Okay, I’ll just come right out and admit it. I’m not a fan of the Saints Row franchise. The previous two games didn’t exactly blow me away. They seemed cheap compared to the Grand Theft Auto series and even in Saints Row 2, the control system felt clunky and outdated. They had attitude and there was some fun to be had there, but the lack of polish made it hard to enjoy.

With that track record, I wasn’t expecting much from Saints Row: The Third, despite the hype surrounding it. I was even planning to let it pass me by entirely – which, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t do. Yes, I was wrong, and Saints Row: The Third managed to exceed my limited and unfair expectations. It’s really, really good.

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Saints Row: The Third picks up shortly after the events of SR2. Having conquered Stilwater, the Saints have grown from a gang into a huge media empire with movie deals and merchandise, the works. Unfortunately, that kind of success didn’t escape the notice of the Syndicate, a massive international crime group that decided the Saints owe them tribute. Predictably, negotiations didn’t go well and the Syndicate boss retaliated by crippling the Saints’ empire. Looks like you’ll have to start at the bottom again, building up your army until you’re strong enough to face the Syndicate again and show them that the Saints are nobody’s bitches.

What this means is that you get to engage in a veritable titty-bar-buffet of illegal activities, mass destruction and sinfully enticing side quests. Huge gunfights, tank battles, drug peddling, dangerous street races, car customisation, assassinations… you’ll have to do all of these things at one time or another. As you defeat rival gangs and buy up all the territory in each area, you’ll be able to increase the size of your gang and outfit them better, meaning you’ll have more soldiers to call on to help you out in difficult missions.

Sounds about the same as last time, right? So what makes it so much better? Everything, that’s what. The control system is slick and modern, the vehicle physics feel much better, the combat is fast and furious, right down to the melee attacks and it’s all presented with such over-the-top gaudiness that it’s impossible not to be amused. The cast of characters is as likeable as they are detestable and they have some truly priceless dialogue. The level of character customisation available puts most other games to shame – and not just on the customisation of your character’s body and looks, but in the sheer amount of clothing items you can mix and match. You can even run around completely (completely!) naked if you want.

Add to this that you can play the entire campaign with a friend in co-op or even team up to take on waves of zombie hookers in “Whored Mode” and you’ve got a whole keg full of debauched distractions to engage in, proving once again the timeless adage: it’s good to be bad.

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