

I have talked about the Saints before in my Grand Theft Auto Vs Saints Row article in the What’s on my Mind section of this site. Now despite having played all of the Saints Row games I hadn’t given any of them a full review until I recently got round to playing Saints Row IV. A game that was so ridiculously fun that I had to talk about it. That game started off with you (the protagonist) as the President of the United States, but how exactly did you get there??

 

 

The first Saints Row game was released in 2006 and was basically seen as yet another Grand Theft Auto clone much like the True Crime series or basically anything else where you could commit crimes in an open world sandbox. The most recent game in the GTA series was San Andreas which had been released for the PS2 in 2004, and whilst that was a great game, it was made using the graphical capability of the PS2 era. Saints Row had the advantage of being made using the graphical capabilities of the Xbox 360. It was an Xbox 360 exclusive. Now the release of the PS3 had been delayed and as I happened to have an Xbox 360 I bought the game.

 

The games takes place in a city named Stilwater and incorporates elements from real life cities including Baltimore, Michigan and Chicago. You design your character through the customisation menu and then you were let into the game.

 

Saints Row opened with you (the unnamed protagonist) being caught in the crossfire between rival gang members and being saved from death by members of the 3rd Street Saints led by Julius Little (voiced by Keith David). You are recruited into the gang after being canonised (beaten up or beating other people up) by Johnny Gat (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim) and you meet various gang members. You are tasked with taking down the Vice Kings led by Benjamin King (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), the West Side Rollerz and Los Carnales. You had different markers on your map with the different symbols of the various gangs so you could pick and chose which order you did them in. Once a mission was completed you gained new territory in the city plus earned more money.

 

In game you had a police notoriety level, which could be up to 5-stars depending on how much you’d pissed off the authorities. But you also had a gang notoriety level that could again be up to 5-stars and would basically involve how much a rival gang would try and kill you. If you had a 5-star wanted level then you were going to be fighting off armies of angry enemies that would just keep coming after you. It was also entirely possible to have a police and gang notoriety level at the same time making it very unlikely you’d escape alive.

 

The game does have places you could go to called “Forgive and Forget” which were basically drive-through confessionals. Here, for a small fee of course, you could wipe out your notoriety level for both gangs and police

 

You were also given access to a “crib” with others being unlocked during progression through the game. Each had a garage, but unlike the garages in GTA in which you could store one or two cars in Saints Row you could store dozens. I remember playing GTA San Andreas and modifying a couple of cars but the problem was if you took them out of your garage and needed to switch cars during missions that vehicle was lost to you. Therefore you could mod-cars but they were really only for looking at, or driving around in non-missions, of course if you flipped it or destroyed it, again the vehicle was lost forever. Saints Row did things differently. You could steal and modify cars to your heart’s desire adding speed boosts like nitrous but essentially everything was cosmetic. Once a car had been put in your garage it was saved so you could take it out and drive it around, if it was destroyed in a mission then you could simply pay to “repair” it and get it back. Alternatively if you drove it to a mission and needed to switch vehicles it would return to your garage. In game this was explained because one of your “homies” (other members of your gang) would find the car abandoned and return it to your garage for you. Doing different missions unlocked different cars and basically the upgrades were relatively cheap so unlike the Low-Rider update that popped up in GTA Online that would cost you around $1,000,000 to give a vehicle the low-rider makeover, in Saints Row you could modify a fleet of cars for less than twenty-odd thousand dollars and still have lots of change left over.

 

The game had various side missions and this is where the game started to misstep a little, because in order to do the main missions you needed to have enough respect, and respect was earned by doing various side missions. So you could find yourself having taken over half the city but be unable to do another mission without first doing a side activity. Bizarrely though, the majority of these side quests were really good fun anyway so most players would have wanted to do them without having to be forced into doing them.

