This is it. We're less than a month away now from the release of Saints Row: The Third. THQ invited us out for one last extended look at this insane open-world crime game, giving me complete freedom to play around in Steelport.
The night before, it was suggested to me that I should imagine the kind of character I want to create (the amount of options was pretty daunting, especially with the limited time we had). So I was going to create a Jim Sterling lookalike, because the image of a giant man with a thick British accent blowing sh*t up was hilarious to me.
When it came time to make my character, though, I instead opted to build the girl of my dreams: an Asian lady with really big boobs wearing absolutely nothing. Why? Because I'm a child. A really horny child. Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself here, aren't I?
Saints Row: The Third (Xbox 360 [previewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
The very first thing that greets you upon starting up a new game in Saints Row: The Third is a Star Wars-like spoof intro with the opening theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in the background. I wasn't even in the game, yet here I was, already laughing at the little history lesson about the Saints gang as it was slowly scrolling up on the screen.
From here, the game takes us to the very first mission, where the Saints gang (yourself, Johnny Gat, Shaundi and a ride-along actor) robs the First National Bank in Stilwater. We've covered this level before, but the quickie version is that the heist doesn't go according to plan and ends with the Saints gang in jail.
After the first mission, players are given access to the character creation tool. Hair, face, body type, race -- everything is fully customizable to create the type of character you want. You can create yourself, celebrities, or, in my case, a hot Asian lady. On top of all the customization features is a new option called the Sex Appeal meter, which lets you adjust your female/male character's breast/penis size, respectively. Sadly, the extreme bouncing of both the male and female sexy parts has been taken out. You can still run around naked, although the naughty bits are censored with blurred pixels.
Once you're set with your character (you can change your looks later at a cosmetic surgery store), you're taken back into the game, where you and the Saints are stuck in a jail cell. Normally, the Saints would have succeeded, but that was before a new gang by the name of the Syndicate came into town. The Saints are taken to meet Phillipe Loren, the leader of the Syndicate crime organization, and are given two simple options. Either the Saints join the Syndicate and basically become their bitches, or they die. The Saints, being the Saints, turn down the offer and attack Phillipe and his gang. Oh, and the fight is all happening on an airplane. You can see the entire level in action below.
Your character and Shaundi make it safely to the ground in the city of Steelport, and things aren't looking good for our anti-heroes. Shaundi is distraught over the possible death of Johnny Gat and on top of everything else, the Syndicate has cleaned out all of the Saints' bank accounts.
This is but a small setback for the Saints, who aren't going to just sit around and take things lightly. The duo goes off to find a Friendly Fire gun store, where you grab some guns with the money you do have and then promptly invade a weapons depot in order to steal a crapload of weapons.
The mission is pretty easy until reinforcements arrive. A number of enemy jeeps and tanks show up, but lucky for you, there's a UAV laptop in the weapons depot that lets you take control of a Reaper Drone. Once activated, I needed to rain missiles down upon all the jeeps and tanks and hold out until my own reinforcements arrived. Eventually, fellow Saints member Pierce comes flying in, leading a charge of helicopters full of other Saints gang members. The Saints load up the helicopters full of stolen goods and the next section sees you taking out pursuing helicopters while making your escape.
Once we made our escape, I took some time out to just dick around in Steelport. First, I pulled up my cell phone, which contains all the essentials. Most important on the phone is the map that shows the city's layout and lets you set up your GPS to make getting around the city easy. The great thing about the GPS is that not only will it update directions if you end up missing your turn, but there are also arrows that come up in the world to help direct you.
The cell phone also contains a list of your current missions, an area that lets you upgrade your skills, a camera app and a place to access some side missions for extra income. Some of the side missions include assassinating specific targets or stealing certain vehicles.
After checking all that out, I went into my crib, which was a shitty little hole-in-the-wall apartment. Better than nothing, especially considering that the Saints are basically starting from the bottom. Your crib is where you'll be able to access your stored weapons, clothing and where you can lose pursuing gangs or police.
Now that I finally had the proper chance, I went ahead and completely undressed my main character so she would be completely naked. That is, until I realized I had access to the special Professor Genki pre-order items. So I went ahead and put the Genki cat head mask onto my character before running outside. I'm so classy.
The great thing about the character customization feature is that it's always reflected in the game, even during the cutscenes. So there's my character, completely naked and wearing a giant cat mask, having serious conversations with her crew. You're also given a choice between seven different voice options and it's not just a simple voice swap. Your character will say different things based on their dialect and the characters you talk to will even respond differently based on whatever voice you use.
