<span class="bold">Saints Row: The Third</span>
If there was a prize for the maddest game ever, this one would be a more than worthy contestant.
Saints Row the Third puts you into the role of “the Boss”, leader of the 3rd Street Saints gang. Rising from simple thugs to a commercial empire, the group has now targeted the city of Steelport as their expansion goal... and decided that the best way to start the “takeover” was to rob a bank located on top of a skyscraper by blowing out the vault while disguised as themselves and then ride it after hooking it to an helicopter, shooting down all the aerial and grounded resistance while on flight.
Too bad they will soon discover to have stomped the foot of the international crime syndicate currently ruling the city, and they will be forced to restart their entire criminal activity from scratch after being captured and subsequently escaping their flying prison by jumping away, avoiding debris and planes trying to ram them; next goal? Rearm their people by robbing an maximum security U.S. Military deposit. Yes, those are literally
the first ten minutes of gameplay. They should give you an idea of the average level of frenetic delirium.
During your quest to reforge your fortune and take away the city from three different affiliated gangs, Saints Row will submerge you with countless missions and activities (the game contains EVERYTHING you could ever imagine and more, alas minus a Mecha Suit- problem solved by the sequel, it seems), from your usual trafficking, shops acquiring, assassinations, car “acquisitions” and modifications to weirdest tasks like gratuitously assaulting gang controlled areas with an hijacked tank or helicopter, participating in an extremely violent Japanese prize-shows based on murdering cute mascots, theft and electrocutions (remember though: murder time, fun time, but shooting pandas in unethical!) and escorting a tiger on your sport car or running races though the streets over a flaming motorbike before it explodes to improve your control and self-confidence.
The character customization further increase the overall stupidity, allowing you to choose from a wide amount of gadgets... elegant suits, priest robes, tuts, S&M toys, superhero and hotdog costumes included.
Each successfully concluded activity will improve your control over a district of the freely explorable city, entirely accessible form the start; there, all inhabitants and factions carry on with their own routines, just waiting to be demolished by the mayhem you cause.
The game plays pretty much like the insane cousin of GTA: you can buy (or steal, obviously) and customize your arsenal, abilities and vehicles, upgrading them with the money coming from the shops you own and the incomes from the areas you conquered, then roam Steelport in search of new challenges or choose to follow one of the main quests; causing trouble will rise your level of awareness with gangs or the public forces, throwing against you progressively tougher hordes of enemies until you enter one of your safe houses or the heat dissipates.
Unlike many console-centric games, SR3 works perfectly with mouse and keyboard regardless of the situation and allows you to modify and rebind all of them; also, the game is almost devoid of bugs and runs flawlessly and smoothly as any respectable product (which unfortunately does not contain AAA games very often) should.
The strongest point is surely the narrative department, though: never even thinking to have a slightly serious approach, the game openly mocks blockbuster movies, AAA games and American “pop” and “gangsta” culture with irreverent, exaggerated parodies and a cast of awesome characters with extreme personalities.
It is not very easy to squeeze a smile out of me, but SR3 made me laugh out loud several times, shouting phrases like “how did they even think about that”? Or “I can't believe they really did something like this”! In the “weird science” arc of missions I was nearly in tears from the absurdity of the concept!
The parodies are also enhanced by the soundtrack; while most of it consists in real tracks you likely already know, broadcasted by local radios and covering almost every genre, the main missions are often accompanied by mimics of famous themes coming straight from Hollywood, making everything even more hilarious.
The only negative I can think of is the lack of a real challenge (especially after buying the strongest upgrades, making you literally invincible) or a very solid physics system, but in a title revolving on a “big budget movie-like” hero that cares absolutely nothing about realism, this is definitely not a problem. On contrary, it is probably better this way.
Summarizing: Saints Row: The Third (and probably the entire series, which I will definitely recover in its entirety at some point) was clearly aimed to be a parody, yet it is so well made and convincing to gain a dignity of its own and stand out of the crowd. It is a game with strong merits and guaranteeing plenty of fun, and I cannot hesitate to recommend it to every lover of absurdity, exaggeration and free roaming open world games.
I can award it with a well deserved Seal of Approval