 

One of my favourites of these side missions was the Insurance Fraud activity in which you had to hurt yourself as much as possible. Your body would rag-doll as you hit a button and threw yourself into traffic and the more vehicles you hit or hit you, or damage you did, the more money you’d earn. You were immune to harm during this mission and hurling yourself into various vehicles did not stop being entertaining. There were also traditional street races as well as “Pimping” in which you needed to go and recruit various prostitutes from other gang territories and return them to a brothel and numerous others. Doing them unlocked various bonuses like increased stamina and resistance to bullets so there was an additional point to doing them. The issue was that you had to do the side activities in order to play the main missions, which was basically done to increase the playtime of the game. Personally I would have been perfectly happy to do these activities because I would have wanted the unlocks they rewarded you with so the game didn’t need to force them upon players

 

The playtime was one of the issues with Saints Row, it was pretty short, the main game was separated into missions and strongholds. Once certain missions were completed you unlocked the option to do a stronghold, which basically meant clearing out a location of enemies and claiming the territory for your own. But again these strongholds were forced on you as you weren’t able to unlock all of the territory without doing every one of them. The later ones became very difficult, as armies of gang members would continually spawn, although, as your respect level increased you were able to recruit random gang members who would fight alongside you. These recruits would follow you into vehicles and even get into other vehicles to follow you if you got into a two-seater at a time when three were following you.

 

So for the first game in the series Saints Row was a solid start, the game play was fun, the missions varied and the voice cast boasted the likes of those mentioned above and several other famous voices.

 

The game ended with your protagonist becoming Julius’ second and taking over the whole of Stilwater. However, during a meeting on a yacht with a corrupt politician in the game’s epilogue a bomb was detonated leaving the fate of your character in question.

 

Were I doing I review (or had a website at the time) I would have given the game a rating of 7/10 with a Thumbs Up because whilst some of the missions could be frustrating, the majority of it was great fun.

 

The protagonist in Saints Row barely spoke, uttering only one line of dialogue after defeating each of the rival gangs’ leaders, so three lines in the whole game.

 

By 2008 when Saints Row 2 hit the shelves developer THQ had given the player once again the option to design your own character only this time you could now give them a voice too.

 

The bomb detonated at the end of Saints Row had left your protagonist in a coma for five years, a coma that they awaken from at the beginning of Saints Row 2. The protagonist breaks out of hospital jail and learns that their friend Johnny Gat (once against voiced by Kim) is on trial for multiple accounts of murder. Racing over to the courthouse, you spring your old buddy, and he takes you to a mostly abandoned submerged hotel that can act as your new base of operations. Gat explains that during your coma-time the city suffered an earthquake burying this hotel but also lead to parts of it being rebuilt so whilst you are in Stilwater once again, the map is bigger than it was before with a few places rebuilt or revamped.

 

From there you recruit various lieutenants in order to rebuild the Saints, which were disbanded not long after the events of Saints Row and Julius Little disappeared.

 

Three new gangs have risen up to fill the vacuum left after the Saints dropped their colours, so it is up to you to retake the city by battling the Brotherhood, the Sons of Samedi, and the Ronin.

 

Saints Row 2 was exactly what a sequel should be, it took what worked about the first one, and made number 2 bigger and better in just about everyway. The garage feature was still present and correct, with larger vehicles being available to receive a makeover. The missions were varied, the enemy gangs were interesting, and game knew how to marry its sillier moments with some that carried far more weight. A main character ends up being decapitated in a shocking moment but then you can take a break between missions to go a spray poo at someone’s house…although bizarrely both of these things fit in with the world of the game with one not seemingly out of place next to the other.

 

You were able to buy new cribs, which could again be customised and as missions progressed you took over more and more of the city.

 

The likes of Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek The Next Generation) joined the cast along with Eliza Dushku (from Buffy) and even Jamie Pressley let her voice to one of the characters. Plus your own protagonist now had a voice and personality, and other characters would comment on whether “[you’d] changed your hair” addressing the fact that you might have completely redesigned your character since the first game.

