Games have started to loosen up a bit – luckily before the onslaught of po-faced war shooters heading our way come autumn. Seeing Saints Row: The Third (SR3) skipping merrily towards us is an unexpected joy. Somewhere between Yakuza, Crazy Taxi and Def Jam’s Fight for New York, lies the glitzy, if brutal, tongue-in-cheek world of ‘The Saints’. Pick your ‘Saint’ and stake your cut of Steelport City. Turf is gained by taking out rival gangs at various flashpoints throughout and building ‘Respect’ along the way. But this time, you start out at the top. With access to jetfighters, personal merchandise and your own brand of energy drink to boot.
There’s no more grinding through the ‘hood’, which is quite possibly one of the reasons I’m most looking forward to it. It marks a shift for the franchise, aiming to ape the successes of another title, and ultimately lose any personality during the journey. Years of gangster games portraying a ‘rags-to-riches’ ascension, with so very little actual character change happening within the protagonists along their journey (aside from the odd sharp suit or comedy helmet). With a generation that’s managed to avoid the wilder drive and shoot titles (aside from the fairly abysmal Wheelman) it's been a while since we've seen a Driver or True Crime. Surprising too, due to the revenue and recognition those generated for an infant PS2.
Where SR3 really seems to let loose is in the ridiculousness stakes. It seems to have finally grown comfortable with its excess and all it took was the ability to carpet bomb and will, and a massive dildo attached to a baseball bat. Developers Volition Inc. really have, to coin a phrase, ‘turned it up to 11’.
With highscore attacks, oversized novelty heads, fastest boosts in cars, tank mayhem mini-games, SR3 is stripping the ridiculous elements from so many games (Burnout's Score attacks, Mercenaries' demolition) and turning them on its head. In fact, it could be about to out-ridicule Capcom’s recent fiesta of excess, Dead Rising 2. How about a pedestrian cannon? If you insist. Handbrake turns at high speed into groups of pedestrians? Go on then. The vocal talents of porn stars and the immortal Terry ‘Hulk’ Hogan? Not since 1998’s Carmageddon do I recall such wilful abandonment of morals. And nothing sums this up better than introducing Professor Genki, brother.
A hangover from the originals is the automotive travel. Getting around Saint's Row isn’t just about getting from A to B – it’s about boosting around city streets, pulling handbrake turns and doing powerslides into groups of pedestrians. Again not since Carmageddon has ignoring the Highway Code been so wilfully encouraged.
I guess the main excitement with SR3 is that the free-roaming waypoint sandbox title seems too on its way out. And good riddance too, Just Cause 2 was way too big. As was Far Cry 2. I spend enough time in my day-to-day life, making decisions and picking my way through the world bit by bit. Call me old fashioned, but I want my game to guide me on a journey. Sure, let me make the odd deviation here and there, but ultimately give me a route. Make diversions feel like just that – a bonus, an Easter egg. Something that’s not impressed upon me, that if I choose to avoid I will not be penalised. An excellent example of this level of potted sandbox was the recent PS3 exclusive InFamous 2. Saints Row has grown from a wannabe free-roaming contender into a potential time-wasting classic. If they can tie this into an engaging story, we might well have a masterpiece on our hands.
Saints Row The Third is out November 15, 2011 on Xbox 360®, PlayStation® 3, PC
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