Rediscovering Fun in Games: Saints Row the Third

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, December 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

saintsrow-3.jpgI have an old Playstation 2 Silver Slim sitting on the floor of my room. It doesn't see a whole lot of affection these days, despite the fact that it served me well as an outlet for frustration during my days as a college student. I once referred to God of War 1 & 2 as the perfect outlets for aggression, because I could lock myself in my room, plug in a controller, and have at it, utilizing the fullest extent of Kratos' rage, while giving myself a chance to relax, and not think about that ridiculously complicated paper that was due the next day. While the God of War days are long behind me, the stresses of everyday life are, sadly, not. I imagine that many other people feel the same, gamer or no.

As if sensing my stress levels about to rise with the inevitable holiday rush upon us, THQ Games saw fit to unleash Saints Row the Third on the public. The poor public. They had no idea what they were in for.

I played a bit of the game the day it came out, but was a bit too distracted by Skyrim to really take as much note of Saints Row as I should have. On a whim, I popped the game back in the other night, and, needless to say, for the past several days when I venture back into the real world to act like a responsible adult, my stress levels are considerably diminished. Saints Row the Third might be the most therapeutic game on the current generation of consoles.

Everyday life leads to stress. Stress leads to short tempers; short tempers lead us into temptation, and other such places that we probably shouldn't venture into. Temptation, well, you get the drill. Lead me not, and other such utterances, but Saints Row the Third, and its previous offerings, were all about temptation. They were all about reveling in chaos, indulging in fantasy, and, quite frankly, having some fun. When other open world criminal fantasy games were smoothing their rough edges, scrubbing their faces, and becoming a bit serious, Saints Row decided that serious was for silly people.

The current game, Saints Row the Third, holds true to that. The few serious moments are seconds in length, and they seem to serve as more of a break from the weirder missions and areas that the player will come across. This game has its share of weird. There is the character of Zimos, who speaks only in autotune, making me cringe and snicker in equal measure. There are the three groups of rival gangs: the Morningstar, a heavily armed, fashionable mass of people; the Deckers, computer and tech-savvy emo teenagers; and the Luchadores, heavily armored, heavily armed, and masked. Then there is the seedier presence laced throughout the game, played for laughs and disgust, in equal measure.

  

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Did I say this game had its share of weird? Perhaps I should have said that it has more than its share. Then again, I'm not sure any other open-world criminal fantasy could revel in this type of destruction, mayhem, and the odd (I really do mean odd as in strange) collectible in quite the way that Saints Row does.

The game is weird, but ultimately I'm not playing it for the story. It's one of the rare games where the narrative interests me, but not nearly as much as the game play itself. It's some of the most fun, cathartic game play I've experienced in awhile. There is a certain fun to be had from driving around in a souped up Raycaster car, kicking the nitrous into action, and flashing forward through traffic, listening to the radio, and just enjoying the liberation of the open world. 

Saints Row the Third has mayhem (literally, there's a minigame called 'Mayhem'), madness, quite a bit of adult humor, lots of explosions, many, many guns, and an utterly ridiculous amount of customization. You can play anyone you want in this game: male, female, something in between, if you so choose; personalities range from the chillest of chicks, to the absurdity of a British cockney man, to an Eastern European woman on the edge, to a zombie. Where, oh where, I ask you, would video games be without zombies?

This game is also a fashion showcase, building on its previous offerings with several Plant Saints clothing stores laced around the city of Steelport, all offering new clothes that you can customize to your heart's content. You can unleash your inner model, and embrace your wildest ideas of what looks good. Not to sound too girly, but it is quite delightful to change your character's look on the fly, and revel in the wackiness, the surprising elegance, and the odd presence of 'well... that's different...'


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Considering that the last few games I've played that allowed for the customization of a character's clothing were limited to heavy armor, awkwardly hanging leather pieces, or robes with the odd bit of fur on the collar, Saints Row is a marvelous change of pace. One moment, I am playing a dreadlocked blonde wearing sky-high heels, baggy jeans, and a nifty long jacket over a dress shirt; the next, I am playing that same character, now wearing a daringly cut black evening gown, strutting her stuff like a certain Lady Marmalade, while taunting these goofy emo kids wearing too much neon and eyeliner.

Really. It's quite wonderful.

This is one of the rare instances where I can't be serious with regard to a game, but this is a game that doesn't want me to take it seriously. This is a game solely built around the idea that someone can pick up Saints Row the Third and have a great time playing it. It's so refreshing, seeing a game that isn't too serious, that embraces its wacky side, while still holding open its arms wide and saying 'Come have some fun! Really. We don't mind.'

The fun, I think, is what is setting Saints Row the Third apart from other games that I've played this year. Dragon Age 2 gave me my in-depth narrative fix; Skyrim is currently giving me my immersion fix; Gears of War 3 gave me a satisfying conclusion to a stellar trilogy of games. Saints Row the Third brings on the fun; the sheer, unapologetic, live-it-up fun. This game makes no apologies, it is not asking me to have deep, morally difficult conversations with other characters, it is not asking me to save the world, or stop a war from breaking out. It is encouraging me to play a psychopath and tear a city apart, yes, but it is also expecting me to have some fun while I do it.

I joked with a friend that Skyrim was going to be my 'grown up' game for the winter, and Saints Row the Third would be my stress reliever. I'm starting to think that I may end up spending more time with Saints Row, just because of the amount of fun I am having. Skyrim's great for long time periods spent wandering around exploring, but Saints Row, ah, Saints Row. It's a breath of fresh air, even if it is a threequel.



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