 

The side missions were still just as much fun as they had been with the likes of Insurance Fraud and Mayhem (charging around the city causing as much damage as possible) being a highlight. Once again you did need to do these missions to unlock the respect needed to complete the main objectives. which again was a bit pointless because as they are fun, players would have probably wanted to do them anyway. I enjoyed most of these side activities however I did have trouble with one in which you acted as a bodyguard for a “celebrity” and had to throw anyone hassling them into jet engines, or onto train tracks or something equally lethal. I struggled because I didn’t seem to be able to kill people quickly enough to earn the required points, so that made my blood boil a couple of times I must admit.

 

I think that the biggest problem with Saints Row 2 was that it was also too short. I played it through multiple times but naturally there wasn’t a +game mode so I decided to have a single save file in which I had done all of the side activities as early as possible (this was the mission after you rescue Johnny) which I would reload every time I wanted to replay the game. As a result the grinding through the side activities didn’t need to be done and I could crack on with the game itself. The thing is that save file, with just the side activities done was something like 49% of the game, so almost half the game is just the side activities.

 

As I said Saints Row 2 came out in 2008, the same year as Grand Theft Auto IV, and that game took things in a far more serious direction trying to create more of a character drama, whilst Saints Row 2 was happily bouncing around on a space hopper with its pants on its head. So whilst GTA IV had its settings permanently set to grimy the majority of the game was still taken up with the main missions rather than side activities. However I must point here that I played GTA IV all the way through maybe once, because it was simply not as much fun as the far brighter, more colourful and all round more enjoyable Saints Row 2

 

Saints Row 2 ended with the Saints in control of Stilwater and announcing that as the city is theirs they can basically do whatever they want as their helicopter flies off into the sunset.

 

Once again, had I reviewed Saints Row 2 I would have been singing its praises, I bought the additional DLC just so I had an excuse to keep playing and like I said had a save file that I would reload whenever I just wanted to play a game that was ridiculously fun to play. The game would have easily earned a 9/10 rating and a definite Thumbs Up, I might even have given it my rare 2 Thumbs Up because it was a treat from beginning to end (pretty much)

 

Saints Row games seemed to be going from strength to strength so I was looking forward to Saints Row The Third.

 

In 2011 Saints Row The Third was released and unfortunately it seemed to have been taking some pointers from Grand Theft Auto IV. Like that game its settings were set to grimy so a lot of the colour that was present in the first two games was immediately lost.

 

In between the events of Saints Row 2 and The Third, five years have passed and the Saints have basically become media celebrities, they have clothing chains, energy drinks, and so on. They basically run Stilwater and do as they please without fear of consequences even if that includes robbing banks. After robbing one such bank they learn that it was controlled by the Syndicate, a powerful collection of three separate gangs that have joined together in the city of Steelport. In short order the Saints’ leader, Shaundi and Johnny Gat are arrested then delivered to the head of the Syndicate, Phillipe Loren. Loren sees the Saints as a potential threat and is seeking to make a deal with them, but not ones to play well with others, the Saints refuse and stage a breakout. They are onboard a plane at the time and Johnny Gat remains behind buying his friends the time they need to escape but is killed (off-screen) in the process.

 

The Saints literally land in Steelport.

 

Understandably keen to take revenge on the Loren (especially after the Syndicate attacks them during Johnny Gat’s funeral) the Saints quickly establish themselves in the city and begin attacking Syndicate interests. This time however they are facing three gangs with one central hierarchy rather than individual gangs, so it seems the Saints have their work cut out.

 

I have to say that I was immediately sceptical of Saints Row The Third once we ended up in the grimy city of Steelport which was far less interesting than Stilwater. Plus I was not happy that they killed off Johnny Gat, he was a decent character and the only one who had been in the series since the original game and voiced by the same actor. It was so casually done too. He was buying the protagonist and Shaundi time to escape, there is the sound of gunfire and then silence. This is the guy who has survived being stabbed in the abdomen in Saints Row 2 and was still able to hold his own in different gun battles whilst awaiting his ambulance. So for him to be unceremoniously killed off, off-screen, was not what his character deserved.