The highlight of all this is easily the zombie voice. The zombie voice is complete gibberish, just moans and groans as your character attempts some sort of conversation while other characters talk down at you like a child. All these voice options alone guarantees that I'll play the game's story through multiple times just to see how everyone reacts differently, especially to the zombie voice.
What's really nice is that you don't actually have to play the game all the way through again to play your favorite missions. Once a mission is over, there's an icon that appears on the street near the mission's start point that will allow you to play it over and over again.
Once I was ready to get back into things, I accessed my cell phone and rang up Pierce, who took me to Rim Jobs, the auto-body/detail shop where you can modify your cars however you see fit. Whatever vehicle you end up creating will get saved, so you'll always have access to it, even if it gets destroyed.
On the subject of cars, they all handled great. There's literally no learning curve as the cars just work. The expensive-looking cars all go fast and the ugly ones go pretty slow. Pretty simple. I really like the motorcycles, too, especially with how very forgiving they are.
What I found really nice about Saints Row was how it slowly introduces new concepts to the player. The vanity stuff like Rim Jobs, Planet Saints (clothing store), Rusty's Needle (tattoo shop) and the offbeat missions like Tank Mayhem (blow shit up!) and Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax show are intertwined within storyline missions, but you only experience a small chunk of each. The side stuff is presented to you, but it's up to you whether you want to fully dive further into these distractions later on.
Back to the main story, the Saints' operation can't really be run all that well from a little apartment, so the Saints decide to take over a penthouse owned by Phillipe's Morning Star gang. The penthouse is at the top of a building, and the easiest way to get there is by having my character dive out of a helicopter and glide to the roof via parachute. Don't forget, I'm naked! Once I took over the penthouse, I was given access to customization of my gang's style, taunts and vehicles.
In the next mission, I had to cover Pierce from a helicopter as he drove to a warehouse district. The helicopter is being controlled by the AI, so all you have to do is use a rocket launcher to take out any gang members that try to stop Pierce. Once Pierce gets to the warehouse district, the helicopter pilot lands on a rooftop, and in the next scene, it took a few seconds for me to realize what was even happening. You still need to cover Pierce, this time with a sniper rifle, and for whatever reason, your character thinks the best way to do this is by jumping off the roof and hanging off the side with only a rope tied around yourself and the helicopter. Yeah, now picture all that while completely naked and wearing the Genki head.
The last mission I played before I moved on to other aspects of the game was called "The Belgian Problem." At this point, the Saints feel ready to make a direct attack on the Syndicate's main base of operations. First, the Saints plant and arm a bomb into the base of the Syndicate's towering building. From here, the gang makes their way upwards to find Phillipe to get their proper revenge.
Along the way we come across several oversized characters called Brutes. These giant, Hulk-like enemies act as mini-bosses, and need a lot of firepower to be taken out. Once you've whittled their health all the way down, you'll be prompted to do a special takedown in order to finally kill them. My favorite of these takedowns was the one where you shove a grenade into their mouths.
Eventually you discover that all the Brute characters are clones of a man held against his will in the building. The original Brute offers to join your crew in order to help you get revenge against Phillipe, and once he's free, the Saints proceed to find Phillipe, only to see him make his escape. With the mission a bust, the Saints make their way back to the parking garage where they planted the bomb. Here, the player is given two options: Let the bomb explode and earn a ton of respect, or disarm the bomb and earn a ton of money while taking over the building as your new crib.
This is where I called it quits and went to check out the co-op mode. I would have loved to continue, but do know that after this mission, the story opens up more and we get exposed to the other gangs under the Syndicate operation.
As for the co-op, you can invite a second player to join your game at any point and play alongside you in any of the missions or side quests. I typically like playing these types of games by myself, but having a second player is a lot more fun for a game like Saints Row. I didn't have too much time to fully explore the co-op mode, but it never felt like the second player would detract from the experience.
One last thing I want to note is the music. There are several genre radio stations to listen to, including rock, dance and rap. My favorite of all the stations was easily the Adult Swim-centric station. There's over a dozen songs from Adult Swim shows, like Tim and Eric's "Sports" and a song by Dethklok.
I think by now you know that a good chunk of us here at Destructoid really want Saints Row: The Third. I've seen the game multiple times and each time it's been a blast. I know that Saints Row: The Third is going to be one of my favorite games of the year. It's a fun, demented and hilarious game that's a much-needed change of pace from all the serious games we're about to be bombarded with.