Though the original Saints Row was thought by many to be riding the epic crime coattails of Grand Theft Auto, the video game’s 2008 sequel did an admirable job of beginning to develop its own over-the-top identity.

THQ’s Volition studio reaches its gang-warfare glory with Saints Row: The Third ($59.99, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3), a ridiculously fun and action-filled urban crime game that avoids the trap of taking itself too seriously. Sure, it's violent, gratuitous and can be offensive at times, but that's why it carries an “M” rating.

As the main character known simply as The Protagonist, you are given total control over the look and sound of your persona through an expansive character customization sequence.

The Saints, having conquered Stilwater in previous installments, have evolved into a media-savvy commercial empire with their logo appearing on everything from body spray to energy drinks.

The adrenaline rush hits quickly as you, Johnny Gat, Shaundi and a tagalong don oversized Johnny Gat masks for an attempted heist of a heavily fortified bank. Things do not go as planned, and your crew winds up in the hands of the Syndicate, whose leader offers freedom in exchange for a hefty cut in revenue.

Not wanting to become Syndicate pawns, the Saints cut loose and resettle in the Syndicate-controlled city of Steelport. The gang first sets up a crib in Shaundi's old apartment, but don't worry, within a few missions you will be admiring a breathtaking view of the city from a roomy penthouse apartment suite with an attached heliport.

Completing missions earns both respect and money, and you also can build your hourly income by buying real estate and businesses. And there are plenty of cool weapons, vehicle upgrades and custom clothing on which to spend that newfound cash.

Saints Row: The Third provides a wide-open playground in which to explore, inflict mayhem and, of course, carjack. Most of the primary missions are downright intense. Many of the added side missions tap into the game's lighter side. Primary and side missions can be accessed using your smartphone, which acts as a central organizing tool and allows you to call on your growing cadre of homies.

The game offers a well-constructed co-op mode, allowing players to tackle the story line with an online partner, and a gratuitous take on first-person shooters' hoard modes, which is easily skipped.

Saints Row: The Third is an outrageous romp that should, with occasional trips off the beaten path, provide a solid 20 to 30 hours of entertainment.