 

Once I was free to explore Steelport I went for a drive to find out where things were and familiarise myself with the city (as I did in the previous two games) plus cause a bit of trouble with my rival gang members. The thing is that after getting a couple of gang stars (I’ll remind you, out of a potential of five) snipers turned up, then boss-type enemies that straight up wrecked my shit. I don’t mind a challenge but very quickly I was running into massively powerful enemies that I was hopelessly ill equipped to deal with. So I was just having to flee from danger rather than being able to stand and fight like I could in other games.

 

The side activities were here again with a couple of new ones too. But unlike the previous games in which you received a brief intro to your mission, with some justification for why you were going to do it, in The Third you go to the mission, initiate it and then you are suddenly driving around with a tiger in your passenger seat. I am not joking, that is honestly one of the side missions. So the side missions felt quite lazy and almost there just because they kind of had to be rather than because actual thought had gone into them.

 

Doing side missions in the previous games granted you unlockables like unlimited sprint or no fall damage (if you managed to do a perfect base jump). But in The Third you level up as you play and as you level up can unlock different bonuses, things like a reduction in the damage taken from bullets until you become immune to bullets, explosions, fire and just about everything else. In Saints Row 2 you became more resistant to bullets and fire but you were still human. In The Third you could happily sit in a car as it explodes then step out without suffering a scratch. What bugged me was that there was no reason for you to be able to do this which ultimately made most of the enemies trivial irritations after a while.

 

Upgrades unlocked as you levelled up so there really wasn’t much skill involved, you just did the missions, got more xp, and once you reached a higher level you could buy new upgrades.

 

Selecting missions could be done through your phone rather than going somewhere to trigger them, sadly the gangs were nowhere near as interesting as they used to be. The missions concerning the Deckers generally involved entering a virtual reality world that included built-in lag…something that should never be deliberately included as a game mechanic.

 

You also had the opportunity to pick one of two possible outcomes in several missions, which most of the time ultimately meant pretty much squat. Although, the end of the game has two possible endings in which characters can die if you don’t choose the right mission which kind-of forces your hand or just makes you replay the mission again to see the other ending.

 

On the subject of characters, Shaundi and Pearce return from Saints Row 2 although Shaundi is no longer voiced by Eliza Dushku. New characters are also introduced but I didn’t find any of them especially engaging and Zimos was particularly irritating as he held a microphone to his throat so his voice was just odd. Plus weapons included basically a giant dildo on a stick that could be used as a melee weapon like a baseball bat.

 

I think the key example of how thin on the ground ideas were for Saints Row The Third can be summed up by a mission in which military waste is dropped into an area of the city that causes people to mutate into zombies…

 

 

Yes…there are zombies in this game for essentially no reason what so ever. Saints Row The Third was basically trying to copy from some many other people’s test sheets that they decided to bung a zombie mission or two into the game, just because zombie were popular at the time I guess.

 

Again had I been reviewing Saints Row The Third I would have given it, maybe a 6/10 because it generally lost the plot. Whilst the previous games had been ridiculously fun The Third was…well, not. It seemed to be almost trying too hard to be like other games and had forgotten what had made the previous Saints Rows such a joy to play. Steelport was grimy, dull and generally it just wasn’t that much fun driving around in it or doing the missions. In all honesty I think I would have given the game an overall Thumbs Down because I was so looking forward to another Saints Row game and I was ultimately left disappointed.

 

I purchased Saints Row IV Re-Elected Edition when it was on sale but it sat on my shelf for months and months simply because I was not expecting it to be very good. It was one of those games I knew I’d get round to playing sooner or later, but the emphasis fell into the “later” category as I played other games before it.

 

But as you know from my review of Saints Row IV above, I was hugely impressed with the game, and I held off completing it for as long as possible because I didn’t want to have no reason to come back to it.

 

So there you have it…my reviews of Saints Row, Saints Row 2 and Saints Row The Third. However, the more observant of you may have noticed that I titled this article TAC Reviews…The Third Street Saints so now that I have talked about the games, allow me to talk about the Saints themselves.

