Review by mtgrnwdstar

Reviewed: 09/12/06

Wait, first a good Tomb Raider game, and now a great GTA "clone"? What's this world coming to?

Once Saints Row was announced, no doubt tons of gamers were going "Oh boy, another half-assed GTA clone is on its way." And who could blame them? The closest anyone came to matching GTA was True Crime, and Activision totally drove that franchise into the ground. With the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, that opened the way for the ‘Gangsta’ genre. 25 To Life was absolutely atrocious, and the less said about Crime Life: Gang Wars, the better. In short, no game could ever match the quality of the GTA games, with some games being so bad that they damaged the quality and reputation of the open-world genre as a whole. Thanks, 25 to Life.

So now that we've established the failure of almost every attempt to beat GTA at its own game, we arrive at Saints Row, developed by Volition Inc., and published by THQ.

When you start off the game, you’re prompted to create your own character, from the ground up. The level of detail you have in creating your character is astounding, rivaling WWE’s Create-A-Wrestler modes. Want a fat black guy with a green mullet with Dumbo ears? Go ahead. Want to make a clone of Chuck Norris? Feel free. How about an Asian with an Afro? The possibilities are endless. The only bad thing is that you’re not allowed to create women, which would have been a nice possibility, seeing as all the other gangs have female members.

After creating your man, the game proper starts. You’re just Joe Somebody walking down the street when you encounter a gang shootout sparked by someone tagging over a rival gang’s tag. The lead flies, the bodies fall, and finally, after an intense battle, there is one man left standing. He can’t have any witnesses. So he points the gun at you, and no doubt your character is thinking “Oh. Crap, I’m dead,” while you yourself are ahead of the game and just waiting for the inevitable rescue. Suddenly, the punk hits the floor in a lifeless heap, and you are indeed rescued by the purple-clad 3rd Street Saints. Funny, I thought I was supposed to hate gangs in purple, if GTA: SA taught me anything.

Julius is the head honcho of the Saints. He reminds me of someone…hmm, I wonder who. I think if he said something about getting mother-effin’ snakes off this mother-effin’ plane, I’d remember. You also have Johnny Gat, a free spirit who shoots first and thinks later; Dex, the strategist of the group, Lin, a spy who’s on the inside of a rival gang and relays info back to the Saints, and Troy, the more sensible and down-to-earth member.

The game is set in the city of Stilwater, with a variety of neighborhoods contained within. You have the high-class neighborhoods, such as Nob Hill and Atlantis Avenue, you have the middle-class Barrio, and you have the projects, downtown area, industrial areas, suburbs, and the lower-class ‘hoods. The city isn’t what you would call immense, but it’s easy to get lost, and each area has its own distinct ‘feel’ which adds to the atmosphere of the game.

There are four gangs vying for total control of Stilwater. Alongside the Saints (your gang), you have the red-wearing Los Carnales. Led by Angelo and Hector Lopez, they deal with the Columbians and are the oldest gang in Stilwater. Next are the yellow-donning Vice Kings, led by Benjamin King, a very powerful man who is in cahoots with City Hall, as well as dominates the media scene. To round it out, you have the Westside Rollerz, a street-racing gang known by their blue colors and their penchant for fast cars and setting up races around the city. That’s pretty much the background for the game, and it’s up to you to discover the entertaining (if cliché) story (to say nothing of the game itself) within.

Gameplay: 9/10
After a brief (but painful) initiation, you are in charge of yourself. Right off the bat, you can choose to go to work on the missions, or you can build your respect and bank account by doing “Activities”, mostly of the illegal variety. The way Respect works in this game, is that it is used as a currency of sorts. Once you fill up the bar, you can unlock one mission/stronghold. Respect carries over, so if you fill it up three times by doing a plethora of activities, you can tackle three missions/strongholds without having to refill the meter. Convenient, is it not?

As far as these activities go, besides the ubiquitous Racing and Mayhem (think ‘Rampage’) activities, there’s also a new selection of side quests that will burn the hours away as well as any social life you may have accumulated over the years.

You have Hitman, where you’re a, well, hitman, hired to kill certain people with certain weapons (Dress your guy as Agent 47 to get the full effect). Another new addition is Insurance Fraud, where you have to jump in front of speeding cars to earn a specified amount of cash in a time limit. A great opportunity to see the rag doll physics in action, and arguably the most fun mini-game in a free-roamer I’ve ever played. There’s many more, like performing holdups, taking hostages, and burglarizing stores. I’ll leave it up to you to discover and play them.

The aiming system in this game is *read this, Rockstar!*, HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE! Using the right analog stick to aim my weapon just felt so natural. It was a first-person control set in a third-person world. However, I think that there could be a better solution for shooting while driving. It’s a step in the right direction, but it was really hard to shoot accurately while behind the wheel. It was like me trying to type this review while juggling eggs and riding a unicycle. But at least on foot (or when you’re shooting while in the passenger seat), aiming is all skill-based, which is how it should be. But next time, Volition, maybe try to research a better system for shooting while driving.

Now, about those missions…you can perform them in any order you choose. There are a few missions that will have you screaming out loud and slamming your controller in frustration, but those are few and far between. The majority of the missions are great fun and make you feel like a bad-ass as you unload shotgun shell after shotgun shell into a gang member’s face.

