Saints Row: The Third and doughnuts for dinner

Saints Row: The Third is like a doughnut, and I'm trying to decide if that's a good thing. I mean, everybody loves doughnuts -- I know I do. They're fluffy, sometimes sticky and mostly made of sugar and butter, two of the best-tasting foods around. And a proper doughnut, maybe with a morning coffee or during a meeting break, can really hit the spot, giving you that extra burst of energy that you need.

But they're not that good for you. A regular Krispy Kreme alone runs up to 300 calories or more. Doughnuts are great as an occasional pick-me-up, but you'd be in trouble if you started eating nothing but doughnuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, right?

Which brings us to Saints Row: The Third.%Gallery-136917% "There's nothing like this game," THQ's Danny Bilson said to gathered press while introducing Saints Row: The Third at a recent preview event. "In fact, I'm not sure there should be anything like this game." And this is the Executive VP of Core Games we're talking about. The Saints Row team has designed this title around nothing but fun, and I mean nothing. "There's no concern for taste," as Bilson himself put it, "no concern for morals -- it's all about the fun factor."

The opening scene doesn't waste any time. The Saints gang are celebrities now, but still somehow find the time to rob a bank. Just a few minutes in, you're hanging off the side of a vault that's in the middle of being airlifted out by a helicopter, while shooting hordes of cops trying to bring you down. About ten minutes in, you'll shoot the cockpit window of a Boeing 747 in freefall, jump inside and fall through the plane only to pop out the other side and back into freefall. It's pure nonsense, and it only gets more nonsensical from there.

Most games in the Grand Theft Auto style don't put you behind the wheel of a tank until the last few missions -- Saints Row: The Third does it in the fifth, where you open up a series of missions whose goal is to just cause as much mayhem as possible. And while you do eventually get to a more standard storyline, it never, ever settles down, whether you're chasing a completely naked fat man through a facility full of clones, or trying to rescue a guy (who only speaks in autotune) from a sex dungeon where they hold human-powered chariot races.

I only played about four hours of Saints Row: The Third, which means I didn't get to see the hovercraft army invade, or get in any dildo fights, or play through all of the Professor Genki levels, where your character is on a Japanese game show where the goal is to kill as many people in pink animal mascot uniforms as possible. But you probably get the idea by now.

I also got to see the game's co-op "Whored Mode" (obviously), in which two players can take on waves of various enemies with weapons mutated in various ways. One wave, for example, has you taking on zombies with nothing but a shotgun, while another features a wave of all women of various sizes. Another wave gives you a flamethrower and sends you after minaturized enemies, while yet another has you beating up guys in gimp suits with a pink dildo.

In short, Saints Row: The Third is nuts. It goes out of its way to be offensive and crass. The plot ranges from generally implausible to all-out absurdity. There is no way that it's good for you -- it doesn't challenge any long-held ideas about games, or really innovate in its gameplay or structure.

At the same time, Saints Row: The Third is fun. We all know the urban, open-world game type that Grand Theft Auto 3 pioneered, and in Saints Row 3, those old tropes are put to full use. There are no filler missions here -- each one is nuttier and crazier than the last. There are some nice customization systems for your clothing and your collected vehicles, and they allow you to really personalize the game.

The hero you create, whether dressed up in a finely pressed suit or just a thong and bunny ears, shows up in cutscenes and moves through the world with ease. And while the bugs that have famously plagued the series are definitely not gone (at least in this pre-final version), even they seem to fit into the craziness. I once came across a semi-truck that had implanted itself vertically in the pavement, and had a few enjoyable minutes trying to get it unstuck before I blew it up with grenades.

Saints Row: The Third is loaded with metaphorical butter and sugar -- it's full of the kinds of things that are supposed to be bad for you. Even my fellow jaded game journalists and I shook our heads when we saw some of the modes and enemies rushing out into combat in Whored Mode. But like the occasional doughnut, it was uncomplicated, fluffy, and fun. But will we be able to stomach nothing but doughnuts for every meal of the day? We'll find out when Saints Row: The Third comes out on November 15.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.