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

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

You're running through a warzone of your own creation, battering fleeing civilians with a three-foot dildo in between sporadic bouts of old-school breakdancing.

A surprise punch to the testicles sent the Furries into war with the Luchadores; the police are out-gunned by your satellite-based ordnance, and the army are moving to disperse the riot on hoverbikes. You're wearing nothing but cowboy boots and a smile, but at least you have a huge package. This is your brain on Saints Row: The Third.

"There was a gang in Saints Row 2 called The Ronin," says The Third's Producer, Greg Donovan. "We thought players were going to care that these guys were walking around with swords stuck to their backs - that's not realistic! But no - it didn't matter; it was fun. Being over the top resonated with players so in The Third it's like 'this is the game's identity. It's great. Let's take that and apply that vision to everything!'"

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Saints Row 2 was defined not by the missions or by the world, but by the mirth - the kind of sociopathic joy which comes from murdering your way though a shopping mall as an obese fortysomething woman on a quad bike, singing along to A-ha, wearing only a thong. The Third is that, only more - a new world, bigger guns, stranger characters, and a whole new engine. If you've ever asked what happened to GTA's old sense of humour, it's right here. The Third is GTA IV in a world where GTA IV picked up exactly where San Andreas left off.

ROAD WARRIOR
Take a run down the all-new city of Steelport's streets and opportunities spring up. Run
at an old dear and you can land one of a dozen different wrestling moves. Click the right stick near a passer-by and you'll find every weapon in the game has a unique nutshot. Grab someone with a tap of A and you can toss them into traffic. Or off a bridge. Or into a rival gang.

Parked at the side of the road is Professor Genki's cat-faced man cannon which sucks people up and fires them out. Beside it is the Gat Mobile - your sidekick Johnny Gat's personal ride - in the shape of Johnny's head with a flame-throwing cigarette. Walk on and you'll find the stage for 'Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax Gameshow' - a brutal shootout in an electrified arena with a flawless Jesse Venturasoundalike commentary. Further along you'll find a destruction mission, a gang war, and an opportunity to commit insurance fraud by stumbling into traffic like a witless toddler.

Hit the garage and you'll find every car is customisable, from the rims to the roof. They can be painted, outfitted with new bodykits, tuned for performance, and fitted with a nitrous system. "You'll be able to upgrade weapons too," says Donovan. "Not only aesthetics but functional upgrades. Take a grenade launcher, give it faster reload times, bigger clips and more damage."

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Walk into a tattoo shop and you can tat up any part of your body with a hundred different designs; walk into a clothes shop and you can dress yourself as a cowboy, soldier, space marine, lingerie model, or a combination of the above. If you're feeling superficial you can hit the plastic surgeon and change everything from your sex to your age in the best character creator ever. You can browse the community's designs over Live and import your favourites, stealing someone else's picture-perfect version of Hulk Hogan so you don't have to build one from a fiddly guide on GameFAQs.

Except Hulk's in there too, of course, larger than life and running wild with his 24-inch pythons alongside former porn star Sasha Grey and another star or two who are yet to be announced. And yes, your character will still sing along to some of the game's licensed tracks. "One of the game's main pillars was to be over the top," says Donovan. "It has to be like a guilty pleasure, where you're the king of the carnival."

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