Some games create atmospheric worlds that attempt to draw you in with moving stories about characters seeking a second chance, or cast you as troubled superheroes who push themselves to the limit to fight evil. Saints Row: The Third is not like those games. Rather, it’s the kind of game that gives you weapons called apocafists with which you can punch people, instantly making them explode in a bloody mess. The Third won’t impress you with knockout visuals, move you with an absorbing story, or engage you with challenging combat. What it does, better than just about any game before, is embrace the idea of an open world as a place for play, constantly giving you access to awesome new toys and providing you with no shortage of exciting opportunities to use them.
No knowledge of earlier Saints Row games is needed to jump into the insanity of The Third. Following an incredible opening sequence that involves the kind of bank heist that only the Saints can pull off, the gang is transplanted from their hometown of Stilwater to the city of Steelport. As their leader, it’s up to you to lead them from upstart newcomers to rulers of the town, which means frequently coming into conflict with the local gangs, the masked Luchadores, stylish Morningstars, and Tron-inspired Deckers. Along the way, you meet some great new characters, like Oleg, a strongman so huge, he can only ride in the bed of pickup trucks and who defies expectations by being learned and philosophical. And at key moments, the action is energized by fitting uses of music; the pounding rhythms of Kanye West’s “Power” make a great early set piece even more exciting, for instance, and a fun sing-along between your character and another creates feelings of warmth and camaraderie among the Saints. Occasionally, the game’s “anything goes” tone goes a little too far–a mission that uses human trafficking of sex workers as a plot point to support its cartoonish mayhem is one example–but the story typically succeeds at being absurd, goofy fun.