Saints Row Xbox 360
Back when we first announced Saints Row on 16th May 2005 during the course of that year’s E3 we here at DarkZero Towers (it is a real place, honestly) expected nothing more than another cheap GTA rip off in the same vein of countless other game that have been released over the last 5 years. Well we were wrong – and now after three full days taking the streets by storm we can honestly say we respect Saints Row.
Speaking of respect; that is exactly what Saints Row is all about – but more about that later. When you first start the game you are tossed straight into a character creation screen which seems to offer an almost infinite number of options to create just about any kind of character you wish. After a few minutes of tweaking trying to get your character just the way you want (or seconds by picking one of the randomly generated ones) you are then tossed into the crime-ridden city of Stilwater, this is of course the city where your character’s story unfolds. From the moment you arrive in Stilwater you can drive anywhere in the gaming environment. No areas are closed of due to “bridges being broken” or any other clever set-ups. With the whole city being open to you, you can also go about your criminal ways straight from the get-go. Even though it is a whole load of fun just to drive around, crash into stuff and steal stuff to crash into more stuff, you won’t be getting too far into the game unless you start to complete a few mission and this is where the respect feature I talked about earlier comes in. The missions themselves are very well put together with an exceeding amount of variety amongst the selection presented.
To advance in the game you need the respect of those around you, without that you won’t be able to advance to the next part of the storyline. Your respect meter (which is displayed on screen at all times) can only be filled by doing various side missions which can be done with or without the help of the gang you are recruited by – The 3rd Street Saints. I will try not to focus on the game’s story too much as having that spoiled ruins some of the game’s fun. The basics of the story are that there are three rival gangs who have also made a home in Stilwater these are; the Los Carnales, the Vice Kings, and the West Side Rollerz. As you would expect, most of the game revolves around your gang doing various tasks to mess with the other gangs to get your boys to the top. Each of the gangs have their own storyline and you have the option to choose which gang you want to take down first (in essence they are in fact 3 separate storylines in one game). There are loads of characters to meet and loads of twists and turns on the way to the top. The story Volition tells is beautifully realised making you want to continue playing after every mission you complete. It truly is very hard to put the controller down, I personally put in a unanticipated late night of gaming with my first day with the title as 4am snuck up on me without me realising it.
To keep things interesting there are also some other side-missions: Escorting Hookers, Drug Trafficking, Late Night Heists, Insurance Fraud “Accidents, Chop Shop Car Theft, Demolition Derby, Car Jacking Hostages, Snatching Hookers from Rival Pimps, Tagging Rival Graffiti, Street Racing and Collecting CDs (the CDs are the Saints Row equivalent of hidden packages). Interestingly enough all these tasks are fun to do and offer a refreshing change when you want to take a break from the game’s main missions. Of course with having a huge city to play around in you would expect some stores to buy things in and Saints Row does not disappoint in this regard; with burger joints, clothing stores, jewellery shops, hair salons, tattoo parlours, car dealerships, music stores, custom car shops, loan sharks, gun shops, and even plastic surgeons waiting to take your hard earned cash from you.
The weaponry available is divided into groups just like GTA. The groups are melee weapons, handguns, shotguns, semi-auto machine guns, sniper and explosives with a selection of three guns available in each class. Each of the gangs in the game seem to have chosen one weapon from each group to specialize in, so depending on which gang you are fighting, expect to see one weapon more than the other for that period of time. Of course weapons are not just available to be picked up from fallen enemies they can also be bought at a local gun-store or even found in hidden places if you snoop around enough.
Another nice extra that sets Saints Row apart of the crowd is the inclusion of intuitive map setup that works just like sat-nav. Instead of the game just labelling your next objective as a dot on a map (that can easily be confused with the other dozen dots on the map) it instead marks out the path for you to get to you destination. This set up only works during missions but it is a very welcome, and dare I say it innovative, addition to the genre. A large detailed version of the map can be brought up at anytime via the pause menu. Other options in this menu is the Save/Load feature, an MP3 player (for music on the move from your custom soundtrack!), and a wireless phone to call people (not just to answer people like GTA). There is also a huge stats page telling you what you have done with your time in the game. Finally there are also 43 varying achievements to get for those that strive to inflate their Gamerscore with every day that passes.
