Previews

Saints Row: The Third - Massive hands-on amps our anticipation

The silliest sandbox yet is built for maximum pleasure...

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It all culminates in this insane mission where he's pulling you in the rickshaw while you're being pursued by an army of rickshaws pulled by your enemies. Later on in the game we have a sky-diving mission in an actual tank," he continues. Like the A-Team movie? Donovan laughs. "We came up with that before we knew the A-Team set piece! Great minds think alike, I guess."

All this insanity is critical to rebuilding the Saints' reputation in their new city and taking down The Syndicate. Block by block, the Saints begin taking over the town by destroying local gang strongholds, making contacts - like Zimos or Hulk Hogan and his 24-inch pythons - buying tattoo shops and skyscrapers, and even demolishing entire buildings to make way for their own HQ.

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Almost lost amongst all the talk of nutshots and pro-wrestling takedowns, there's a real game in here, where every mission is as big and as complex and as bizarre as anything you've ever seen in an open world game.

"And that's tough," says Donovan. "You can have a player who does activities and builds up their respect level and they can get a lot of cash and upgrade their weapons very early in the game. The more respect you earn the more perks you get. Saints Row 2's perks were just kind of forced upon you but the designers rightfully said, if this game is about choice then that's kinda dumb, so let's improve it. So now we have a perks shop, broken up into vehicles, homies, weapons, skill, and so on.

"So if someone levels up a long way early on, you could make the argument they're breaking the game, but I want them to play it how they want to play it so we've had to live with that, and then do some balancing if you're using seriously powerful weapons.

If you're very powerful, the enemies need to behave appropriately. Suffice to say it's a very challenging thing, but this is the team's third open world game and they're good at it."

DUMB - BO!
The Third isn't Smarter Xbox Gaming - anything but. This is Dumber Xbox Gaming made by a team smart enough to make the stupidest clever game ever. The Third is a world filled to the brim with absolute nonsense, all running in a rock-solid engine where jets can cross the entire city in minutes without the slightest streaming hiccup, and where the tallest building tops out at double the highest point in Saints Row 2.

It's the biggest, silliest sandbox ever made and it's being made bloody well. It might not look it next to the rest of November's big games, but Saints Row The Third is big, and it is clever; it's too well-made with too many good ideas to be anything else. In a month when Modern Warfare will be unleashing the full spectacle of World War III and Skyrim will continue the weightiest fantasy mythology in gaming, The Third will be punching a fat man while dressed as a pirate.

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"Yeah, it's a guilty pleasure," reaffirms Donovan. But is it one he's proud of? "Oh yeah, of course I am!" he insists. "And I just want people to play it how they play it. If you go through the narrative and play it straight from mission to mission to mission, that's great. If you want to mess around in the sandbox and play activities here and there, that's great too.

"I think the tone and the humour and the vision of what we've implemented sets it apart from other games. I think that's great for us and that's great for players too. It's the alternative; it's a very good alternative."

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