Saints Row Xbox 360 Review
Rockstar should be flattered at just how rigidly THQ’s Saints Row sticks to the Grand Theft Auto blueprint. The comically satirical radio commercials, the tongue in cheek storyline and the freeform gameplay all instantly bring GTA to mind.
But in spite of this, it would however be horribly churlish to say that the game does not possess any unique points, not least of which is the genre’s introduction to online play and the fact that much of the core gameplay elements are executed to a significantly better degree than Rockstar’s magnificent opus has so far managed.
Upon starting the game, you are required to create a character from scratch. With a dizzying array of options at your fingertips, almost any character imaginable can be crafted, even yourself (just as long as you don’t look too freaky!).
Our first half hour or so, residing in the city of Stilwater didn’t exactly have us enamoured with our surroundings. The city doesn’t possess the immediate character of the likes of GTA’s Liberty or Vice City, but it did grow on us after spending considerably more time within its streets and getting our bearings.
Where it does differ drastically from GTA is its fundamental structure. The main story missions can only be played by amassing enough respect, done so by partaking in “activities” or killing rival gang members. The activities are fun multi-level missions, particularly insurance fraud, which sees you intentionally throwing yourself in front of cars, where the more painful the bump the more money you’ll obtain.
Outside of the activities, you’ll generally be doing tasks that you’ve already done a thousand times over in GTA. Missions largely consist of driving and/or shooting and fortunately both elements are executed to a degree, that it’s always fun whatever you may be doing.
The car handling, whilst not quite as fun as GTA, is much better than most similar games and whereas in GTA, the shooting mechanics are suspect, with your character often auto targeting the harmless old lady rather than the bad guy with a big gun, standing right ahead of you. Saints Row doesn’t possess any such problems, simply because it frees up the targeting and requires you to do it for yourself, making for much more skill reliant shootouts and less infuriating potluck. The ever reliable rag doll physics also makes your kills, that much more satisfying, whatever the method of death may happen to be.
Improvements on the GTA formula extend further than just the shooting mechanics. Upon mission failure, you are given the option to retry it instantly, and missions can even be cancelled anytime you wish. The addition of a weapon wheel, allows for instant access to weapons and no more cumbersome cycling through several, just to get to the one you want as in GTA.
The map too, is far more helpful than GTA’s often vague one, using a trail to point you in the right direction, with the only problem being that the map is zoomed too close in, which means, unless you’re driving extra carefully, you are likely to miss many a turn.
Bizarrely the game features a Halo style recharging health system, in our experience this is a first for the genre and one that makes the game far too easy. The game as a whole is significantly easier than GTA and this means that in general it’s not going to last as long, which depending on who you are is either a good or bad thing.
The game’s online multiplayer is fantastic fun, though lag is a serious issue at the time of writing, the announced patch should however eradicate this dreaded problem. As for modes, Gangsta Brawl is Saints Row version of the ever popular death match, Big Ass Chains is basically capture the flag with chains. More exciting modes are Blinged Out Ride, which is a team based mode, which sees both teams attempting to upgrade their car, with money obtained by killing opponents, dropping off chains or blowing up the opposing teams car. Protect the Pimp on the other hand is another team based mode, which sees one player becoming the pimp, with the objective being to protect him, as he makes his escape through the level, whilst being pursued by the hitmen of the opposing side.
Saints Row is one of the better sandbox games currently on the shelves and even beats the biggest at its own game in some vital aspects. It’s certainly big competition for next years GTA4. But for now Saints Row deserves the utmost respect for refining the uglier mechanics of Rockstars crime caper.