 

In the first game you joined the Third Street Saints and worked your way up to being second in command of the gang, so far so GTA. In Saints Row 2 the Saints have been disbanded and it is up to the protagonist to reclaim lost territory, in that game you were the “Boss” so you were the one in control of the gang. By The Third the Saints have become pop-cultural celebrities after merging with the defeated Ultor corporation becoming celebrities and have legions of weapons, vehicles and gang members at their disposal. Finally by Saints Row IV the Saints and their Boss (the protagonist obviously) have taken up residence in the White House with the Boss becoming the President. You are then abducted by aliens, reunited with Johnny Gat, and proceed to take on the Zin Empire and their ruler Zinyak.

 

What the Saints Row games and the Third Street Saints did, was evolve.

 

The games shook up the formula to some degree with each instalment. Say what you want about the GTA games but they basically have the same formula, you start off small doing little missions/jobs and grow in influence and money as you take on more complicated missions, then you might buying businesses and increasing your arsenal of weapons until you are the big-wig in town. This is a tried and tested formula which has obviously served the series well. But if you wanted a open world sandbox which was designed solely for the purposes of just having as much fun as possible then there was no game series that matched Saints Row games.

 

Sadly the makers of Saints Row, Saints Row 2 and Saints Row The Third THQ have now closed their doors so it seems likely that the series has now come to an end but Saints Row IV was a terrific swansong for the franchise.

 

As I have been writing this article I have decided to repurchase both Saints Row and Saints Row 2 for my Xbox 360 so I can play through them again because this article has served something of a trip down memory lane. I did thoroughly enjoy the first two games and whilst the series did take a misstep over a cliff with Saints Row The Third the fourth and final game did manage to end of a massive high.

 

Over all I am giving the Third Street Saints and the franchise a solid Thumbs Up, if you haven’t played them yet then buy them, seriously just buy them. Buying a pre-owned copy of Saints Row and Saints Row 2 probably won’t cost you more than about £10 so it is completely and utterly worth doing.

 

 

8/10 – It has to be said that Saints Row The Third wasn’t very good, I didn’t especially like the setting, characters and killing off Johnny Gat annoyed me. But both Saints Row and Saints Row 2 were exactly what crime sandboxes should be…incredibly fun which allowed the Third Street Saints to evolve from a street gang to leaders of the United States.

 

TAC Reviews...Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

 

Released in 2015 Gat Out of Hell is a stand-alone game that is set after the events of Saints Row IV and features series regular Johnny Gat and Kinzie Kensington journeying to Hell to rescue the President from the Devil himself. Both Daniel Dae Kim and Natalie Lander reprise their roles as Gat and Kinzie respectively but joining them are some familiar faces (and voices) from previous games too.

 

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell Boxart

 

The version of Saints Row IV I have included all of the additional DLC, which ranged from bizarre to even more bizarre. Enter the Dominatrix and The Saints Save Christmas were exactly what you would expect from two DLCs which followed the massively over the top but insanely fun Saints Row IV, they were also fun but bizarre additions to the game and featured your custom protagonist taking centre stage once more

 

Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is a stand-alone game, and after playing Saints Row IV to death I decided to have a little break, chill out, read a book or two, before returning to the world of the Saints.

 

The game opens with Jane Austin (don’t ask) explaining that there is one man, in the whole of human creation that was so badass that the Devil took notice, but that this man also had the capacity for great acts of goodness which also made God pay him some attention. That man is Johnny Gat. We start off with the Saints celebrating Kinzie’s birthday, and during the party Matt Miller suggests playing a game with a ouija board that he has found. During the game a portal opens and sucks the President into Hell. Johnny Gat decides to go to Hell to rescue his friend and as it is her birthday Kinzie insists on coming too. The pair re-open the portal and arrive in Hell.

