Are you ready to get your gangster on? because 'Saints Row' has been released, and I've been exploring the dangerous streets of Stillwater for hours on end. Saints Row is not a clone of 'Grand Theft Auto,' as it has been pigeonholed, but a GTA inspired action game. For the first time Rockstar might have a strong competitor in the gangster gaming market. There's a new kid on the block.
The 3rd street gang, 'The Saints' are about to bring the pain to the rival gangs in the fictional city of Stillwater. In this tale of street gangs, drug lords, and pop diva's, you will have the chance to cause a lot of mayhem and gain the respect of your fellow hoodlums. Saints Row doesn't pull any punches and right from the opening you'll know you're in for a violent adventure in the degenerate world of street gangs. You'd better be ready for some sex, drugs and rock n' roll, well hip hop, guns, and girls.
When thinking about Saints Row, I really didn't want to reference Grand Theft Auto at all, but that is nearly impossible, first because they are very similar, and two because there are no other games of this type. True Crime is the only other game that has come close to Grand Theft Auto, but that's not even a proper comparison. Saints Row is the first game to rival the almighty GTA series, and if they continue with the Saints Row title we might have a new lead pimp one day.
It's all about respect
The theme behind Saints Row is all about gang notoriety, respect, and taking power from other rival gangs in the city. Like Grand Theft Auto the world is a free roam large environment that you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. There is a main story with revolves around three rival gangs, The West Side Rollerz, Los Carnales, and the Vice Kings. These main storylines have around 10 missions each that are varied and filled with in game cut-scenes. You can also do other mini-games in Saints Row which are labeled as "activities". There is definitely a lot to do in Saints Row and it won't be long before you unlock the achievement of playing Saints Row for 20hrs.
The activities or mini-games are all broken down into categories and are accessible through varies locations in Stillwater. Each Activity has an introduction cut scene and then leads into eight submissions for every Activity location. When you complete a grouping of eight you will be rewarded with an unlockable item, characters boosts, or cheaper prices at stores. To finish all these mini-games you're probably looking at the same amount of time that it would take you to finish the main story mode. This pushes Saints Row into an easy twenty to thirty hour game.
I'll tell you a little bit about the ten different "activities" in Saints Row. Each activity usually requires you to be in and out of cars and when getting up in the levels it can get challenging. The self explanatory missions are Demolition Derby, Racing and Hijacking. Then they get a little more interesting with "Escort" missions that require you to drive around a hooker a her client while being chased by the media and usually a girlfriend or wife. These missions usually have some funny dialog lines and they will require hit unique objectives like damaging your car while driving, or dropping the client off a specific place. Continuing with the ladies is the "Snatch" levels. The Snatch levels which ultimate reward is a pimping out fit, weapon and car are my personal favorite. For these missions you have to drive rescue hoes from pimps and drop them off at a waypoint. The interesting thing about these missions is that you will have to make multiple trips while fighting off a rival gang and usually the 5-0.
Finishing off the activities is "Drug Trafficking", "Hitman", "Chop Shop", "Insurance Fraud" and "Mayhem". Out of these five mini-games, Insurance Fraud would be my pick. During this activity you have to go to a designated area on the map and jump in front of traffic to do injure yourself. The goal is to hit a dollar amount in injuries so you can sue for the big bucks. The rag-doll physics really come into play here and multipliers are given for distance and combo hits. It's a lot of fun and you'll have a few laughs as you bounce all over the pavement. I'll let you figure out the other mini-games if you grab a copy of Saints Row, I can't spoil it all.
Saints Row also has a few areas where you can work over the cosmetics of your character and your ride. Upgrading your car really serves no purpose other than looking cool; you can upgrade everything from rims to custom colours. This section of the game really isn't too deep, certainly not at the level of Need for Speed. This small addition is like San Andreas and its car modes. In an innovative twist Saints Row put a respect meter that goes along with how well you're dressed. If you where the colour purple, the Saints colours, your rating will go up and in turn you will gain more respect when completing missions. The clothing aspect is pretty impressive with three layers of shirts, socks, hats, glasses; everything is included down to piercing and bling bling. The only downfall to buying outfits besides blowing your cheddar is that the variety is lacking, and because you'll be stuck wearing a suit just so you can earn more respect. THQ has released "The Funky Fresh" download over the Xbox Marketplace which has some new threads, so if this gets to you, buying extra content is a option.
