Welcome to Stilwater, your average video game city, riddled with crime, thugs, foul language, and excessive violence. I know what you are thinkingâ€¦ hey here is just another Grand Theft Auto clone. Letâ€™s get those thoughts out of your head right up front. I think that it is very important to get the GTA comparison out of the way: yes, Saints Row is modeled off of the sandbox / gangster genre that was created by Grand Theft Auto 3, but I feel that this is where the comparisons should stop. What people need to realize is that GTA3 created a new genre for games and set a ton of standards; it would be impossible for any company to create a game of this genre without being compared directly to the original king. That being said, to get the most out of Saints Row you have to look at it as a game of its own, not just as a “GTA clone”. I am in a very rare position because, believe it or not, I have not played through any of the GTA games; therefore I was able to play and evaluate Saints Row with an open mind and judge it as its own game without having my judgment clouded by previous GTA experiences. If you can do this too, and manage to look at Saints Row as its own game, you are going to find one of the most enjoyable rides available on the 360 that will keep you entertained and playing for quite a while.
The main mode of Saints Row revolves around a single player adventure chronicling the Third Street Saintâ€™s attempts to take back the streets of Stilwater from the gangs that have taken it over. Upon starting the game, you find yourself thrust right into the gangsâ€™ wars and are pushed into siding up with the Third Street Saints. After proving yourself to the leader Julius and the rest of the Saints, you can then embark on an open ended quest to rule the streets. The game is very open ended; there is a linear story that can be followed but you are allowed to proceed at your own pace. At this point, the game consists solely on completing various missions and activities throughout the city to increase your reputation and rank within the gang. Some of the activities include drug trafficking, recruiting prostitutes for pimps, stealing cars, carrying out hits, and creating total mayhem. The game could be summed up as a big city filled with mini games, all of which provide plenty of replay value time and time again.
The control setup in Saints Row is simple and easy to pick up. It has a very low learning curve considering the fact that it manages to utilize all of the buttons on the 360 controller. I do have a minor complaint regarding the controls of the game when it comes to targeting and aiming with guns. The game is locked at a third person perspective which makes it very difficult to stay locked on a small target when running and shooting simultaneously; this is not a problem for some of the quick battles, but can become an annoyance when you are involved in a huge gun battle. Perhaps this complaint comes simply from the fact that I have been spoiled with the auto aim feature included in most games. I did find myself getting better over time with practice, but it was very difficult in the early parts of the game and I found myself running out of ammo because I couldnâ€™t hit my targets consistently. Overall, it feels a lot like all of the other third party action games and players familiar with the genre will find themselves right at home.
When you are not actually controlling your character to wreak havoc in the streets, you will be maneuvering through the various maps and menu screens that guide the player through the missions. All of these single player activities are guided by an ingeniously designed in-game map accessible through the pause screen. The map used in Saints Row is one feature that should set a standard for the genre and all similar games in the future. The map covers the entire city and allows you to sort the various markers and activities by simply scrolling through different map â€œkeysâ€ with the L and R buttons. You can view everything available to you on the map or sort by such things as available activities, available safe houses, and stores. The player also has the ability to set destination points on the map which for either general areas or specific destinations. The game then provides the player with an in game guide showing them the path through the city to their desired destination similar to that of a GPS. This feature does take a little getting used to, but I found it to be invaluable once I got used to it. I cannot imagine an in-game map working any other way at this point.
If the open ended gameplay on the single player mode doesnâ€™t exactly suit your tastes, Saints Row also offers five multiplayer modes which are playable over X-Box Live and LAN. The first of the multiplayer modes is a cooperative mode in which two players can work together to complete various missions not available in the one player mode. This can be played both locally and online. Aside from the cooperative gameplay, the game also sports four competitive modes: Gangsta Brawl (solo and team deathmatch), Big Ass Chains (solo and team, similar to CTF, you defeat opponents and take their bling to the goal to score points), Protect the Pimp (team based attack and defend game), and Blinged Out Ride (upgrade your teamâ€™s car and race to the finish line). The multiplayer modes are admirable, but honestly leave a lot to be desired. The game suffers some lag issues online and just doesnâ€™t provide nearly as good of a time as the single player game does. The multiplayer modes shouldnâ€™t be completely discredited though; it is one of those games that can provide some quality entertainment if you are grouped into a game with a bunch of friends, but you wonâ€™t be wondering online by yourself to find a good time. You are given the option to completely customize your character for the online world by purchasing (with in-game currency) clothes and accessories which give you your own online identity. You can also form your own clan / gang and run together as a group online. Like I said earlier, it is an admirable feature, but could have definitely used a lot more polishing.
The overall production quality of the game is highly commendable. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks a lot better than anything that we have witnessed on the original X-Box / PS2 generations, but it is just not up to par with some of the other 360 games that have been released at this point. There is some occasional pop up and screen tearing as you make the transition between areas in the city, but it is definitely tolerable and doesnâ€™t ruin the game. All of the gameâ€™s cut scenes are done using the in-game graphics engine which helps to create smooth transitions and reduces the load times significantly. There are some nice weather and time-transition (day/night) effects as well. I am running the game in full 720P and it is definitely easy on the eyes; there really arenâ€™t a lot of complaints to be had in the graphical categories. The soundtrack is to blame for a majority of the game’s Mature rating. Both the music and the in-game speech are riddled with obscenities and vulgarities. The in-game dialogue comes across as overboard to me personally, almost to the point that it is comical. The developers have gotten some serious actors to add to the voice over talents including: Michael Clarke Duncan, David Carradine, and Keith David. You have the option to switch between various styles of music (all licensed) via the radio during the times that you are driving a car; you can find everything from hardcore rock and rap to classical music stations; this has pretty much become a standard feature in these types of games and is pulled off well in Saints Row. Just keep the soundtrack in mind as you definitely donâ€™t want to play this one around the kidsâ€¦
When it comes right down to it, Saints Row is a lot of fun. The open ended gameplay style allows various players to have different experiences during their playtime. Ideally, players could finish the storyline driven portion of the game within a limited number of hours, but dedicated players will be able to get endless amounts of playtime out of the game once that portion is complete. The truly die hard players will be roaming the streets of Stilwater for years to come, or at least until the next game comes out.
Despite some of its flaws, Saints Row is one of the most complete packages available for the X-Box 360. Not only is the gameplay deep (yet simplistic at the same time), but it is just downright fun, which is something that you don’t see with a lot of games these days. Sometimes it is just fun to throw in the game and run around the city without performing any of the required tasks or missions, and the game encourages and allows you to do just that. There is also some fun to be had online if you have friends to run with as a group. If you are an individual that enjoys the sandbox genre of games and you own a 360, Saints Row is definitely a game that you should consider picking up.
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