Saints Row: The Third Hands-On Preview for PC

Saints Row: The Third Hands-On Preview for PC

Gameplay In Auto-Tune

What stood out to me the most during my time with Saints Row: The Third wasn’t the excessive violence of the title; the previous two entries in the series and decades as a gamer have long since desensitized me to even the most over-the-top displays thereof. No, it was a moment of lucidity during a low-speed rickshaw chase, each being pulled by mostly-naked “submissive” individuals from an S&M club. My brain, which had checked out for the sheer insanity of the sequence, came rushing back in with a question: why are these person-drawn carriages exploding when I shoot them?

Maybe they’re soaked in gasoline. They’re fetishists, after all—are some of them into that?

Regardless, this anecdote more or less sets the tone for the entire Saints Row: The Third experience, which is bound to appeal to anyone who feels that the Grand Theft Auto series—and its Rockstar shepherds—has gone soft of late. Saints Row: The Third is carnage, utter carnage, and if that’s what you’re seeking, it can be a glorious experience.

Saints Row: The Third Screenshot

From the opening bell, the game hits you over the head with its attitude. The 3rd Street Saints reside in a world in which larcenous thugs and sociopathic murderers can be international superstars. They’re starring in Japanese commercials, have merchandise (manufactured and distributed by Ultor Corporation, in a nod to the series’ history), and there’s a movie in the works. One of the actors for that movie tags along on a bank heist, for which the Saints disguise themselves with masks of Saints member Johnny Gat, including Johnny Gat himself.

When the robbery begins, the tellers initially want photographs with and autographs from you and your posse. It’s surreal and humorous, but soon gives way to a firefight that culminates in the Saints attempting to air-lift the entire vault out of the building while under fire from enemies with military-grade hardware. One of the great things about Saints Row: The Third is that it ups the value of its cinematic action from its predecessors, but works these blockbuster events into the action. It doesn’t take control away from you during those most badass of moments, instead putting you at the head of the action, whether you’re taking on enemies while skydiving beside them or defending a massive metal globe as it plummets from the top floor of a skyscraper with you atop it.

The core gameplay, however, hasn’t changed much from the last game. Melee introduces new heavy attacks that provoke beat-down cutscenes. They have button-prompts to increase the damage you deal and the respect you receive from the beat-down, but don’t impact whether or not the attack is successful. The guns are still satisfying to fire, and maybe slightly less absurdly accurate than they were in Saints Row 2. Some of the new explosive weapons and launchers are over the top, though, including a remote-controlled missile drone and a squid launcher that mind-controls its targets. That’s tied into the Dr. Genki content, which also includes a flashy and violent obstacle-course game show, in which one shoots both targets and mascots to earn money while under the pressure of a time limit and without recharging health (there are boards to shoot that refill it). As with most such missions in the game, rather than design that structure for a one-off experience and then move on, playing through the first mission unlocks increasingly difficult side missions of that type. For those who’ve played previous Saints Row games, it’s a familiar process.

What’s actually changed most in Saints Row: The Third is the story. The tone is darker than the previous entries, and the Saints begin at the top of their game with a new city to conquer. While the means is similar to previous entries, the reasoning behind it is somewhat more personal, with a tale of revenge spurring the Saints to go on the offensive in the city of Steelport, as opposed to simply reclaiming what they’d lost, as in Saints Row 2. Most tellingly, a significant early portion of the game is mostly linear. Previous games allowed players to tackle the gangs in whatever order they wished, more or less from the get-go. Here, almost a fifth of the game (judging by the completion percentage) is spent on a straight, one-track story. The developers have stated that their intent with this entry is to intertwine the various threads of the story more, so once the game does open up, how and in what order missions are tackled can make a difference, building up to multiple endings. Also contributing to those multiple endings: missions with either/or decisions.

Saints Row: The Third Screenshot

Saints Row: The Third is part of a series that doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the morality of players’ actions. As such, it would be a disservice to call the choices it offers “moral choices,” because the two options are generally going to be on even keel in that regard. The decisions are almost entirely pragmatic, and do come with tangible benefits, such as increased income or increased respect. Respect, which is used for upgrading your character, feels more useful in this game than before. Money does too, though, since players can still buy properties or weapons and even upgrade their vehicles at auto body shops.

The choices one makes begin even earlier though, with an expanded character creation system (which includes a “zombie” voice for your character, completely unintelligible, except to the other characters in the world. Don’t use it if you care about the story). If you decide you don’t like your look, there are, of course, places to get haircuts, clothes and even plastic surgery to alter it later. There are gang gatherings one can stumble upon that, once conquered, will tighten the Saints’ grip on a territory and, as always, both a lot of side missions and random mayhem in which to engage. (However, the greater focus of the story seems to extend to these as well: I didn’t see anything like the septic tank side-missions of the last game.)

Saints Row: The Third Screenshot

Then there’s multiplayer. The competitive play is gone, but I popped into co-op for a couple of missions (some of the side missions are clearly geared toward co-op play, almost impossible to complete on your own), which is just as free-form as ever. Both players can adventure alone in the city, do whatever they wish, and, if one decides to take on a mission, the other is given a prompt where they can choose whether to join in. Additionally, Saints Row: The Third has Whored Mode, which can be played either alone or with a partner, taking on wave after wave of ridiculous enemies with various special conditions. It was entertaining, but sort of wore thin after a dozen waves or so.

