In an amusing move, each weapon has its own unique melee attack, with the twist being that every single one is a shot to the crotch. They range from a simple, forceful pistol-whip to the cobbles to more elaborate twirls that nevertheless still end up splitting somebody's atoms.
The attacks are unisex, which can be a little uncomfortable, but even if you're clever enough to beat Stephen Fry at Scattergories it's hard not to giggle as your character rolls over the back of a startled businessman and, very purposefully, plants a foot on his daddy button. If that all wears thin for you, there are running dropkicks and a quick-time event-based unarmed combat system for more conventional brawling / being a dick.
Mastering the standard combat skills is only half the battle when it comes to the story. Volition is tired of standard open-world missions that simply fill a neighbourhood with goons and ask you to clean it out. According to the team, around 10% of missions in Saints 2's featured a genuinely unique activity - this time the aim is for 75% to feature something fresh or unexpected.
The second mission, which also serves as your introduction to Steelport, is a prime example. The Saints are riding high after the events of SR2 and are top dogs in Stilwater... to the point where they've become energy drink-peddling celebs. Who said Rockstar have the monopoly on satire, eh?
Then, during what should have been a routine bank job, an actor - tagging along to learn how to play Johnny Gat in a movie. Yes. - triggers the silent alarm. The Saints go down. It then emerges the bank is owned by The Syndicate, a collection of gangs headed by the leader of the Morning Star faction, the irascible Belgian Philippe Loren.
Loren's annoyed the Saints made a run at the bank, but likes their style and invites them aboard his private jet to offer them a chance to join The Syndicate. The deal is in exchange for 66% of their profits. Unsurprisingly, you (as the leader of the Saints) tell him to park his offer up his derrière, kicking off an enormous, mile-high shootout. So far, so standard.
ONE STEP BEYOND
Things shake up when your mate Shaundi stumbles out of the plane, which is shedding cargo and SUVs at an alarming rate. So you strap on a parachute and give chase, skydiving between the falling crates and cars, flipping face up to blast pursuing heavies. It's a dramatically ridiculous moment worthy of a Just Cause game, and if you ever played MDK on PSone, expect an injection of warm, fuzzy nostalgia. But you're not done yet.
Catching Shaundi should signal the end of your worries, but the jet swings around and bears down on your chute. In a brilliant moment, you decide the solution is to drop Shaundi, shatter the windscreen of the jet, sail through the interior capping the survivors, grab another parachute and drop once again after your plummeting gang mate.
It's huge, exhilarating and the banter between you and the incredulous Shaundi is brilliantly written to boot. And that's where Saints Row: The Third is going to win the cynical over. It seems exactly the kind of violent nonsense that has tabloid hacks frothing (at least until 5:30pm), but it's nowhere near as stupid as it pretends to be. Yes it's crass, enormously so, but it has the keen sense of fun that is missing from so many games in these grim, portentous, times.
This is design with the brakes off - if someone pipes up in a development meeting with an idea and it makes everyone laugh, say the devs, it goes in the game. The sandbox genre is a breeding ground for this kind of unfettered creativity. It's all playable in online co-op, too - doubling the maniac potential.
For all the technical excellence and emotional depth of Rockstar's worlds, sometimes you just want to blow things up, land helicopters on your mates and cackle. There's a reason why people falling into wedding cakes are more popular on YouTube than epics about xenophobia. It's the same reason most of us play games. And it's the same reason we can't wait for Saints Row: The Third - y'know, it just seems like it'll be funny.
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