Rockstar beware: Saints Row: The Third is the most technically impressive sandbox game we've ever seen.
Running at a super-smooth framerate, our Volition demonstrator is able to Tombstone an innocent pedestrian into the pavement, spark a hellish shootout with a neighbouring street gang, hop into the cockpit of a tooled-up jet fighter and then blast Ace Combat-style into the horizon, before dropping a bomb onto a skyscraper.
It looks as mental as it is technically accomplished, with later gameplay sequences shown to CVG featuring both a helicopter blowing up the side of a building in an Uncharted-calibre set-piece, and a granny getting beaten to death by a giant purple dildo.
Once we caught our breath, we sat down with lead writer Drew Holmes, who shed some light on how the THQ developer's managed to get all this madness running on screen at once, and what-on-earth was deemed too obscene to make the final game.
The Third looks incredibly polished already. We take it you've benefited from the extra year of development time over previous Saints Row entries?
I think we've benefited ultimately from giving the engine team enough time to get the tools ready so we can actually start building the gameplay and have that iteration time. What you're seeing in terms of the polish level of that game... a lot of time went in in terms of getting the engine right, getting the tools right and then letting the team really go nuts in terms of what they wanted to do.
Was it quite difficult to get it to the stage it is now? It's really impressive how smooth it runs with so much going on...
I don't want to speak directly for the engine team but the toolset that we have has made things a lot easier compared to Saints Row 1 and 2, in terms of pulling off the things that we want to. I think the other big thing in terms of our ability to do something like this is having our own cohesive vision and clear goals that we want to strive for.
With Saints Row 2 often it would be schizophrenic in terms of the tone of the game and what we wanted to push for, and so I think at times the game was fighting itself in terms of what it wanted to be... like the whacky activities and storyline that wasn't really in line with that. This time around we know everything needs to be crazy, everything needs to be over the top and so we can start deciding a lot earlier how we're going to get that to come across in the missions.
Are you starting to feel limited by current console hardware?
You'd always like more RAM and you'd always like a stronger video card, but I think what we're seeing now is we know what the limitations are and because of that we can really start to work design-wise in terms of how we're going to create a unique experience. Tech is tech, now it's about who's going to have the most unique design and who's going to be able to innovate in cool and crazy ways.
How important is narrative in The Third as opposed to previous Saints Rows?
It's a lot more important in terms of the world building and the universe. I think the universe is a lot more cohesive and fleshed out than we might've had it in the past. We spent a lot of time coming up with the brands that fill the universe of Steelport and what that is, where it came from and how the Saints are affecting everything. I think the new characters that we're introducing are some of the best ones that we've had yet in Saints Row. They keep with the crazy over the top mould, but they're a lot more fleshed out and three-dimensional. The narrative is just stronger and more fleshed out than we've ever had before.