PREVIEW: Saints Row the Third

At a recent public pre-release screening of Saints Row The Third, staff at the THQ booth received a number of complaints. They’d braced themselves for it, of course. You don’t show off a game featuring this sort of content without expecting a little backlash – the stickers being handed out were a fair indication of what was in store.

"Strap It On" Sticker advertising Saints Row the Third

*ahem*

…what THQ wasn’t expecting was the direction the complaints were coming from. Organisers were fine with the content on show, the skimpily-dressed booth babes, the obnoxious fake-American accent on the loudspeaker. Families had no problems with the flesh being displayed and the not-so-veiled innuendo.

The publishers had tucked the game away behind a velvet rope (what else), allowing only a small group of gamers to get their hands on the merchandise at any one time. The booth-babes and in-character body guards checked ID at the door, keeping anybody who was under 15 out of the booth.

And that was where the problems came from. Both THQ and the event organisers were bombarded by gamers in their early teens who were apparently frothing at the mouth at the prospect of playing the latest instalment of Saints Row.

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It’s been three years since we last visited the Saints, and not much has changed where it counts. It all gets a little chaotic, a little over the top, and in some places, more than a little bit mental.

There are a few major updates though: The decisions you make will dictate the way the game plays out, even if you don’t know how much impact each choice will have. You’ll be able to set up safe houses once you kick the rival gangs out, and we’re promised a whole bunch more variety in the missions you’ll be playing through.

While, obviously, sandbox is a major part of the game, Saints Row the Third is also promising a pretty hefty story mode, which sees the Saints themselves painted as celebrities in Steelport.

With their own clothing line, adoring fanbase and even an energy drink named after them, the Saints look for a little more adventure and find it in a bank heist. Nobody likes spoilers, but if you think everything goes smoothly, you should probably think again.

The team at Volition listened to player feedback on the previous two games, which is why this one retains a similar playstyle – third-person action, driving sequences, and that spectacular Steelport urban setting.

They also kept a bunch of other well-loved features, too: While adult entertainment star Tera Patrick has not come back after her role in Saints Row 2, former colleague Sasha Grey has stepped up to the plate, taking a lead role as a major villain. (Hulk Hogan also has a role as a professional wrestler… what else?)

On the weapons front, yes, the dildo bat makes a triumphant return. There are Apoca-fists, a bit of oversized costume gear that dissolves your enemy into a gory mess. For something a little heftier, there’s also Molotov cocktails and a handy dandy Chainsaw at your disposal.

If you prefer to dish out your violence behind the wheel, you may like to look into Professor Genki’s Super Ballistic Manapult. This truck, decorated with Professor Genki’s grinning face, sucks up passers-by and shoots them – like a human cannonball – towards a target. Good, clean fun.

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Tell me: What don’t you like about yourself? You can change it, thanks to the pimped out character customisation options contained in Saints Row the Third. Choose a starter character, and start tweakin’. Pick out your preferred skin colour, clothing, accessories, hair styles, build – virtually every element you might like to adjust. And, if you don’t mind a little ‘tasteful’ pixelation, you can create your character wearing just their birthday suit.

Don’t like your creation? Head to a handy in-game plastic surgeon who’ll fix your face (for a fee), or stroll into a clothes shop to pick up some new threads.

Same goes for your ride and your weapons, both of which can be modified and tweaked to suit your particular tastes. Some of the creations I’ve seen while flicking through the game reflect the sheer variety of gamers who are checking this one out.

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Now – this is not for everyone. From the early days where Volition took a fair dose of inspiration from the open sandbox worlds of Grand Theft Auto, things have changed. The developers decided that this is a game after all, and what’s the fun of a game if you’re stuck doing things you can do in real life?

Throw the rules out the window, slap on a hefty dose of purple and book a ticket to Steelport. Saints Row the Third is due out November 17th for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, and has been rated MA15+ by the Australian Classification Board.

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