Saints Row: The Third Review (PS3)

THQ certainly know where they're heading with the Saints Row franchise. In the run up to this game's release, all kinds of crude humour etched itself across the Internet, backed up by a television advertising campaign that knowingly nodded towards Jersey Shore and other in-you-face sources. In doing this, the series firmly sets itself apart from Grand Theft Auto, whose last outing opted for a fairly serious take on the sandbox genre. With the GTAV trailer doing the rounds, does this sequel do enough to take attention away from Rockstar's big gun?

There's no doubt the 3rd Street Saints have come a long way since their first appearance. No longer a petty street gang, they now possess the appeal of a brand. After their esteemed leader bites the dust, there's plenty of work for you to do in order to regain influence across the city of Steelport. It all starts by creating your new hero, who in true Saints style, can be as wacky as you like. If you fancy roaming the streets as a rotund Englishman who loves to dress up in woman's clothing, now is the time to do it. THQ are often generous with their customisation options, and it's no different here. Whether you want to take control of the Elephant Man or David Beckham, the scope to mould your leader into a truly unique creation is firmly in place.

Nothing to see here...

Customisation is a theme that runs throughout the entire game. After earning certain levels of respect, you'll be able to shape the gang's attire to suit yourself. It's long been a dream to control a feared squad of purple ninjas, but this game makes it a reality within a couple of hours. Abilities such as being able to call in back up allow you to continually expand power as you progress. Where you might have had to try and take over rival gang turf as a lone wolf in the beginning, after a few hours you'll have plenty of support from a cast of truly insane characters. Cars also get the makeover treatment, which means stealing them is incredibly fun. By storing them in a garage they become yours forever, giving you the chance to assemble an impressive fleet. Any gang who have the balls to steal a police car, spray it their colours, and then roll round town in it should be feared.

One of this title's main strengths is it's willingness to mix things up. The supporting cast will continue to offer you jobs for quick cash, many of which provide some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Classic offerings such as Insurance Fraud are in, forcing you to get run over in order to make some fine dollar. Each task is massively fun, as you steal prostitutes, protect friends and cause as much carnage as possible on a regular basis. You even get the chance to star in Professor Genki's game show, which pits you in small arenas against many useless foes, and the opportunity to ride virtual light-cycles past walls of fire in the Trail Blazer mode. Intersperse this with other side options that see you assassinating marked targets or stealing prized vehicles, and the basic structure of the game becomes an addictive one.

There's plenty of cars, aircraft, motorbikes and other vehicles to utilise

With this said, there are plenty of stand-out missions that strive on the insistent crudeness. A handful of characters will not be forgotten, as they continue to help the Saints become the most influential gang in the city. Stand-outs include Oleg, a Russian giant who so happens to be an absolute gentleman, and Zimos, a pimp that communicates via his tracheotomy. Zimos delivers his lines in hilarious auto-tune, giving the entire game a greater sense of ridiculousness. It also points towards Kanye West, who's 'Power' tune plays in a mission that has you base-jumping into another gang's party. It's silly, over-the-top, but bloody good fun. Prepare to drive round the city while a tiger slashes your face, wield a 4 foot sex toy on your foes, and even take control of a special government helicopter/plane hybrid that fires lasers ripped straight from War of the Worlds. Sound mental? It most certainly is.

There's no doubt this series has settled into a formula that works with so much ease, but it does appear to be resting on it's laurels. Causing carnage, dressing up silly, throwing in puns such as “Trojan Whores” and other titbits all provide a chuckle, but it's fairly clichéd for the genre. A few times, the difficulty of missions can spike tremendously, but there's usually something else to get on with while you muster the skills to get past it. The addictiveness of the game runs through even the most basic elements such as buying property, which after a short while, provides a simple route for huge amounts of cash. Mini-objectives will run in the background at all times, such as getting a certain amount of 'Nut Shots', collecting sex dolls and taking photos with adoring fans.

It's interesting to see where THQ have drawn influences from for the game, as there's many references to their WWE franchise, and as mentioned before, the Jersey Shore culture. You can perform a Ric Flair dance, fist pump to your heart's content, and give yourself a Pauly D haircut. There's even a shop owned by “Snooky”, and the chance to perform Zack Ryder's finisher on passers by. It's trivial, but fans will love picking out references.

That's a funny looking sword!

Competitive multiplayer has been thrown away this time round, instead focusing on co-op. It's great to mix things up with friends, but the arrival of survival-based 'Whored' mode isn't enough to excite for too long. It might be entertaining to take and share photos of times spent with others, but this area of the game does feel like it's been brushed over.

Despite it's avid marketing campaign, this sequel doesn't push away from overused sandbox elements as much as it promised. Its attempts to constantly shock are more than welcome in a year that's seen an abundance of games take themselves too seriously. For thorough players there's about 40 hours of content here. It's certainly a ride worth taking, even if on pure silliness alone. In some ways, it's difficult to see where the series can go next, as its crass style has now been stretched so far it'd probably rupture if it dared go any further. With that said, Saints Row: The Third is a consistently thrilling and addictive streak through the sandbox genre's most popular avenues, even if it is as shallow as the 'GTL' lifestyle it strives to promote.

Top Gaming Moment: Certain missions are ridiculously brilliant. I don't want to spoil them!