This game, as opposed to the GTA series, is very lenient in terms of mission failure. Instead of having to reload after every failed mission in order to keep your weapons or whatnot, if you fail a mission in Saints Row, you’re given the option to automatically retry from the beginning, with all the weapons and money you had when you initiated the mission. It takes away a bit of the challenge, but in the same token, it saves a lot of money in broken controllers, and you’ll be thanking the developers for this feature, especially if you’re like me and kept failing certain missions. It saved me from putting this game back in its box and not playing it for months. Even if you do die outside of a mission, you keep all your weapons, but you lose a percentage of your money. Same with getting arrested. It’s a truly remarkable relief to be able to create chaos and destruction without worrying about dying or getting arrested, where you would have to spend even more money and time re-equipping yourself in GTA.

The Gang AI in this game is great. If you’re walking down the street and you get chased by a cop, just simply run near some of your 3rd Street homies. They’ll give the cop a rather severe beating for trying to mess with a fellow Saint. Or if you get ambushed near home territory by a rival gang, lead them towards your turf, and be surprised as 3-4 fellow Saints draw their guns and lend their firepower to save your skin. Impressive.

Also, if one of your homies bites it during a mission (or in general), you have 30 seconds to resuscitate him. How do you resuscitate a dead homie? Pour a 40 oz. bottle over his limp body. Once you do, he jumps back on his feet as if that explosion that set his body ablaze and sent him flying down 5 city blocks didn’t faze him at all. Dang, that must be some REALLY good booze. I’ll have to try that and see if it works, once I’m on my deathbed. All realism aside, this prevents the game from taking itself too seriously, and makes it easier to get back in the middle of the fray and back to having fun should a minor mishap occur, like your death. It’s all about the fun, and this game has it in spades. Final score? 9 out of 10. Very well-executed.

Graphics: 8/10

The Xbox 360 is capable of beautiful graphics, and this game proves it. The graphics aren’t perfect, but they are much more detailed than you are used to in a game like this. Car damage is much more detailed, with dents clearly visible and mirrors that can go flying if you sideswipe someone. The water’s ripple effect is beautiful, and buildings have a lot of detail to them, unfortunately, with a great deal of pop-up, which is something I’ve gotten used to. Love free-roamers, love their pop-up, I say. The shadow and lighting in the game is nothing short of phenomenal. Just go to your nearest Rim Jobs (the car customization garage), and look at the variety of colors, namely the Iridescent shades. Look at the shine and the colors change in the light. You will be in awe. Also, all the pedestrians look almost all different! There are a few repeats, but it’s not an entire city population filled with 7,000 copies of the same 7 people. Kudos for that.

There were a few instances where the road just disappeared out from under me, but that was rare. In all, the graphics are probably going to end up one of those deals where right now, it’s spectacular, but we’ll look back on it 10 years from now and we’ll say “what on Earth were we thinking?” But for now, it’s great graphics. 8/10.

Audio: 9/10

First things first. I played this game with the aid of the built-in MP3 player that plays my tracks that I burned into my 360. At least according to me, for a game like this, nothing sets the mood for blowing some gang members to smithereens quite like Eminem’s “Soldier” or other imported tracks. So I really cannot give a great review of the audio. However, in the few instances that I did have it off (say, if I failed a mission, wherein the MP3 player would automatically turn off, which annoyed me, because I’d have to turn it back on, and sometimes I was too lazy to do so), I noticed a lot of conversation. The pedestrians were quite vocal, and would sometimes catch me off guard. I still remember the time I jacked a ride, and as I pulled away, the driver yelled to me “The insurance is in the glove box!” I had to pause the game because I started laughing so hard. Aside from that, there are enough “F-bombs” to make even Samuel L. Jackson blush, and this is definitely not a game that mothers would use as an example of practical human communication.

In terms of voice acting, there are some good ones. As Ben King, you have Michael Clarke Duncan. As Tanya Winters, you have Mila Kunis. Lin is voiced by Tia Carrere, Michael Rapaport is given the role of Troy, and many other celebrities lend their talent to the game. Now, because the talent is good, doesn’t always mean the script is. There were some eye-rollers written in the script, but by and large, it gets the job done. This is Saints Row, after all, not Shakespeare. Also, there were times the music stopped for a moment, only to pick right back up. This is a very minor problem, but it was distracting enough in order to warrant it a mention.

Overall, the Audio is given a 9/10, because once you start blasting guys to some DMX, you’ll never go back.

Multiplayer: 6/10

This game had a really highly-hyped online multiplayer mode. And once I bought Saints Row, I went out and bought an Xbox Live as well. Now, I don’t know if I was misled, but I thought that the multiplayer was going to be almost like the single-player, only with real competition instead of AI citizens. A MMORPG of sorts. Turns out, I was wrong.

It’s basically a Deathmatch mode, Team Deathmatch mode, Protect the Pimp, Big Ass Chains, and Bling Your Ride. I’ve only played the deathmatch modes, and it’s not exactly what I thought it would be. For one, the lag is atrocious. I would be unloading into a guy, and he would just disappear and warp behind me and kill me. Frustrating, to say the least. If they can fix up the lag, maybe there could be a decent online deathmatch game, but I was sorely disappointed.

Overall: 9/10

Despite a rather unfulfilling multi-player mode, the single-player mode is outstanding, and will be (and should be) used as the measuring stick to measure GTA’s future game. This game, while not exactly original, improves on many aspects of GTA, and I believe that all the reviews by IGN and such decrying it for not being something brand new shouldn’t scare you away. It’s definitely worth the $60 for it. It will keep you busy for hours upon hours upon hours. Now, what are you waiting for? Go buy it!



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Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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