When I saw Saints Row: The Third earlier this year, developer Volition showcased a spectacular bank heist from the game, a carnage-filled showdown with Steelport's SWAT team. It was a bizarre, comedically ultraviolent shootout that played like a major, mid-game highlight.
Turns out that bloody cops and robbers confrontation was just Saints Row: The Third's tutorial mission.
I played Saints Row: The Third for hours last week at an event in Hollywood—you know, the one Lindsay Lohan's teeth attended—making my way through 17% of the November-due game. It was a small slice of the crime spree comedy and that bank heist was just the tip of the ridiculous Saints Row iceberg.
Saints Row: The Third starts with a Star Wars-style crawl, a quick, easily forgettable set up to the third game in Volition's Grand Theft Auto-like. It then drops players into that over-the-top robbery, then into extensive player character customization—I went with a foxy Saint with skin-tight golf pants and "bad girl boots," conservatively keeping the "sex appeal" (read: breast size) meter at its D-cup default—and then into a set piece that easily trumped that bank job.
Without spoiling too much, playing as my customized lady Saint, I fought my way through and out of an airplane owned by the Syndicate, the international crime syndicate led by Belgian bad guy Phillipe Loren, then parachuted my way through an amusement park ride-like murder spree. My Saint plummeted toward the earth for a long, long time, gunning down parachuting gangsters in pursuit, dodging falling sports cars and rescuing my fellow Saint, Shaundi, from becoming a splatter.
At one point, as my Saint was brazen enough to ditch her chute and crash through the cockpit window of that airplane as it circled back on a collision course. That's early indication that Saints Row: The Third is completely lacking in reservation or obedience to even the laws of physics.
Back on earth, I saw much more of Saints Row: The Third's insanity on display. My Saints and I raided a military compound to raid its arsenal, ultimately climaxing in UAV missile assault in which I rained fire down upon soldiers and tanks from my Reaper Drone. Wait, I forgot about the post-climax climax, in which we escaped via helicopter, my Saint armed to the teeth while she shot down military helicopters making chase.
There's an amusing detachment from reality during these moments, when you're slaying Army men with machine guns for your own personal gain, where Saints Row: The Third moves beyond some morally bankrupt kill-fest and toward harmless video game murder parody. It's entertaining, in a sick sort of way.
After that, I settle into a routine, partaking in story-based missions and violent activities from my smartphone. I sampled some Tank Mayhem, causing as much collateral damage as possible. I played Guardian Angel, putting my Saint in a sniper nest tasked with protecting fellow gang member Pierce on driving missions. We reclaimed control of sections of Stilwater from rival gang Morning Star by buying property, engaging in mass slaughter and crashing a party at which Kanye West's "Power" was playing. I killed thugs and barely dressed gangstresses by the dozen.
It was mostly fun, but, yeah, some of it was going through the open world crime game motions. At least Saints Row: The Third never seemed to take itself too seriously for a moment. Take Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, an activity that sends the player into a trap-filled game show against fuzzy mascots wielding assault rifles. It's a taste of Madworld and Smash TV rolled into a third-person shooter wrapped inside a game that lets you beat people to death with a veiny purple dildo.
And speaking of purple dildos, it was at around this point I played Saints Row: The Third's "Whored Mode." Volition's spin on the now-standard "Horde Mode" that sends wave upon wave of enemies at the player doesn't establish a new bar in gameplay innovation, but it's still memorable.
Wave one of Whored Mode pits you, the player, against a swarm of prostitutes. They have guns, you have a deadly, wobbling purple dong. Wave two sends bondage enthusiasts after you, with nothing but your fists to protect you. You fight prostitutes with a tank, zombies with a chainsaw, men in Saints Row energy drink costumes with a rotating selection of guns.
You fight as a giantess in Whored Mode, against tiny zombies and massive hot dog men, versus barely dressed angels in a sniper-on-sniper battle. You may want to play Whored Mode until you tap out, just to see how wacky things get—even though they start off super, super wacky. But after the novelty wears off, you may find it inferior to its Horde Mode imitating peers. I don't know, but I'm curious to see to what lengths Volition goes.
Perhaps more interesting to me then bludgeoning streetwalkers with a sex toy and becoming a Stilwater real estate mogul was one of the choices presented to me near the end of Saints Row: The Third's first act. My fellow Saints and I laid siege to a Morning Star stronghold, fighting our way through waves of Loren's men and women. We ran into a naked powerhouse named Oleg, whose penis was obscured by a mosaic. (Oh, I did some streaking as an aside before this, running through the streets buck naked. That too was censored by pixels.)
Anyway, after laying waste to Loren's crew with a mini-gun and allying with Oleg, I was presented with a game-changing choice: Should I go ahead and destroy the building I'd raided by letting the bomb I'd planted earlier blow up? Or should I disarm my own bomb, keeping the building for myself? Destroying the building would net me some "respect" helping me to level up. Leaving the building intact would make me cash-richer and perhaps lead to an interesting story thread. It was a hard decision to make, surprisingly, even though I realized I wouldn't see the payoff during my time with 17% of the game.
That's where I left Saints Row: The Third, feeling pretty good about its possibilities. The game treads some familiar ground, as open world crime epics sometimes do, but it has its share of welcome improvements. Sometimes, they're little things, like ease of travel via The Third's refined GPS interface. Sometimes it's the readily accessible mayhem that can be enjoyed right from the get go.
Saints Row: The Third feels like the kind of morally reprehensible fun that one can spend substantial time with, delighting in murderous chaos, without worrying about where the story of the Third Row Saints is headed. Full of violent, gross-out activities, Saints Row is firmly carving out its own unique and ridiculous path. On top of that, I'm even kind of interested to see where this glitzy crime epic is heading.
Saints Row: The Third comes to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC on November 15 in North America, a few days later in Europe.