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Saints Row: The Third: Pure, ridiculous fun

Malice in wonderland

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Funny games are few enough. Games where the humour is authored by the player are even thinner on the ground. SRTT is as important for the industry as Heavy Rain, because gaming has to be ridiculous as well as sublime. We're naturally inclined to value high-minded projects over ones that appeal to more basic instincts, and to some extent we're even hypocritical about what we enjoy.

Every man alive has watched porn, but few would talk about it in company - and God forbid you should praise it. Not that SRTT is directly comparable to porn... though it does have former porn star Sasha Grey on voice acting duties, plus a 'quality control' team that consists of Penthouse Pets.

Ours is an age of pop culture where the ultimate brands are people, and SRTT is just a mirror of that trend: a place where Hulk Hogan is on one side of the street, shouting at Sasha Grey on the other.

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It's often said that Saints Row doesn't quite have the satirical bite to go with this, but think about it: Steelport is a place where ordinary people's lives are viewed as collateral damage in battles between giant corporations obsessed with nothing more than cash and power. Any of that sounding familiar to you?

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You could probably go even deeper than that. The question you should ask, as you wonder why Professor Genki has the Cheshire Cat's face, is how far down the rabbit hole you should go? We're not suggesting for a minute that Saints Row is a towering example of intellectual satire. But it sure is ballsy enough to target the more atavistic part of your brain and offer it maximum pleasure.

When the game is criticised for its concept, in one sense it's gaming that's being commented on - base humour and an appeal to destructive impulses are dismissed, even within the industry, as childish and stupid. Escapism is fine, apparently, as long as you don't have too much fun doing it or - perish the thought - do things that wouldn't be appropriate in real life.

The real world is often a lousy place, though. There are wars everywhere, endless economic woes, panic on the streets of London, and hangovers get worse as you get older. Indulging your inner child is simply one way of staying sane, and when we get right down to brass tacks, nothing in Saints Row is as crass as real American politics.

Why shouldn't games be about massacring the populations of virtual cities? They're not real. Who could pass by a stack of dominoes without thinking about toppling them? The greatest compliment you can pay Saints Row The Third is that the GTA comparison, so easy to reach for, no longer feels relevant.

This series is now dancing to a different tune. It's not the most sophisticated, perhaps, but you feel it in your bones for what it is - all fun, all the time, and utterly irresistible for it.

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