An incredible rip-off but also quite good!
Saints Row is THQ's "tribute" to Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto franchise. When I say tribute, what I really mean is a shameless rip-off. But by some inane miracle, they manage to pull it off and make it incredibly good fun to play.
Starting with a Tony Hawks-esque Character Creation tool, you can design your avatar to look like anything from a Japanese sumo wrestler, black Rastafarian Hell's Angel, to a skinny rat-faced white boy. None of these has any effect on the game play, but as soon as you've hit the okay button you see your character thrown into a Vice... I mean, a city of violence, sleaze and drugs. Your goal, you quickly discover, is to help the purple clad gang, the Saints.
"Why join the only gang in town who dress in purple?" you may well ask. Well, their leader helping you dodge becoming a carcass and a lumpy puddle of brains on the pavement is a pretty good reason. After witnessing such a violent opening, if you're like me the first thing on your mind when the game opens up is "Can I stamp on a Granny's head and shoot anyone who tries to stop me?". Not about to miss anything GTA can do better, the answer in Saints Row is empathically, "damn straight!".
Saints Row does for video games what Boyz in the Hood did for LA. With its vision of a world where every second word is an expletive, it gives video games a worse name for mindless violence, pointless swearing, and gratuitous sex. It also manages to do this without any of the social commentary that made Boyz in the Hood a great movie where these elements were secondary to the story.
The Saints are looking to take over the Row, and they need to push all the drugs, pimp all the hoes and pop a cap in all the other gang banger's asses to get there. To do this you will have to steal cars, grab weapons, and blow up half of town, while avoiding or killing policemen and opposing gangs as much/frequently as possible. The game is easily the biggest Grand Theft Auto rip off I have seen. At least games like Driver and Total Overdose put their own spin on GTA; Saints Row even has shops which arm your car with bombs, and garages for paint sprays to lose the cops. The level of plagiarism on show is unbelievable, to the point where you wonder how THQ can legally get away with it. It has to be said however, there is no Grand Theft Auto on Xbox 360. Saints Row doesn't carry the official title, but it is here now.
Once you are over (if you can get over) the complete lack of originality, Saints Row proves to be a whole lot of fun. The city is well designed and you never struggle to find where you need to go, as once you set a marker on your map the route is highlighted on your onscreen compass. The game manages to cut it as a next-gen looker, however it does owe a great debt to GTA here too. Car explosions are definitely the graphical highlight, with hot-air blurring your vision over the wrecks.
Unfortunately, the sound track never manages to capture the genius humour of GTA's radio stations. Most of the songs are from B-list artists and quickly get tiring. On the other hand, voice acting on the cut scenes is excellent with some easily identified Hollywood actors taking on leading roles. A nice running in joke about your character being the quiet type is good for a couple of laughs. Sound effects are also spot on, with a lovely boom from the cars exploding. Exploding cars are definitely one of the greatest sources of satisfaction in the game!
Missions are very much of the GTA variety, with you gaining more respect as you complete each one, thus unlocking further missions. This system is well structured; you cannot progress straight through the story mode missions without completing side missions such as hostage taking, drug trafficking, escorting escort girls and insurance fraud first. While the game's gang and violence mentality prevails for most of the story driven missions, the side missions are frequently funny with the banter from lawyers and grandfathers as they get in your car for you to drive them round with a vice girl, avoiding news crews. The drug dealing suburban Mom who asks if you have anger issues when you shoot the police is great and fraud missions involve you throwing yourself in front of speeding cars to make huge insurance claims.
Saints Row also has a strong online focus. You will need to create a new character and you will want to create your own gang or join a friends. While the online game doesn't have the same free roaming world, the levels are well laid out for death match and it is very playable. Game variants include a "Protect the Pimp" where one member of your team must be escorted out a building as the opposing team try and kill him; a game where you need to pimp your ride until your car is better is than the opposing gangs; a capture the chain game where your opponents drop chains when killed and you score for taking a bigger number to the pawn shop and of course standard and team death match.
Before you know it, you'll be in control of half the town with frequent calls from other Saints members to help them wipe out opposing gangs invading their turf. You gain followers based on your respect, so you need never go it alone against other gangs. Even if you punch an innocent person in your territory, your homies will quickly join you in beating them to a bloody pulp.
I'll scold Saints Row again here to round off. I still struggle to believe what a complete a rip off it is. It is, however, very easy to get into and is great fun to play. A great fun game - now let's see what GTA4 can do to up the stakes.
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Trailer 1 HD (THQ)
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Trailer 1 SD (THQ)
|2.04m||28MB||DF, SD, 30
Gameplay footage (THQ)
|0.19m||4MB||DF, SD, 30