Fair warning. I can be incredibly juvenile, and I love low brow humour. Therefore I absolutely loved Saints Row 2, and was mightily looking forward to The Third. I've played it through the main story once, so I feel like I can justifiably say that I really love this game. But it's not perfect. But does it need to be?
Saints Row: The Third is from Volition, the fine people responsible for the first two Saints Row games. I picked up the PC version off Steam, so some criticisms may not hold for all versions. Starting on the technical side, I did experience some game crashes, though none took down my entire system, just the game. I also hit a few glitches inside the game without crashing. The most annoying was a glitch in the respawning system, that resets you when you clip through the world, or get stuck in a ragdoll loop. I was forced in to the ground by a car. When I reset, I was partially in the ground. I could run around a bit, but couldn't jump. Then I fell through the ground... And fell for quite a while before the game decided I had gone out of bounds. AI drivers are really terrible, too. I used the game's built-in video recording function to capture the moment... Okay, minutes of a VTOL landing, then taking off, then landing, then taking off, ad nauseam until I ran away, because the AI couldn't figure out a place to land that wasn't obstructed, so it stubbornly attempted to keep landing in the same spot. EDIT: Want proof? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyOdFkumUx4 Further, I've found that the LAN option for multiplayer doesn't seem to automatically see any games on the network, since my roommate and I were unable to create a LAN game in the 10 minutes we tried. And when we played online, lag got terrible even at a 50ms ping. We had issues with our avatars being in the way, with AI jittering around, vehicles being difficult to hit, and just generally being a pain. Luckily, it didn't get that high often.
The good side of it is that I never got any texture pop-in, no stutter, no control issues, no audio glitches or miscues, and loading areas was fairly seamless, with only a half-second pause for larger swaps, even when all the settings were cranked up to high. And speaking of high, the story for this game does manage to hit some very high points.
It starts off with Johnny Gat sacrificing himself and an amazing sequence that involves you running through an airplane, skydiving while carrying a comrade, flying through the plane you just jumped off, and dodging debris on your way down. You also get support from characters voiced by Burt Reynolds and Hulk Hogan. There's also a paramilitary organization, zombies, corruption, luchadores, hackers, and BDSM. Unfortunately, a lot of great characters are woefully under-developed, and if you played Saints Row 2, you probably won't get as many memorable moments from the story in 3. It's solid, but not as over the top. Still fun and engaging enough to get you through without it feeling like a chore, and certain missions give reward choices that probably also affect the plot in small ways.
The meat and potatoes of a Saints Row game is like that of any other sandbox game. The gameplay, the activities, and the world it takes place in. There's a good, varied selection of activities, and a nice touch is that there's even variety within the activities. The Trail Blazing activity, for instance has two completely different variants. One is driving on an ATV, setting people and cars on fire for time bonuses as you race a course. The other is still racing a course, but it takes place in cyberspace, in something very Tron-esque, where you're hitting tanks and avoiding firewalls. There's also assassination missions and vehicle thefts, which get fairly challenging pretty quickly and add a way to interact with the world more deeply and give a reason to explore. Lastly is the challenges, many of which you'd complete just by playing, but gives a good measure of progress and skill, but some give good targets to work towards, and fun things to try to find, like GPS shortcuts to speed city driving. There's tons of items to buy in the game. Weapons/upgrades/ammo, clothing, car parts (you need to steal the cars, most cars you get as rewards don't upgrade), stronghold customization, and gang/character upgrades. Cash isn't terribly hard to come by. You get cash for killing people, completing activities and missions, and for owning the city. You get an hourly income (that I don't think is actually in real-time) based on how much of the city you own, so if you plan on buying a lot of stuff, city takeover gameplay should be your first priority, since it can be the most lucrative by far, and stuff gets expensive. The weapon selection in this game is slightly ridiculous to boot. Not in the variety, however. Eight slots, about two dozen weapons in total. Four grenade types, two pistols, five melee weapons, three shotguns, some assault rifles, a couple explosive weapons, and a bunch of special weapons. It's in the special weapons that the ridiculousness really comes through. The first one you get, in the second mission, is when you hit an armory to get weapons for your gang. It's a Reaper control unit. A system that lets you control a satellite and fire dumb or guided missiles. You don't start with a lot of ammo for it, but it's a system to let you fire missiles at targets of your choosing and you basically start the game with it. You also get a remote to let you control any car, a sniper rifle, and an air strike gun amongst others. There's also the DLC that gets you the Shark Attack gun and the Genki Octopus shooting canon that mind controls the target. Further ridiculousness comes when you get higher up in the tiers of gang ranks. Eventually, you start getting infinite ammo, lose the need to reload (two separate things) and gain immunity to various types of damage. Not much beats the first time I took a helicopter up as high as I could, jumped out, and let myself splat on to the sidewalk, simply to get up and run down the road.
This game is not perfect, but it's good dirty fun that in no way takes itself seriously. If you're okay with violence, drug use, sex, and general insanity and immorality, you absolutely should get this game. And if eventually wielding an infinite rocket launcher to destroy endless waves of rival gang bangers and launching waves of missiles to blow up your foes doesn't interest you, well, fair enough, but how about wielding a giant rubber adult novelty toy? Okay, maybe this game isn't for everyone, but like I said, I like the low brow humour.