 

It is there that they run into Dane Vogel (voiced by Jay Mohr reprising his role from Saints Row 2), the former Head of the Ultor Corporation and someone that your protagonist executed at the climax of that game. Turns out he has re-established Ultor within Hell and gives Johnny (and by extension Kinzie) a Halo that grants them various powers. Things like being able to summon imps to help in combat, an aura that can drain enemies of life force, and stuff like that. You also gain the ability to super sprint as you did in Saints Row IV plus you gain a pair of angel-like wings that you can use to glide, and after a few upgrades flap so you can fly vast distances without needing to run.

 

Although despite giving you wings the game seems to immediately regret doing so because towers start popping up around the map that fire homing rockets to shoot you down. Naturally you can land and destroy the towers. But I wasn’t entirely sure why the game would give you wings only to almost try and punish you for using them to get around quickly and easily.

 

Dane also explains that the Devil wants the President to marry his daughter Jezebel (something that she doesn’t want to do) plus that there are others in Hell that would help in the battle should Johnny or Kinzie convince them to joint heir side. These characters include the DeWynter twins from Saints Row The Third (voiced by Ashley Birch and Sasha Grey both returning to reprise the roles as Kiki and Viola respectively), Vlad (as in “the Impaler”), Shakespeare and Blackbeard.

 

Johnny and Kinzie realise that in order to save their friend they are going to have to take over Hell itself, and square up against the Lord of Darkness.

 

If the above sounds a little out there that is because it is, after Saints Row IV I think we could have all been forgiven for wondering where the hell the series could possible go after that, and Hell is precisely where it went. This time around you are not playing your custom protagonist, they appear as they were from your Saints Row IV play through but they effectively just cameo.

 

As before there are various clusters (this time souls) littered around the map, which you need collect in order to buy various upgrades to your powers. There are also a series of Alters, which will grant you further additions to your powers, using the example above initially you can summon a single imp but after upgrades you can summon four. Later after visiting an Alter you can call upon a Titan and later towers to defend your position.

 

The powers are good fun to play around with and even ones that I had initially written off as a bit useless came into their own after a few upgrades.

 

Naturally you don’t just have powers at your disposal, you can pick up various weapons from fallen enemies and like Saints Row IV they can be upgraded to make them more powerful. I am pretty sure that the upgrades cost less than they did in the main game, which is definitely a good thing because even after spending a few million dollars on weapon upgrades I still have only upgraded about a third of the weapons in the main game. You can unlock infinite ammo and the game also has weapons based upon the Seven Deadly Sins. The most effective of these in my opinion were a pair of machine guns based on Greed, which caused enemies to drop money when they died. As soon as I realised this, those became my go-to-weapon, which enabled me to get enough money for various other upgrades. Unfortunately I was a sizable way through the game before I realised such a weapon existed. I had unlocked a massive hammer-like weapon, which could tear through enemies with ease once upgraded so I was tending to use that instead of anything else. Combining the hammer with my Halo powers meant that very quickly most enemies were becoming pretty trivial.

 

Hell itself is almost what you’d expect Hell to be, surrounded up lava, floating platforms, damned souls wandering aimlessly and demons driving around in supped-up monster trucks maintaining order…hang on, well maybe not the last one but you get the idea. Hell is basically a city with various figures (like Shakespeare and Vlad) carving out their own sections to claim dominion over. I don’t think the city is a copy-paste of one from a previous game so unlike the slightly lazy effort in SR4 of using Steelport from Saints Row the Third again we have a new sandbox to play around in

 

The game is good fun and once the wings are fully upgraded you can fly around like an avenging angel, making vehicles and even the super-sprint largely unnecessary, however, as with any game there are a few issues.

