For Your Guilty Pleasure

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Though a bit crass and juvenile at times (okay, so a lot of the time), I always got the sense that Saints Row 2 was a smarter game than some players gave it credit for. The game has always dodged criticisms that it was a “poor man’s GTA” and that it indulged in suburban gangsta fantasies. I’ve always taken it as something much different. I’ve always thought Volition, the developer, knew exactly what players wanted from an open world game and gave it to us. I’m sure there’s a group of players who won’t admit to it, but Saints Row was their guilty pleasure, and Volition knew it.

With Saints Row The Third it’s time for even the closet fans to run out into the streets. Even Volition isn’t pulling punches, openly declaring Saints Row The Third as gaming’s “…biggest, most over-the-top guilty pleasure…” And, you know what, they’re completely right.

In order to best show off Saints Row The Third, THQ did the next best thing to actually allowing for some hands-on time (and believe me, not grabbing the controller from the demo driver took a lot of self-control) and began the presentation out in the streets of Steelport, the game’s new urban environment.

In the years following the last game, the Third Street Saints have become the dominant force in Stilwater. The Saints’ status is a major benefit to players. Since you’re already at the top, you have access to all of the best toys available. This includes completely ridiculous weapons like the Apoca-fists, a giant pair of “Hulk Hands” that reduce anyone unlucky enough to get with them into a red, squishy pile of goo. There’s also a weaponized adult novelty item that our driver used to bludgeon a bystander. We also saw our “hero” slam another citizen’s face into the ground with a running head slam that would make most WWE wrestlers proud.

Another perk enjoyed by the Third Street Saints is they no longer have to pick locks to “borrow” a car. At one point, our demo driver walked up to a car and, with two feet in, crashed through the car’s window. It was enough to elicit loud chuckles of disbelief from everyone in attendance. Even the people of Stilwater got a laugh. After one particularly brutal face slam, the victim seemed more interested in getting an autograph than filing assault charges.

If exploding fists aren’t enough firepower and flashy cars aren’t your thing, Saints Row The Third has you covered there as well. The next part of the demo introduced Mayhem missions. Our plucky hero jumped into a tank and proceeded to blast everything in the area. The goal? Tally up as much damage as possible before time ran out. The random destruction was enough to get the interest of one of the game’s new factions, the Luchadores, a group of mask-wearing enforcers. While all of the other toys were on the table, our driver decided the best way to deal with the large gang of masked men was to call in a simple airstrike. Boom goes the dynamite.

Air strikes aren’t the only aerial fun in Saints Row The Third, right around the corner sat an unguarded VTOL jet just waiting for someone to jump in and take it for a spin. After a quick trip, which may or may not have involved killing a few more Luchadores with lasers and bombs.

Believe it or not, the VTOL and tank are some of the game’s normal vehicles. First is the Gatmobile, a hot rod with Johnny Gat’s head mounted on the front. The cigarette also doubles as a flame-thrower. Then there’s the Manapault, a truck with a giant cannon that can suck up pedestrians and launch them clear across the city. These two entries seem completely ridiculous, but are the best examples of what Saints Row The Third is going for. The idea is for players to play the game how they want and, more importantly, have fun doing it.

Although the open world gameplay and crazy array of weapons make Saints Row The Third sound completely unorganized, it isn’t all about random fun. There’s actually a point to the destruction.

The second part of the demo introduced a story mission involving the Third Street Saints teaming up with Josh Burke, a method actor studying up for his next role. The heist began with the Saints donning Johnny Gat bobble heads (if you’re going to rob a bank, might as well look good doing it). From there, the group worked their way through the bank. The segment offered a good look at the moment-to-moment gameplay, but also showcased the game’s dialogue. It is genuinely funny and well-written. At one point, Josh asked if he could redo his lines. Some of the best one-liners came from the police. One yelled, “Turn yourselves in! And my son wants to meet Shaundi!” while another asked the Saints to put their weapons down and give them an autograph.

The bank heist plays into the game’s bigger story arc. The bank vault is owned by the Syndicate, a crime organization with its fingers in every criminal group on the planet. The only one not under their control is the Third Street Saints. Of course, the Saints refuse to give into the Syndicate’s demands and comes to Steelport to wage war.

Saints Row The Third completely encapsulates everything I love about gaming. It’s pure, unpretentious fun in an open world. Some of my best gaming memories involve Saints Row 2, and I’m looking forward to creating more with Saints Row The Third when it ships later this year.