Eurogamer Expo 2011: Saints Row: The Third hands-on
The Saints Row series has never tried to directly compete with GTA. While both may be a sandbox game about gangs and all things unpleasant, they both approach the subjects from different angles, and more importantly, with different goals. Comedy, whilst having a long-shelf life when done well, reacts very badly to being flogged like a dead horse. That extra season or sequel to a franchise can end in disaster; comedy is the one genre that can actually lose money in film.
Finally getting to play this latest entry has confirmed that this will be no failure. As others playing the game around me stuck to the infinite ammunition and quickly turned to blowing everything up, I tested out some of the features to see what had changed.
The map is now much easier to navigate, with a difficulty level indicator on each activity. Playing it safe I added the co-ordinates for an Escort activity to my GPS with the press of a button and returned to the in-game world. Hijacking a nearby car showed the action from close camera angles as I swung open the door, smashed the driver’s face off the dashboard and threw them out onto the street. Driving well over the speed limit to my nearby destination, there were around six radio stations to choose from; some originals as well as one or two re-branded ones.
Reaching the Escort mission it was soon clear that everything really has been exaggerated. Rather than take a hooker and her clients on a cruise, as in the past games, this time it was a fully grown pet tiger that needed a ride around town. With the giant animal in the passenger seat of my sports car, the mission was to take the wild cat for a ride and return with my face still intact. To try and stop me were two anti-animal cruelty vans and the tiger itself, who didn’t appear very appreciative of my driving and would often swipe for my face with its huge paws, causing me to momentarily lose control of the vehicle.
A new activity was Dr. Genki’s World Dominating Culturally Sensitive & Ethical Laundry Extravaganza (it wasn’t called that but was something close) which dumps you into a warehouse kitted out with traps and guys with guns dressed as hotdogs, energy drinks and bunny rabbits. Those that played the first Red Steel will have an understanding of what this entails. Fight your way through and you’ll be rewarded with a room of presents, such as TVs and tape players. All utter nonsense and a lot of fun, it demonstrated how far the combat has come.
People react to being shot in specific body parts, they’ll duck and weave during a firefight, stumble when being barged into and bounce more convincingly from your car windscreen when you smash into them at 80mph. Air trails follow fired bullets as they zip across street corners and drug dens, unlucky sods on the ground can be stomped upon, and jumping and diving is fluid.
Graphically the game has had a huge overhaul. Its predecessors had always sacrificed good looks and cars that don’t magically appear from nowhere for scale and the sense of a giant city to be controlled. Here, it accomplishes the same goal but creates a much more pleasing and polished view.
Before my time ended with the game there was one last area to be covered: character customisation. The colour palette and options have all been increased, allowing a real control of just how you’ll look. Modifying the main template, I added a moustache, bushy eyebrows, rockabilly hair and nose plaster to create one suave motherfunker. Or, if you wanted, you could create a one hundred year old man with lizard eyes, mohawk, bulging biceps and a bloody nose. It was at this point that one of the staff pointed out the Sex Appeal meter. Ranging from 0-100, this meter allows you to increase the size of their sex appeal. The Cockney gangster voiceover also returns, thankfully, and is this time joined by a zombie accent.
Those that have enjoyed the series so far – for all its flaws – will approach the third entry in the series with open arms. And while one particular car-jacking sequence was a little too brutal and close to home to be funny, everything else hit the mark and it’ll be another ludicrous adventure through Stillwater come November.