When Saints Row debuted in the fall of 2006, many gamers initially wrote it off as a Grand Theft Auto clone, at least until they got their hands on it. The game's over-the-top action and sense of humor quickly found an audience, leading to solid sales and the eventual Saints Row 2. Expanding on the first, the second game was bigger and bolder, establishing a voice that made the franchise stand alone. With Saints Row: The Third, Volition is turning it all up to 11.
You've started from scratch twice now, so The Third begins with you right at the top. The Saints have become an international phenomenon, with licensing deals and advertising making them money alongside the traditional gang activities. This gets the attention of the Syndicate, a rival force led by an evil Belgian that wants to either acquire or eliminate the Saints in order to take all the profits for itself. Having been evicted from Stilwater, the Saints set up shop in Steelport, where they plan to retaliate against the Syndicate and its affiliated gangs.
If there was ever any doubt that the developers wanted to go big with The Third, that is put to rest as soon as you play the opening sequence of the game, which is something right out of a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer action flick for its sheer balls-to-the-wall absurdity. After waking up on a Syndicate jet, you fight your way out the back only to find the plane barreling down on you and your parachute. Solution? You have to shoot out the windshield of the plane, land in the cockpit, disable the remaining bad guys and then jump out the back once more. Bruce Willis would be proud.
Once you're on the ground in Steelport, the game starts feeding you more traditional missions, though it never loses its over-the-top flavor. In the four hours we spent with the game, we had to fight off an assault by stripper assassins (seriously, where do they hide the guns?), trail a suspect across the city in a chopper and do battle with a gang of Mexican luchadors. Oh, and we can't forget the brutes.
Brutes are a new enemy to Saints Row, basically large, hulking, steroid-infused musclemen. They're not smart, but they're incredibly strong and take a hell of a lot of punishment before going down. Turns out all the brutes are clones of a captive European bodybuilder who also hates the Syndicate. He allies with you once you rescue him, his hatred embodied in the fact that he doesn't bother with clothes. Yes, you spend one mission running around with a big, burly, naked guy at your side. He'll only bother with clothes once his captor is dead.
If you hadn't realized it already, The Third is pretty much a clothing-optional game. Gang members of all shapes and sizes will come at you, from the female Syndicate enforcers who dress in bustiers and thigh-highs to the neon-laced techno freaks who look like TRON wannabes. One of your allies is even an ex-pimp turned pony gimp who speaks via an auto-tune in his cane. Your character defaults to a generic dude, but even that can be changed.
Much like the prior games, The Third features an in-depth character creator, which allows you to freely edit all the attributes of the main character. Given enough time, you can make him or her look like pretty much like anyone you can imagine. With that said, about half of the journalists at the preview event ended up running around as large-breasted, topless chicks in thongs and heels.
Given all the absurdity present, you might expect The Third to be a game that has jumped the shark. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case. Much like a classic film parody, the script behind The Third manages to walk the fine line between humor and insanity, managing to stay on the humor side of the fence. All of the crazy stuff that happens within the world offers just enough context so that it never feels forced. Instead, you just go with it because the underlying game is fun.
Movement, shooting and driving controls are responsive and intuitive. While The Third may not have the cover system of Gears of War 3, it does make for a fun little shooter. Weapon selection is done on the fly via a radial selection system, and every item in your arsenal has a distinct purpose. Who doesn't want to kill bad guys with a personal UAV?
You have the ability to upgrade both your weapons and your character as you progress through the game. Weapon upgrades are done at a shop and include things such as increasing the rate of fire or increasing the size of the clip. Character upgrades can be done after earning enough experience and affect you, your vehicles and your gang, depending on what you choose. For example, you might want to increase the ammo you can carry, earn an income bonus, or make yourself stronger so thrown enemies go farther. Other options include adding Nitrous to all your vehicles and increase the health of your followers.
The main story driving the game also has a bit of customization in terms of key decisions that you are forced to make. At one point, you are faced with destroying a Syndicate stronghold or taking it over. Either choice offers a bonus, but there's no way to get both. If you destroy the building, it's gone for good.
In addition to the single-player game, The Third also offers co-op across all of the story missions, allowing for you and a friend to brave the crazy together. For a more visceral thrill, there is Whored mode (Volition's take on Epic's Horde mode), where players have to survive an onslaught of evil whores. You just know CliffyB is sitting at his desk wondering why he didn't think of it first.
If you're going to go, go big and that's exactly what the developers over at Volition decided to do when they made Saints Row: The Third. From the moment the Star Wars-style titles scroll across the screen, you just know that everything about the game is going to be wildly over the top. Assuming it doesn't peter out in the final act, Saints Row: The Third could be to video games what "Blazing Saddles" was to movies.
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