Saints Row: The Third doesn’t just want you to know they don’t give a shit. They want to evangelize the act of not giving a shit, and indoctrinate you into the Church of Not Giving a Shit. What little pretensions left in the open world franchise from Volition have been stripped away, in favor of even more ways to be obscenely ridiculous. And if our E3 demonstration is any indication, it’s this further lack of inhibition that will finally propel the series into the AAA ranks.
We were given a two-fold taste of what to expect in new city of Steelport: both in the open world and a story mission. The first thing we were told is that players will start off at the top this time around, no more archetypal rise to power gangster story here. The perks and resources of gangster-dom will present themselves much sooner and buy much more. In addition, the Saints have become the most popular gang around, complete with fan girls clamoring for your autograph during bank heists, and pedestrians cheering you on as you pile-drive a senior citizen into the concrete and strike a pose beside her concussed body.
This instant power hopes to provide more freedom off the bat for the player to go nuts in the wide open environment. Our activities included calling in a miniature air strike on a rival gang for the crime of loitering in a vacant parking lot, fish-tailing about in obscenely cherry rides (both on the freeway and in the air with your own private jets and helicopters), and even sucking up – then launching out – passersby into a car-mounted cannon. THQ dubbed it the “manapault”, we prefer the “Man-non”.
We then proceeded to get a taste of your typical story mission, this one involving robbing a bank while wearing giant foam heads of one of your members as an actor tags along to get that kind of method inspiration. And you have a helicopter. As you can expect, things mess up almost immediately. The tellers pull out their own firepower and fought back against the Saints, the latter working their way through three levels of rent-a-cops before blowing out the vault through the upper floor and fending off SWAT members as the chopper tries to airlift the swag to safety. The pacing was incredible, considering the franchise’s roots, giving 15 minutes of straight cover gunplay a surprising facade of variety. Gripping the vault’s weakening outer wall for cover towards demo’s end got a bit stubborn, but we were assayed that tightening is one of the final concerns.
We’re worried that the combat controls still have that Saints Row 2 looseness about them this late into production, but Volition insisted that tweaks were still being made as the final polish was being lumped on. Less of a concern is the lingering art direction disparity. Environments and effects are still struggling to match the cartoon intensity present in the character models and narrative situations. There were times we felt that we used a cheat code to bring up-rezzed Postal characters into a slightly more plastic version of Vice City. Not to much of a concern for those tunnel-visioned towards gameplay only, but a game this close to goofy singularity would be remiss to let realism dampen the experience.
It’s hard to keep complaining when you are beating NPCs with a pair of gloves that contain the power of the apocalypse, however. Volition’s latest has its tongue firmly in cheek and its thumb firmly out of its ass, and our short time spent with the crew was memorable if nothing else. Saints Row: The Third is launching November 15th for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.