Within about thirty seconds of our Saints Row: The Third demo, the player-character had taken a flying leap at a pedestrian and smashed him face-first into the pavement, before adopting a Michael Jackson Thriller-style victory pose.
A heartbeat later our “hero” was rampaging through the city, slapping people around the face with a giant, wobbly rubber dildo. Then in a flash he was sat in the cockpit of a VTOL jet, raining laser beams down on a terrified populace.
“Our goal with Saints Row: The Third was to make the most crazy, ridiculous, wacky, over the top open world experience you’ve ever seen. Everything that Saints Row is known for, we’re going to turn it up to 11.” Those are the words of the developers, Volition. Looks like they’re on track. The third entry to the series promises to be completely bonkers.
This time out the action moves to the down-at-heel city of Steelport. Introduced in a typical zany fashion (you arrive after falling from a jet plane and skydiving to safety), Steelport is smaller than the Saints’ traditional home of Stilwater. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in activity. Eschewing the more barren areas of the previous games, it’s a densely populated industrial hub crammed with incidental detail.
Lording it up above all of this is crime agency The Syndicate. Split into three distinct groups, each with its own charismatic leader, The Syndicate is comprised of the prostitute ring-running Morning Star, the money-laundering, hacktivist Deckers and the drug dealing, masked Luchadores. Between them, they rule the streets. Naturally, the Saints intend to take over.
Oh and there’s one more thing too. Since the climax of Saints Row 2, the Saints have become celebrities, with more merchandising and movie deals than you can wave a Johnny Gat branded lunchbox at. You’ll see billboards featuring their ugly mugs dotted around the city.
But none of that really matters. The joy of Saint’s Row is simply running rampage around an environment littered with brilliant toys. Volition know this. So if you’re not bludgeoning people to death with big, floppy sex aids, or smashing their face into the pavement, you’re indulging in all kinds of ludicrous exploits.
Apoca-fists are a highlight. They may seem like harmless foam hands, but once equipped they turn a punch into an explosive strike, reducing victims to a fine mist like claret-filled water balloonS. It looks deliriously fun. As does one particular vehicle that allows you to hoover up pedestrians and fire them out of a mounted canon. The demoer took great delight in flinging people across the skyline and splatting them against distant hoardings.
Clearly, when even the bog-standard melee combat allows you to kick people in the nuts and watch them crumple slowly to the ground, fun is at the forefront.
All this falls nicely into Volition’s masterplan. It’s a tired comparison, but Saints Row is best understood as a kind of alternate universe Grand Theft Auto, one where the Rockstar’s recent serious stylings have been abandoned in favour of the rampant, gleeful destruction of their early games. Nothing has changed in that regard.
This is no more apparent than in one of the Activities you’ll encounter, in which you are plonked into a tank and charged with racking up as much environmental damage as possible within an allotted time frame. It’s utter carnage. Forget realism and solemn storytelling, Saints Row: The Third is all about enjoying yourself in the most outrageous manner possible.
At risk of hammering home the point, the mission featured in the demo reflects this even further. Taken from an early stage of the game, it sees you and your gang pulling off a bank heist. But this is Saints Row, it’s not just any old bank heist.
Rather than cowering in the corner and handing over the money, the bank staff leap up onto the counters with a small army’s worth of weaponry and a huge gunfight ensues. Indeed it only stops after you’ve been lifted from the roof by a chopper while balancing perilously on a dangling bank safe, blasting at an endless stream of police helicopters and SWAT teams as you go. It’s mental.
Oh and you do this all with a ridiculously large bobble-head disguise on too. For reasons that escape me now.
On that note, one of the other features that Volition are pushing for Saints Row: The Third is the customisation engine. Inspired by some of the characters created by fans of the previous game, they’ve taken the opportunity to introduce a sizeable wedge of options. Everything from clothing to build and even skin tone can be adjusted.
Want a purple skinned, cross dressing dude in a PVC superhero outfit? All you have to do is click a few buttons and adjust a few sliders and it’s yours.
This new level of customisation extends to your vehicles too. Now you can adjust everything from the strength of your car’s armour, to its speed, colour and look. Personal expression, be it in your outfit, your ride, or the way you decide to eviscerate innocent passers by looks to be a key component of what Volition are gunning for this time out.
So ultimately, whether or not Saints Row: The Third appeals to you will depend on your reaction to the previous games. This is no reinvention, just an amplification of everything that made the series great in the first place. If the idea of wrapping a large rubber cock around the face of someone who doesn’t deserve it appeals, then this could definitely be the game for you. The rest should stick to paying their toll-booth fees in GTA IV.
Saints Row: The Third will be 'strapping it on' and hitting the streets on November 15th in North America and November 18th in Europe.