Game Over Online ~ Saints Row

GameOver Game Reviews - Saints Row (c) THQ, Reviewed by - Russell Garbutt

Game & Publisher Saints Row (c) THQ
System Requirements Xbox 360
Overall Rating 94%
Date Published Thursday, November 16th, 2006 at 11:34 AM


Divider Left By: Russell Garbutt Divider Right

Competition is good. It ensures a quality product from a market leader. Take away the competition and bloated complacency sets in, usually resulting in sub-standard products and performance in all areas. Well, Rockstar Games can consider Volition, Inc.'s Saints Row a heavy breathing, foul-mouthed and obscene version of a wake-up call. The creative team behind GTA IV had better get their collective asses out of Rusty Brown's Ring Donuts and into the San Fierro Gym very quickly because they have just been upstaged by an upstart... and in the genre they created.

Grand Theft Auto III was a turning point in the PlayStation 2's life cycle. It was the title that would ultimately define the machine and, as some may argue, the embodiment of an entire console generation. Its multi-tiered success is still being enjoyed today, with several sequels from Rockstar and countless imitators. For the most part, those that have chosen to try and duplicate the formula have delivered results that range from tepid to downright embarrassing. That is, until now.

From the moment one begins to play Saints Row they find themselves in familiar and welcome territory. To say that the game is inspired by the GTA series can be a bit misleading, as Saints Row pulls all of its influence from GTA III specifically. The only exception is the “gangcentric” storyline that seems heavily influenced by San Andreas. Saints Row is identical to GTA III in as much as the entire city of Stillwater is large and hilly without being overwhelming and that players assume the role of a “mute gopher” that rises up the ranks of a local organized crime syndicate.

In addition to those (and many other) features is the fact that players are limited to jacking cars, trucks, and vans, just like in GTA III. There are no motorcycles, helicopters, or planes to be had in Stillwater (although there is an unconfirmed rumor circulating the forums that they may be coming soon by way of Xbox Live download). Nearly every one of GTA III's locations has a Saints Row counterpart, and that is definitely not a bad thing.

What sets Saints Row apart from all the others that have come before is its quality of design and presentation. What will surprise most gamers is that Volition put the extra time and effort into fixing or changing what was wrong with the GTAIII formula. There are many aspects of the game that have been refined and perfected, bringing the whole presentation into the next gen with as much style, grace and fun as possible. For example, players can now design their own main character from scratch. Yes, instead of just assuming the role of a greasy “Fido” character, players can choose to mold their avatar either in their own image or one that they find visually pleasing (Rockstar should swallow their pride and take note of this for their own future titles... that is, if they haven't already). It can be quite amusing yet creepy to watch an in-game character resembling yourself take out an entire neighborhood with a rocket launcher, including several gang members, cops and SWAT. The only “flaw” with this whole character creation idea is that players cannot create a female character. This is likely due to the game's main story arc, but it is something that Volition should consider for the sequel.

The entire city of Stillwater is open from the start. Certain key points of interest on the map have a “?” symbol over them until you actually drive down that specific street, but there is nothing stopping you from going into any area at any time. Kudos must be given to Volition for coming up with the idea for the GPS system as well! As most fans of this genre know, driving from place to place in these immense worlds can be confusing at times. Even when placing your waypoint on the main screen's mini-map, it can still be daunting trying to figure out which roads will take you where you need to go and which ones result in a dead end. The system in Saints Row takes care of all that, for once players mark down on the map where they need to go, a “marching ants” style of blinking lights appears on the mini-map detailing the quickest route to the destination! This is a very welcome addition, as well as one way overdue!

Since weapons and ammunition are expensive in Saints Row, players will be happy to know that you do NOT lose your arsenal when you get arrested or killed. You can also keep as many cars as you want in your garage and have access to them whenever you like (there is even an achievement for owning over 50 different types), and the forgiveness system (the way you lose your wanted level or rival gang hatred level) is not directly tied into being inside a vehicle.

To elaborate on that last point, the forgiveness system costs you money like in all other games of this type, but it is done by either walking or driving (you do not HAVE to be in a car) through a religious “confessional.” You are absolved of all your sins/crimes for a fee. Car repair/rebuilding/customizing can be done all on its own.

The mission structure contains both storyline and “sidequest” type missions, all of which earn you both cash and gangland respect. Sometimes you have to achieve a certain level of respect in order for the next story-advancing mission to appear, but this is never too laborious as the mission structure in the entire game is done really tightly, and you will not have to drive for thirty minutes across a map to get to your objective (like another title that shall remain nameless). If you fail a mission you can instantly restart it, which is yet another very, very welcome addition to the genre.

The graphical output is most impressive, with everything having a beautiful, graphic novel type of sheen. The Xbox 360 horsepower really lends itself to an open ended title such as this... explosion and water effects are particularly awe-inspiring, even if the whole presentation leans more toward the “cartoony” than the realistic. Another nice touch is the removal of all load times regardless of where you go or what you do. The ragdoll physics also provide a degree of realism to your character and all the NPCs, and also makes for some hilarious results when things go boom!

The storyline is very involving and impeccably acted by the likes of Keith David, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Carradine, Michael Rappaport (again) and Mila Kunis. The storyline and its themes are not for the squeamish (or children), as this game earns its mature rating without question. There's a raid on a brothel that occurs at about 20% into the story, and that mission alone tells you all you need to know about the game's content.

There are a few petty quibbles about the game, like the blatant graphical tears, the tendency for your character to get stuck in (or on) a car or wall and have to spend 10 minutes or more “rocking” back and forth to break free, and the completely free aiming system which, although better than Rockstar's auto-targeting, could have also used a bit more tweaking. The radio stations in the car offer plenty of licensed music, but once again this feature, as important as it is, feels flat and, well, uninspired. The in-car radio stations have not been done very well in any title since Vice City (the de facto benchmark for game soundtracks in this genre), but there is always hope that this will improve. Since music taste is subjective anyway, your mileage may vary.

If all of this wasn't enough, Saints Row also offers a twelve player multiplayer mode, and players can take on others via Xbox Live or system link. There are various deathmatch and escort modes, as well as a few co-op modes thrown in. For the most part, the multiplayer component feels unnecessary. The fun of being someone dangerous in this city kind of loses flavor when there are eleven others like you floating around at the same time.

Saints Row is worth your money, plain and simple. Its Grand Theft Auto inspired gameplay is not only very well done here, but through many refinements and advances in the feature set, Volition has delivered a game that is... dare it be said... better in some respects. Although it would be impossible for any title like this to have the same impact GTA III did back in 2001, Saints Row succeeds in raising the next-gen bar for this genre not only for themselves, but for the series that inspired them as well.

 

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Rating
94%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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