 

First off whilst I like the character of Johnny Gat, this game seems determined to wrap its lips around his cock and suck like its life depends on it. The throw away explanation for Gat’s return in SR4 was fine with me (basically Zinyak viewed Johnny as a threat to him so abducted him years before the invasion to keep him from interfering). It worked and fitted with Gat’s off-screen death in Saints Row the Third. But here the idea that Gat is the one person in the whole of creation that can walk the line between good and evil to the point where both Heaven and Hell step up and take notice left me rolling my eyes a tad. Come on game, Gat is basically a street thug who murders anyone that looks at him funny but is also loyal to his friends and those he cares about…you are seriously telling me that in the whole of CREATION there has NEVER been anyone else who behaved in such a way?? I get the explanation is just an excuse to set the game in Hell and so on, but if the game didn’t push this point so hard I would probably have let it slide, but it doesn’t. Basically Gat is more important than Jesus and he, and he alone, is the only one that can possible hope to stand up to the Devil, and blah, blah, blah…if they had just had Gat venturing to Hell to rescue his friend then fine, but oh no, they have to cram this bullshit point into our faces at every opportunity.

 

Now unsurprisingly when you go to meet various other characters you prove your loyalty by doing various side activities. Sadly whilst the previous games all had a large variety of different side mission for you to do, in Gat out of Hell there are only three or four. These are variations on what we have already seen. Insurance fraud makes an appearance, Mayhem too, and a new one called Damnation in which you have to fly around catching damned souls before they can hit the ground. There is trailblazing which involves flying through various check-points within a time limit, but gone are the power based challenges like telekinesis or platforming, yes you don’t have those powers here but challenges based around your new powers could have been included to add variety. One of the upgrades that you can unlock is additional time for all of the side activities, which removed all challenge from the proceedings. I often found myself with minutes to spare and didn’t have to repeat any of the challenges because I got Gold right off the bat. I did discover whilst playing SR4 that if I dropped the difficulty down it was far easier to do some of the challenges that I was really struggling with, but I basically only did that for one of the Mind over Murder challenges because I had tried and failed it a dozen or more times so was getting sick of doing it. Gone is super-powered fight club, gone is vehicle Mayhem, gone is…well you get the point. Survival is still here and a new Hazing game in which you bat demons into glowing circles…so yeah…there is that

 

Now as I have said you get upgrades as you level up but bizarrely the upgrade to show the collectables on the map doesn’t appear until you are level 15. I have done a save file for Saints Row IV in which I have collected all the clusters and done all of the side activities so I can basically just play through the story and homie missions without having to do everything else. Doing such a thing would be impossible because here you can only get to Level 20 and by the time I had reached 15 then gone around collecting all the collectables the game was practically over. I don’t get why the collectables unlock was so late, if it was to prevent you from being too overpowered then why give us access to so many super powers??

 

I also found the game to be aggressively short, I seemed to have barely finished talking to a side character and the game was bugging me to go to the final mission to confront Satan. I’d finish a side mission and game would enter a cut scene that I didn’t want, moving the story further along. The game itself was pushing me to just finish it already, which is not something that I wanted. Like in the simulation of Steelport you didn’t have to worry about killing civilians or fellow gang members, because in Hell you are either killing demons or husks of damned souls, so who cares if they are slaughtered en masse plus as my weapons became more powerful and varied it was fun taking down enemies in a variety of different ways.

 

I know that I bang on about trophies in these reviews but I like collecting them, and played Saints Row IV to death in order to unlock them all. Sadly in Gat Out of Hell I will not be able to get one of the trophies simply because it is play the game in Co-Op for a total of three hours…

 

 

Yes, this previously single player game (that could be played in co-op if you wanted to) now has a trophy for playing in Co-Op. SR4 had several side missions that were based around Co-Op but the game did not punish you for playing through alone. Gat Out of Hell does. As a result I am not going to play the game to unlock all of the other trophies because I know I won’t be able to get that one. Kinzie is also a playable character and you are capable of simply returning to the Ultor building to switch to playing as her anytime you like. Upgrades apply to both which is good but why you now have to have played the game with someone else to unlock a trophy infuriates me. Plus doing it for three whole hours. My entire play through only clocked about eight and presumably if there were two of you playing you’d get through it way faster than that. It pissed me off when Dead Space 3 did this and it pissed me off now that Gat Out of Hell has done it. I don’t get the point of trophies like these and they just serve as a blot on your trophy list because if you don’t know anyone with a copy of Gat Out of Hell you CANNOT get the trophy.

