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Saints Row: The Third - Hands-On Preview

Saints Row: The Third - Hands-On Preview

Platform: Xbox 360
Category: 3rd Person: Action

Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ

Last week we had the opportunity to spend a full day playing the latest build of Saints Row: The Third, THQ's over the top open world game. I'll be honest here, I am a virtual Saints Row virgin if you will, so going in I had very little to draw on in terms of what to expect. Saints Row: The Third starts off with a bank heist that is perpetrated by your Saints Row buddies. All the characters are disguised in oversized Johnny Gat heads, including Gat himself. The intro is quite over the top and extravagant, and it soon would appear that the Saints might have chosen the wrong bank to knock over. They encounter heavy resistance and the guards are extremely well armoured, even the bank tellers have military grade hardware.

Right off the hop the action starts, and there is no cover system to speak of, but you can duck behind pretty much anything. The gunplay is not only fun but quite solid; you won’t have to do too much ducking out of the way given the way the gunplay works. Each area you access has its own number of enemies to fight. During my gameplay session, I somehow managed to deselect my gun and I had to continue the fight the old fashioned way: by putting up my dukes. Not being familiar with button assignments, I quickly found that I could chain together combos with assorted punches and kicks. It’s fast, fun and almost mindless violence; everything one would want in a video game. Your goal here was to reach the vault and yank it right out of the building with the help of a helicopter. As it turns out the bank and vault is owned by a rival faction, the Syndicate, and so begins the game.

The Syndicate is in full control of Stillwater, so the Saints relocate to the city of Steelport. Your character, Pierce, is instructed to remain in Stillwater to make sure everything runs smoothly. Steelport is a city that was created when factories flourished and with little city planning, and since then it has suffered from rampant crime and very little economic success. The Syndicate have begun to take control of some parts of Steelport, focusing on mainly gambling. Syndicate bigwigs created three lower level gangs that they oversee: The Morning Star, the Luchadore (A Mexican wrestler Killbane controls this gang) and The Deckers. Each gang has expertise in their respective fields; from drugs to money laundering, it all runs through them before reaching the top. The Saints see the opportunity to take control of Steelport from these groups and it is the war between the gangs where your missions and plan of attack take place.

I was quite surprised that such an over the top style game actually has a pretty good story to follow. Of course Saints Row games are going to have the GTA comparisons, and I can see familiarities between the two, but for sheer violence and mayhem Saints Row: The Third can’t be beat.

Much like previous Saints Row games, several celebrities voice characters in the game. Daniel Dae Kim reprises his role as Johnny Gat, Sasha Grey voices Viola DeWynter, Hulk Hogan voices the professional wrestler and Saints ally Angel De LaMuerte, and Natalie Lander voices ex-FBI agent and Saints ally Kinzie Kensington. Game designer Tomonobu Itagaki also stars in the game as a playable character.

Saints Row: The Third has an incredible amount of customization options. You could spend hours tweaking everything from your appearance to what colour to paint your vehicle. I started playing with the character creation tool, which is staggeringly deep. The mode dresses up your persona to your heart’s desire, and this carries over to any relevant cut-scenes. You can make your character black, white, blue, red, green and everything in between. You can also augment hairstyles, voices, gestures, body sizes, facial features, and there is even a sex appeal slider that fills out various bulges and bumps. You will laugh once you start playing with the feature, it goes with the over the top theme very well.

One of the newer challenges is the score based “Professor Genki’s Super Ethical Reality Climax” arena events. You travel through various large rooms taking out gun-wielding lunatics in animal costumes. To pass the event you need to reach a target score by hitting cash signs, racking up kill combos, and adding a bit of style with headshots or chucking enemies into electrical barriers. It’s quite tough, especially considering this was an early level, but it’s undoubtedly fun, especially if you enjoyed games like The Club.

Other challenges include some interesting and unique ideas available during my test drive. Insurance Fraud has you jumping in front of traffic trying to injure yourself as much as possible, while Mayhem events are a test of how much destruction can you cause with the game's weapons and vehicles. Clearing an area of rival gang members is equally fun; you must survive waves of hostiles in order to take that area over. It can become frustrating though as each wave gets increasingly tougher and the later waves can be quite a bitch to get through.

In addition to the strong amount of challenges, there are stores to be found throughout the game for you to spend your dubiously earned cash. You can even buy stores to generate an hourly wage for yourself. You can buy and sell weapons, cars, cloths, and so on. Again the level of customization in terms of what you can do is astounding. The majority of your money will be spent on a long list of upgrades for you, your gang, vehicles, and even your hideout. Bigger health bars, fire resistance, quicker cool-down periods, and recovery times can all be bought and enhanced. Respect is earned for almost everything you do, from completing missions to behaving like a complete bastard to everyone and everything. Over time this also levels you up and unlocks new groups/types of upgrades for you to purchase separately. I’m not sure, but the GTA comparisons have completely dropped out of the picture by now as Saints Row: The Third stands in its own class.

The game includes a massive amount of weapons, from standard pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, to the unbelievably bizarre. How does a launcher that fires a small octopus that sits on people’s heads and sends them into a trippy trance while attacking your enemies sound? That’s only scratching the surface.

I really liked the "Awesome" button, a sprint move that can now be combined for various flashy moves. Press the attack button when you run up behind someone and you’ll jump and slam their face into the ground; you will get respect points for it too! The coolest move though is reserved for a sprinting/carjacking manoeuvre where you jump feet first through the windscreen or side window kicking the owner out in one clean sweep. Will wonders ever cease? Who comes up with this stuff? Do I care? Not really, as it is immensely fun, but I won’t be playing this one in front of my young son.

For Saints Row: The Third, Volition has stepped up its game with a fresh new visual engine that results in the city looking more dynamic than ever. The game has a high level of detail wherever you go in Steelport. I found very little signs of clipping or any major graphical issues at this stage of development. There’s plenty of room to roam here and the game runs smoothly no matter what you are doing, whether you are up in the air or taking out forces on the ground. The games control is also very well done and quite intuitive. I picked up the game with-in an hour or so and had no major issues after that.

Saints Row: The Third declares war on your Xbox 360 on November 15, and we will continue to have the latest coverage in the weeks ahead, including the inevitable review. In the meantime, prepare yourself as this is as insane as games get.


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