Saints Row: The Third First Look PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Jun 02, 2011
Dildo bat? Check. A car capable of turning people into human cannonballs? Check. Engaging in a shootout while riding a helicopter-hoisted bank vault? Double check. The only game that could ever feature these elements? You guessed it: THQ’s latest open-world absurdity factory, aka Saints Row: The Third. Volition’s follow up to the top-to-bottom bananas Saints Row 2 aims to push the sophomoric, blithely bizarre formula established in the first two titles to its absolute limits, and from what we saw at THQ’s recent pre-E3 showcase, there is no doubt the developers are well on track to do it.
Saints Row: The Third picks up some time after the previous game, only now the nihilistic saints have become superstars and have even branded themselves in the form of energy drinks, clothing lines, vehicles, and more. This also means that players can expect to start out the game with a substantial arsenal at their disposal, so you won’t have to wait around to satisfy your need for uber-excessive destruction.
The city you’ll be calling home in Saints Row: The Third is Steelport. The first part of our demo focused on open-world gameplay and kicked off in the southwest portion of the city, which is owned by a group known as the Syndicate, aka the main baddie you’ll be fighting against in the game. The Syndicate is made up of three gangs, only one of which we got to see: the casino owning, brute force-providing Luchadors, who become our primary targets as we start to explore the soon-to-be-hellish streets of Steelport.
Now, if you know anything about the Saints Row games, you know that terrorizing pedestrians in endlessly ridiculous ways is one of its sweet spots, and as The Third’s producer Greg Donovan explained, this is very much the case this time around as well.
“We wanted everything the player does to be compelling, satisfying, and also adhere to that unique brand of humor that people have to know in the franchise. Our philosophy is, ‘Why just allow players to kick pedestrians when you can have them to groin hits? Why give them a baseball bat if you can give them a giant, purple dildo bat?’ It’s just a lot more fun, a lot more memorable, and just fits the franchise.”
I must say, the sight of a dude beating an innocent bystander with a three-foot dildo is something I will never be able to unsee. Additionally, as the game’s first teaser trailer revealed, each weapon includes its own groin-smacking animation. As Donovan blatantly put it, “It’s a bad day for the citizens of Steelport today.”
In addition to the aforementioned oversized sex toy, we also witnessed the devastating power of the Apocafist, which are massive fist-shaped gloves capable of disintegrating people on contact, as well as the returning satchel charges, which you can stick to any surface, including people, and then detonate with expectedly explosive results.
Moving up the street, we encounter a Flashpoint being guarded by a group of Luchadors. Flashpoints are basically areas that contain something of value, and it will be up to you to clear out the enemies protecting said object; in this case, it's a crate of drugs. But as Donovan reiterates, “You can either choose to take them out with an assault rifle, or use the airstrike. Let’s use the airstrike.” And with that, our character whips out a homing device, locks it on the Luchador gathering, and a few seconds later, several missiles scream from above and turn the entire area into a massive fireball.
The game will once again feature activities, aka side missions, and we got to see a particularly explosive one called Tank Mayhem, which requires you to cause a certain monetary level of devastation with, you guessed it, a tank. This sequence nicely showed off some of the new damage tech in the game, including vehicle deformation, a first for the series. Even though the build we saw was pre-alpha, the framerate stayed solid through this particularly chaotic sequence (Although, there was a crash later on in the demo, so there are obviously still plenty of bugs to work out).
From there, we moved to Steelport’s equivalent of the Las Vegas Strip where we get our first look at the property buying feature, which is one of the three components for taking over parts of the city. Once you’ve cleared a flashpoint, completed a side-quest (in this case mayhem), and purchased property, you will then become the rightful owner of that district. The more areas you control, the larger your influence in the city will be.
One of the key features of the Saints Row series is player customization, and that tradition carries on in The Third. We jump into Let’s Pretend, a costume store. Whether you’re a “street hardened tattoo-covered thug or a half-naked pirate ninja,” it’s up to you. Our character decided against the furry costume and went with a full-on, cheesy as hell space man’s getup.
Outside the store, we hop into a nearby car, and by that I mean literally hop through the driver’s side window to get behind the wheel. The team overhauled all the vehicle engines and car handling to ensure driving was “fast, fluid, and fun,” which is always appreciated in a game where the majority of your time is spent in cars. The Third also features a variety of flying vehicles as well, like the super slick, laser-mounted, V.T.A.L (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) jet, one of the choice rides of a private military group known as Stag that appears later on in the game to wage war on the saints. Needless to say, zipping between buildings while inverted in a supersonic jet looks about as cool as you’d think it would.
In addition to traditional vehicles, you’ll, as expected, have access to some completely off the wall ones too. For instance, the Johnny Gat mobile, officially endorsed by the famed saints thug, which features a giant Johnny Gat head as the main cabin with a cigarette-shaped flamethrower sticking out of the grill/mouth. Or the Super Ballistic Professor Genki Manapult, which has a cat-shaped, vacuum for a hood and is capable of inhaling pedestrians, or yourself, and then firing them out of a moveable cannon on the hood. Oh, and it also plays “Stars and Stripes Forever” when you get inside. Of course it does.
For the closing portion of the demo, we saw the game’s first campaign mission, which has the saints, who are all wearing Johnny Gat bobble heads with voice modulators built in, robbing a bank in Stilwater, the setting of the previous game. Upon arrival, and by way of the heavily armed resistance forces they encounter inside, the saints find out this particular bank is owned by the Syndicate. The majority of the ensuing shootout is your standard action fair (humorously punctuated by the saints signing autographs for adoring fans in between bouts of mass murder), however the sequence reaches a particularly spectacular crescendo when the saints hook up cables to the bank’s vault and air lift it out of the building with you riding on top.
As the helicopter lifts you out, you’re exchanging fire with SWAT teams and shooting enemy choppers out of the sky, all the while holding onto the helicopter cables for support. Throughout the shootout, some of the cables snap, causing the vault to tilt and you to slide to various sides where you then hold on and continue unloading on the surrounding enemies stationed on nearby buildings. It's quite simply nuts, and was the perfect way to end our first look at The Third.
Now, just in case there's still any doubt as to just how outrageous Saints Row: The Third is shaping up to be, here's what Donovan had to say regarding his team’s vision for the game.
“From day one, it was to create the most ridiculous, over the top, guilty pleasure experience ever found in a video game. A lot of games these days are going the more realistic route, whereas we’re doing the exact opposite. We want players, when they’re playing this game, to be like, ‘Holy crap! I cannot believe I’m experiencing and doing this, and it’s awesome, and I love it.’ That’s our goal in this game.”
Bludgeoning pedestrians with dildo bats isn't exactly my idea of a good time, but shooting down helicopters while vault surfing sure is, so color me surprisingly intrigued to see more of this batsh*t nutty threequel. E3 2011, anyone?
Saints Row: The Third releases November 15 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.