Although the Saints Row series is not always at the forefront of game development, one thing it cannot be criticised for is its ability to give the player choice. While games like Grand Theft Auto took a rather serious look at crime, Saints Row offered a very cheeky alternative, showing that games can tackle serious themes without having to take themselves too seriously. And it's a theme that's been carried through to Saints Row: The Third in droves.
This is summed up perfectly by the game's opening mission. The Saints have been thrown into stardom since last we left them and are knee deep in a bank heist situation. Decked out in what looks like a bobble head doll costume, the Saints are owning the joint, writing autographs for their fans while rampaging through the bank. An easy feat for such a popular gang. But now, the Saints have their sights set on Steelport where the Deckers, the Morningstars, and the Luchadores roam.
Saints Row: The Third is still open-world and mission based just as the previous game. But this time around Saints Row is looking for shock value. This means robbing banks with helicopters and competing in the Murderbrawl all while earning money and respect. Unlike other gang-focused games on the market, where you pull people out of cars, now you can dive into a car through the front windshield and go on your merry way. And it's this kind of gameplay mechanic that takes Saints Row up a notch. Collecting "Homies" is still very important this time around especially when going up against big league thugs and they're just as wacky as ever.
Customization plays a very big role in Saints Row: The Third. Pretty much everything in the Saints Row universe is customizable from the colour of your new boots to the size of your car wheels. The customisation doesn't stop there though, as it's also possible to customizable weapons and even the city itself. If you want to give your baseball bat a bit more umph, add rusty nails. If you want to intimidate rival gangs deck out each of the properties you own as you play through the game.
With almost everything you do in this game, you'll receive respect points which you can then spend on upgrades like health, new abilities, combat, and so on. It's an interesting mechanic, because gaining respect levels just gives you the option of acquiring abilities - you still have to pay the cash for it.
One of the best ways to earn more respect is to take part in activities that take place all around the city - these are extra to the main story missions. There's insurance fraud, which players just have to throw themselves in front of moving vehicles in order to rank up medical bills, guardian angel where you protect other Saints from gangs, and then there's Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax which is basically a cross between a Japanese game show and Saw - it's wonderful. In other words, there's plenty of crazy stuff to do in Saints Row: The Third.
If you're feeling a bit bored of playing by yourself, there are a few other modes which should tickle your fancy like co-op where you can play the entire Saints Row: The Third game with a friend. There's also Whored Mode which gives you 3 maps and 30 increasingly difficult waves of enemies who are actually sex slaves armed with very suggestive looking bats.
After having a look at the final build of Saints Row: The Third it's clear that Volition has taken the time to make an experience that's much more focussed. Don't take that the wrong way though, because it's made the game more wacky as a result. So if you've got a hankering for an off-the-wall sandbox experience, be sure to check out Saints Row: The Third when it releases on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC on the 15th of November.