 

Like I’ve said if trophies don’t bother you then hooray for you, but I like getting trophies, it makes me feel like I’ve achieved something, and before you ask Abbie has zero interest in games like this so refuses to play through it on Co-Op even if I asked her too. We still haven’t played any more of New Super Mario Bros. Wii because she insists on paying it together which I won’t because of all the issues I discussed in my review, so the game sits there unplayed and unfinished…anyway I have wandered form the point a tad. The point is that I cannot play this game in Co-Op with anyone so I will never get that trophy.

 

Aside from the souls you collect dotted around the map, there are also audio logs to find which give you more information about the characters you meet in Hell plus entries in the Damned’s Guide to Hell Orientation (or something like that) in which you gain insights about the rules of Hell, plus enemies that you are likely to encounter as you sour about. The audio logs are interesting enough but there are spots on the map that both Kinzie and Johnny need to go to, just so they can stand around and comment on their surroundings, which is as dull as it sounds.

 

Thinking about it, considering all the people that Johnny and Co have killed since the Saints Row games began it is rather surprising how few past enemies reappear. Like I said Dane Vogel is back, along with the DeWynter twins, and whilst characters like William Sharp (the leader of the Westside Rollerz) appears in a cut-scene or two he doesn’t feature in the game, nor does Mr Sunshine who again is in cut-scenes but not in the game, just like Killbane that appears in…again you get the idea. This would also have been a perfect opportunity to bring back former Saints members that had died before this, such as Lin from Saints Row or Carlos from Saints Row 2. In a post-credits scene we are informed that those that united with Johnny formed an alliance in Hell, which kept the underworld in relative peace. Sharp, and a few others (also from previous games) ultimately challenged them, but those others were defeated. Why couldn’t that challenge have happened in-game allowing us to once again fight previous characters, if Vogel was able to establish Ultor in Hell why weren’t there rival gangs too?? How cool would it have been to face a Hellish variant of the Sons of Samedi again or even Samedi himself? Or Los Carnales? Or members of the Vice Kings? The possibilities would have been endless and we could have seen different enemies interacting with one another or forming their own alliances as well.

 

The only one who consistently appears is Dex who can be killed over and over. It was established in Corporate Warfare set after the events of Saints Row 2 that Dex fled Stillwater after the protagonist woke from his coma in fear of his life. Dex was a gang member that dropped his flags after the Saints crumbled, Troy was an undercover cop in Saints Row and he cameos in Saints Row 2 but the protagonist doesn’t seem to have any animosity towards him. So why does Dex get such a rough time??

 

The more of this review I have written the more I have realised how much bigger the game could have been, if we’re going to Hell then go full balls deep, bring back past enemies for Johnny and Kinzie to face again.

 

After fighting Satan you can chose your own ending (one of five), one of these involves God recreating Earth but the Saints are removed from the timeline so each of the characters led different lives. I think this might be the canonical ending because from what I have heard both Johnny Gat and Pearce appear in Agents of Mayhem but have completely different back stories so maybe this is the reason why…I don’t know I haven’t played that game.  

 

I cannot deny that Gat out of Hell was fun and I did enhoy my time with it, sadly it could have been so much more. However that fact has only occoured to me in retrospect and didn't cross my mind whilst playing (aside from noticing the game's short length). If you can endure the massive amount of hero worship that the game heaps upon Gat then this is certainly worth your time, plus when you finish the game the final mission is still available so presumably you can go and repeat it to see all the different endings if you want. Personally I kept a save file from before the final boss and just did it five times to see all the endings (which I discovered later was pintless as you can just repeat the final boss but whatever). Gat Out of Hell is getting a Thumbs Up, but it is not as strong a Thumbs Up as it was going to be when I started writing.

 

 

8/10 – More Saints Row, which is good, way too much hero-worship for Gat, which is bad. Plus the game could have been longer, and missed an opportunity by not bringing back former enemies and allies…still perhaps this premise will be made into a fuller game in the future with your protagonist ending up in Hell and deciding the level headed thing to do is take the place over.

 

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