Saints Row: The Third massive hands-on preview

Imagine a room filled with serious gaming pundits, arguing over the musty old trope of “Are games art?” Dour faces abound and serious glares indicate that this is an important issue that we must discuss. Suddenly, a fat man in a Hawaiian shirt and groucho marx glasses bursts into the room waving a purple dildo in everyone’s face while ripping huge farts. The man presses a button on his remote control and a small army of prostitutes floods the room while a huge stereo emerges from the floor. The pundits suddenly forget what they were talking about and start to enjoy themselves. This man is Saints Row: The Third, and he has come to save us from this boring discussion.

What better venue for a Saints Row preview than the legendary capital of excess and sleaze, Hollywood? Where fame hungry costume clad celebrity impersonators walk the streets under the seedy buzz of neon signs, and the porn HQ of the world grinds away only a few miles adjacent? THQ generously gave us free reign with Saints Row: The Third's main story, co-op and the new“Whored” mode. Naturally, that’s not a typo.While the tidal wave of AAA holiday titles is well underway, SR3 stands in the unique position of being the only major sandbox game being released this season. The fact that its completely gone off the rails doesn't hurt either.

Saints Row is well known for it's absurdity and appreciation of "blue" humor. That means dick and poopy jokes. To be fair thought, the game is filled with wry observations and some biting pop culture satire; musicians sell more records dead than alive, corporations fund and back every aspect of citizens lives, and most people live in a dull ambivalence to it all. Think South Park but with long action segments and way more explosions. SR3’s sense of humor is sharper than ever, and the dialogue is filled with zingers and one liners you might miss on your first playthrough. The opening mission has the Saints trying to rip off a bank vault, and after everything predictably goes pear shaped, SWAT soldiers are called in, leaving the crew waiting for their chopper to show up. Returning Saints member Shaundi asks “How long till our attack chopper gets here?” Johnny Gat replies: “About two waves of SWAT guys?”

SR3's plot finds the Saints having a hard time dealing with their new found fame. Like the Snoop Dogg’s and Ice Cube’s of yesteryear, the Saints are now the least likely of superstars, lending their likeness and image to a bunch of branded products that have almost nothing to do with their hardcore roots. Irritated with how comfortable everyone is with the comforts of fame and wealth Johnny Gat quips: “The Saints is more than a branded body spray and an ass tasting energy drink!” We considered his comments as we sipped the Saints Row branded energy drink THQ had given us. It didn't taste that bad.

SR3 is structured similarly to the previous games, with the Saints going toe to toe with rival gangs trying to claim ownership of the city. The game's setting has changed from Stillwater to Steelport though, because the Saints have been given the boot from their home turf by The Syndicate. SR3’s gangs are all part of a shadow group known as The Syndicate, seemingly a variation on the Ultor group from Saints Row 2. While The Syndicate may not sound very wacky, the individual gangs we saw proudly lived up to "The Warriors on LSD" tradition Saints Row has created.

The first gang you encounter is the Morning Star, led by a snobby European businessman known as The Belgian. Sporting snazzy suits and red designer trench coats, they’re actually the most straight laced gang you encounter, even if they look like Eurotrash Matrix rejects. The Deckers are a high tech gang of hackers, whose iridescent blue lighting is clearly patterned after Tron. The Luchadores are even more ridiculous, with each member wearing a lucha libre mask and a suit. From what we saw in the game, they're also the most vicious. Finally, there’s the STAG (Special Tactical Anti-Gang) group, a military organization brought in to take care of the gangs. Fittingly, they have the craziest weapons; plasma rifles, an enormous hover tank and a huge hover jet with a heat ray.

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