Saints Row also offers online or system link options where two or more players can try out co-op missions and competitive games. Versus mode offer small sections of Stilwater to battle in with game modes titled: Protect the Pimp, Big Ass Chains and Blinged Out Ride. Gamers can also create their own gangs and pit themselves against other online gangs which is a nice touch. Some aspects of the game’s online mode sadly don’t feel as polished as the single player game but they can be fun in quick bursts.
As you can see by the screenshots over there on the left there is no denying Saints Row is one pretty looking game, but there is something the screenshots cannot show and that is the enormity of the game’s playing environment. The game is massive, I am not sure if it matches the size of San Andreas but it is very near it. What makes Saint Row even better is that it has the power of the Xbox360 behind it so it mixes a quantity of locations with high quality graphics. The game also boasts no load times when traversing the city and it lives up to it promise letting you move around without any black screen popping up to pull you out of the experience. In fact the only loads on show are when you go into one of the many missions and they last for 5 seconds. The game also contains a multitude of different effects to make things look that little bit nicer. The most spectacular of these is the game’s use of shadows which comes into its own during the game’s night-time cycle where shadows of object and people can be seen bouncing off the environment in real time.
Due to the lag-free gaming environment, the game does suffer a few nagging graphical problems – must noticeably the game contains a considerable amount of annoying pop-ups. This is most evident when you get your car revved up to high speed on the interstate. Other small annoyances are some collision detection issues which only reared their head twice during my time with the game. I also noticed a slightly choppy frame rate when I decided to cause the biggest pile up ever, but in normal gameplay things look pretty good. Some of the cut scenes also contain some tearing. Due to the rest of the game looking so nice these flaws really do stand out more than they do in GTA. To be honest the flaws do slightly ruin the overall experience but if you put up with similar flaws while playing Rockstar’s effort then there is no real game-breaking graphical blemishes on show in Saint Row.
Acoustically Saint Row puts up a respectable performance with sound effects, voice work and music all getting a lot of attention from the developers. Lots of big name talent from TV shows and movies have lent their voices to the game with the likes of Michael Clark Duncan, Tia Carrere, Joaquim de Almeida, Keith David, David Carradine, Daniel Day Kim, and Michael Rappaport all having something to say throughout out the games 40 hour lifespan. Easily the most noticeable voice in the game is the great Clancy Brown who uses his naturally boisterous accent to produce great sounding lines that help propel all scenes he is included in to great prominence.
As you would expect, the game also supports a number of radio stations that are home to music, talk shows and zany commercials. A full list of the music available can be seen here. It covers many genres with hip-hop, classical, electronica, rock, metal, and reggae all getting equal billing so there is always something to listen to. The ‘Talk Radio’ station that Volition have included is also interesting, although it is no where near as good as GTA’s Laslow. If you ever get bored or just don’t like the radio station there is also the option to mess about with custom soundtracks.
Some people will undoubtedly believe that Volition ripped-off Rockstar with many aspects of Saints Row and honestly there is no getting by the fact that they did but they are the first company to do it correctly. Everything about Saints Row seems to flow perfectly. The game is a blast to play with literally something brand new waiting for you around every corner.
Saints Row is a fantastic addition to the new ‘open-ended’ sandbox genre that has been developing over recent years. Since Rockstar started the ball rolling with GTA III way back in 2001 (has it been that long?) there have been many pretenders to the throne. Mafia, True Crime, The Getaway, The Godfather, new additions to the once great Driver series and even the Simpsons all tried to get in on the act but ended up being pale imitations of what they tried to imitate. Even though Saints Row also rips many aspects from GTA it takes all the right parts and makes them work as good if not better (in places) than Rockstar did.
This is the beginning of a great franchise for THQ. If this title sells well (and we see no reason why it won’t) there will be Saints Row II and Saints Row III. If they keep up with the quality they brought to us the first game then Rockstar finally has some real competition. Is Saints Row original? No. Is it fun? You’re damn right it is!
The first great new franchise of next-gen gaming.