Saints Row: The Third massive hands-on preview

As before, there’s a separate star rating for killing gang members versus attacking the police. Anger enough gang members and they’ll become an even bigger threat than the cops themselves. Get a gang angry enough and they’ll send one of their specialists to deal with you. The specialists are super units specific to each gang, equipped with special weapons and equipment. We didn't manage to see the Luchadore's specialist, but we snuck a peek at the other two.

The Morning Star gang sends a sniper to take you out, sometimes on ground and sometimes in a circling helicopter. It may not sound too tough, but they’re great shots, and getting hit by them will take off at least half of your health. The Decker gang specialist is even crazier, an anime-d out school girl with a huge Gundam styled force hammer and rollerblades. Oh and she can teleport too. We tried running away but she grabbed onto the back of one of the gang’s cars and skitched after us. Fortunately after taking her out you’ll be able to temporarily use the force hammer.

While some people still roll their eyes at GTA IV's friendship side missions, it's clear that a lot of effort has gone into SR3's side-mission activities. The Activities are generally even more ridiculous than the main missions, and allow for Volition to go even further off the rails. Classics like the ragdoll-tastic Insurance Fraud return, while others like Trailblazing have been completely revamped. The new Trailblazing replaces the flaming quad from Saints Row 2 for a super stylized Tron inspired Motorcycle halfpipe race. Clear checkpoints and dodge obstacles to make it to the finish before time runs out.

While the number of activities has expanded, the “Saintsbook” section of your phone allows access to more straightforward missions like Assassinations, Vehicle Thefts and the like. There’s also Challenges, mini Achievements that reward you for performing special tasks like kicking 30 people in the junk. Completing the challenges nets you a small respect and cash bonus. As with any good sandbox game, there’s a bunch of collectibles scattered around the map for you to snag. But since it’s Saints Row you’ll be collecting sex dolls.

We don’t want to spoil any of the plot but it’s hard not to mention some of the characters you’ll run across during the course of the game. A quick, spoiler free list:

Zimos: A pimp with a tracheotomy who sports a gold cane with a microphone that serves as an electrolarynx. It Auto-Tunes all his dialogue.

Oleg: An enormous muscle man who you can call-in for back up. He can knock cars over with melee attacks. Is completely naked during the mission you first meet him.

Angel: A physical trainer who hates the Syndicate and is tough as nails. Takes it upon himself to train you by forcing you to drive a car with a tiger in the passenger seat. Seriously.

While we’re on the topic of the tiger escort mission, we’ll mention the co-op. SR3 features drop-in drop-out multiplayer for maximum convenience, letting players help one another with story mode missions like the tiger escort. This particular mission had us in the backseat, attempting to calm the tiger down via some QTEs while the other player tried to keep the swerving car from slowing down or slamming into a wall. While most of the missions are more straightforward run and gun affairs with two players, it's neat seeing special missions that make the co-op extra fun.

Of course there's the new Whored mode, and it's exactly what you'd think, a co-op experience that pits you and some friends against huge waves of enemies. And we do mean waves, with nearly 30 characters on screen at any given time Whored mode quickly turns into a chaotic melee. Special settings allow for you to fight huge enemies as a tiny version of your character or in one of the modes we brandished the Penetrator (an enormous purple dildo) against a bunch of guys in gimp suits.

As in the previous Saints games, completing missions and blowing stuff up good earns you respect (see: experience), which in turn lets you upgrade your character in a number of ways. Higher levels of respect allow access to bigger and better weapons, clothes and cribs, though there’s permanent character upgrades you can buy now. Accessed through your phone, a huge number of character upgrades can be purchased for cash once you’ve reached the required respect level. A quick glance at the upgrade menu revealed: Extra health, the ability to dual wield pistols, weapon specific increased weapon damage, the ability to recruit extra gang members, and our personal favorite, the ability to not ragdoll after being hit by an explosion.

It can’t be overstated how insane Saints Row: The Third is. Everything is so far off the deep end, that by the time the leather masked gimps pulling rickshaws show up you’ll probably just say “oh, okay.” We can honestly say that after our eight hour session we were eager to see more and keep playing. The immediate access it gives you to powerful weapons and vehicles eschews the "work your way up from nothing" gameplay theory and embraces the sandbox entirely, as a place you can have fun in. Sure, it may be a little unbalanced, and it's not the prettiest game you'll ever see, but it puts fun first, and that's a huge draw for anyone looking for a good time.

Oct 19th, 2011

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