Saints Row also has some other cool elements built into the gameplay. One is that you can have gang members ride with you to help you complete missions and you also have a phone where you can call up friends to help you out. The phone is also how you activate cheats. Just a note, if you are going to use cheats like spawning cars it will deactivate your ability to earn achievements.
One area where Saints Row can be separated from Grand Theft Auto is online. In this respect they are a step a head then the similar GTA. The multiplayer offers up some generic gameplay that is disused as funky names like Protect the Pimp (Escort), Gangsta Brawl (Deathmatch) and Big Ass Chains (Capture the Flag). Saints Row also has two levels which you can play co-op with a friend. Co-Op is a good feature, too bad it's a little limited. Saints Row although generic in its online modes has one innovate feature where you gain cash online to purchase clothing for your character. The clothes are real expensive, but this is one way to see who the newbie's and veterans are online. Winning match online obviously gives you more cash, so it's a nice extra incentive for the skilled gangster.
For the majority, Saints Row is free from any major problems. Yet, there are a few small details that could be improved. First would be the handling of the vehicles. The cars feel like they have no weight, they jerk around too easily which makes them seem unrealistic. Added to the loose driving is the difficult shooting mechanics while driving. Saints makes you use the right thumbstick for targeting which can get a little difficult when you're under pressure. Another area that needs to be adjusted is the value of money. Everything is really expensive, from the ammo to the clothing. I didn't even bother buying ammo because it's priced between $1'000 and $ 2'000 dollars. Some balancing must be done from the prices to the rewards from missions. These flaws are minor and just need some tweaking, besides some extras gamers want added like Motorcycles, Saints Row is pretty solid.
The production is A class material. Saints Row is slick and the world created is full of life and detail. Having Saints Row on the Xbox 360 has really done away with a lot of problems that would normally face this type of open world environments. The most obvious bonus besides the overall gaphic boost is that you don't have any load times while you run through the city. The only loading sequences are when you go into a mission or activity. Only a times with a large amount of characters or cars on the screen did I see a little bit of stutter. For the most part Saints Row runs smoothly without any hiccups.
The only negative side to the graphics would be the facial animations and the draw distance. Saints Row also has a limited time an item says in the world before it vanishes into thin air. For example if you stop or blow up a car then move in the other direction, when you turn around the car might still be their or it might be gone. This usually is more frequent during missions where there is more action then normal. Again these are little visual issues, overall I was impressed with the visuals.
Hollywood has stepped in to give Saints Row that extra touch in the voice over department. Michael Clarke Duncan (Green Mile), Keith David (Al Simmons in the Spawn Animated series), Tina Carrere (Wayne 's World), Mila Kunis (That 70s Show) and a pile of other celebrates help give cut scenes a stronger impact. Each character is matched up and suits the in game character which makes the whole product have a more cinematic appeal.
Aside from the voice over work the rest of the audio is top notch. I especially liked the sound of the guns and the sound of the impact of a bullet. When firing against metal, glass, or even into furniture we get an accurate duplication of the real deal. This is one little thing which goes a long way. Volition also use the GTA formula of radio stations in Saints Row which is filled with an impressive line up of songs, I had a good laugh when "Seventeen" from Winger came on the air waves. The on air DJs and commercials also have that comedy edge which is helps lighten up the overall mood of Saints Row.
Saints Row isn't going to be crowned the new Grand Theft Auto, but it doesn't have to be. The overall production and core gameplay make Saints a fun and engaging. From start to finish I was pretty addicted and had a great time rolling around the streets of Stillwater , pimped out and causing trouble. Saints Row has lived up to its expectations and proves that someone besides Rockstar can make a decent open world gangster game.
Reviewed by DowntownJimmy | 10.09.06