And that was something I noticed about the game in general. In the very beginning, it did a great job of keeping me focused on moving forward through the story. Once it opened up more, though, and continued to spread missions out across the map (it’s also worth noting that one can take on a mission with a phone call from the menu, now, reducing players’ footwork), I found myself spending more time causing general mayhem and mischief than pursuing the story. I’d also been playing for almost six hours straight at that point, though, and it’s incredible that the game could keep me engaged and focused that long before fatigue started to set in.

Saints Row: The Third is a ludicrous game. It’s a title in which one’s retinue includes a Russian behemoth who’s the blueprint for a clone army, a professional wrestler voiced by Hulk Hogan, an absent-minded ex-FBI agent, and a barely-clothed fetishist who speaks only in auto-tune. Though the characters take it seriously, it’s clear that the developers followed the philosophy that if they were having fun making it, you’d have fun playing it. The build I played was nearly final, and besides some slight frame rate hiccups, it felt extremely polished. Which is good, since it’s coming out in less than a month.

Game Features:

  • Return to the streets of Stilwater and discover how fame and fortune as the kings of the town has affected the Saints—for the better and for the worse.
  • Take the fight to Steelport, a struggling city of sin where you must battle it out with the dangerous Syndicate gang.
  • Take on a Mexican wrestling gang in a satellite-targeted airstrike.

  • Saints, Syndicates, and Cartoonish Violence

    The Star-Spangled Banner insists that America is the “land of the free” and “the home of the brave,” but last time I checked, I wasn’t allowed to fly a fighter jet in downtown Chicago while firing a microwave gun at a flock of homeless people. Obviously, Francis Scott Key didn’t know what the word “freedom” really meant. Lucky for me, Saints Row: The Third is heading to retailers in November.

    If you’ve played either of the previous Saints titles, you’re familiar with the over-the-top violence that Saints games are known for, but Saints Row: The Third has managed to crank up the volume. Instead of simply punching a bystander with your fists, now you will be able to leapfrog over his shoulders and drive his skull into the pavement. Instead of disposing of enemies with your trusty shotgun, now you can inhale them with a vacuum cannon and launch them into the nearest chimney. Instead of a Lamborghini, now you can fly a fighter jet. You get the idea.

    Saints Row: The Third Screenshot

    And, if players ever decide to take a break from indiscriminately murdering ordinary civilians, Saints Row: The Third has a pretty intricate little storyline. The story picks up shortly after the events of Saints Row 2, where the Saints have become national celebrities. I guess defeating several rival gangs and overthrowing a corrupt corporation can really upgrade a gang’s reputation. This newfound popularity adds an incredibly entertaining aspect to The Third’s sand-box-style gameplay; everyone is always excited to see you. If you decide to dance with a short-skirted woman on the street, she will be compelled by her adoration to dance with you. If you pull up to a curb and do a burnout in a stolen police car, the people on the corners will applaud. This is the type of thoughtless devotion that Americans have been waiting for hundreds of years to accept.

    The storyline in The Third follows the leader of the Third Street Saints as they relocate the gang from Stilwater, the setting for the first 2 Saints games, to Steelport, a neighboring city. A crime syndicate, aptly called “The Syndicate,” has taken over criminal operations in Stilwater and divvied up the control of the city to the Saints’ rival gangs. Saints Row: The Third sees our gangland heroes attempt to take their city back.

    The mission structure in The Third is far more interconnected than the previous Saints titles. Each decision that the player makes while dealing with one gang could affect future dealings with their rivals or their allies. This means that every time you play through Saints Row: The Third, the experience will be altogether different. And, while the previous Saints Games used respect as a way to unlock story arcs, The Third uses it like RPG-style experience points. The more respect you gain, the more attributes, kills, and weapons you’ll be able to unlock.

    Saints Row: The Third Screenshot

    Character customization is also a huge part of The Third. Have you always wanted to know what you would look like in a space suit? Saints row has you covered. Have you ever wanted to know what you’d look like in a sexy bunny outfit? Saints Row has you covered. Ever wanted to know what you’d look like naked if you hadn’t spent the last several years eating nothing but Baconators? Saints Row has you covered there too.

    “We’ve blown customization out of the water,” said Drew Holmes, one of the writers behind The Third. “It’s really all about giving players more options to pick and choose and play as the character they want to play as.”

    Another thing that really sets The Third apart from the previous titles is the addition of minigames like Tank Mayhem. Tank Mayhem allows players to do as much monetary damage to the city as possible in a given amount of time. This innovation really helps break up the monotony that inevitably comes with hours of haphazard slaughter.

    Saints Row: The Third Screenshot

    I probably don’t need to say this, but parents, you should really keep this game away from your young children, unless you don’t have a problem with your child assaulting a nearby police officer with an oversized sex toy. But I’m assuming that you probably do have a problem with this.

    Ultimately, Saints Row: The Third will be welcome, albeit violently cartoonish, splash into the sand-box-style adventure genre. It will raise the bar for games like Grand Theft Auto and Prototype, but I can’t help but wonder what new and exciting ways they’ll dream up for murdering pedestrians in future sequels.

    Saints Row: The Third is scheduled for release on November 11th.

    Game Features:

  • Play as your favorite train wreck celebrity-turned reality TV star, take aim as your least favorite overpaid prima donna professional athlete, or don a cape as Steelport’s newest superhero (or villain).
  • Save your master creations and share them with friends. Download other characters for your own use, or tweak them just the way you like.
  • Collaborate with a friend to create your own dynamic duo for co-op play. Cowboy and Indian? Dominatrix and sex slave? Tag-team wrestling partners with sordid pasts? Your twisted imagination is the limit.

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