As the name suggests, there is a lot of religion in Saints Row. And by âreligionâ, I of course mean âcrimeâ. Beatings. Shootings. Robbery. The list goes on.
No actual religion, though.
Before I start, I guess we should get two things straight:
1) Yes, Saints Row is a GTA clone.
2) No, thatâs not a problem.
The best way to think about it is that the Grand Theft Auto series has carved a new genre (or at least sub-genre), and this is the latest game to tackle that genre. Just because Saints Row isnât particularly original, doesnât mean it isnât good. In fact, in some ways, the student has surpassed the masterâŚ
Before you can begin the game proper, you can expect to be confronted with an impressive set of menus where you customise your characterâs look. Starting with a choice of ethnicity, and moving on down to the details of face shape, hair-style, and the like, Saints Row offers the kind of options typically only found in Elder Scrolls-type RPGs. If, like me, you like to have a bit of a play when presented with customisation screens, this could take some time. However, the menus are also very easy to deal with â and, if you want to fast-track this stage and start playing already, you can just run with the presets, or randomly generate your look.
Once youâre done making your character look sufficiently bad-ass, heâs thrust into an intro video, where a couple of jerks overwriting some graffiti improbably escalates into a three-way gang-battle, resulting in the deaths of almost everyone involved â the last shooter standing is, in fact, about to plug you when a fourth gang show up, wearing bright purple, to save and then recruit you. These purple dudes are, they explain, the Third Street Saints; they neglect, however, to explain the purple â youâll have to figure that out on your own.
Your induction into the Saints â or âcanonisationâ, as they call it â involves a bunch of them attacking you for a while as you read the onscreen instructions and figure out how to fight. Then youâre in. And, after a quick trip to the local weapon emporium, you can start doing missions.
In order to progress through the game, you will have to complete numerous story missions, gradually bringing the Third Street Saints into control of the city of Stilwater. But Saints Row also forces you to earn ârespectâ, by engaging in a variety of generic criminal activity, in order to unlock further missions.
The main storyline is fairly uninspired plot-wise. But it isnât linear, which is nice, and it has been well-executed. The voice-acting, especially, is great. This may well have something to do with the cast, which includes David Carradine, Tia Carrere, Keith David, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Mila Kunis. Playing through single-player should keep you busy for 30 hours at the least. And while it does tend towards easy, the challenge builds significantly as you play through.
But, leaving aside the story for a moment, Saints Row is a lot of fun to just mess around in. So, if you donât feel much like pursuing a long-term gang-war, and would rather just blow off some steam and drive round hitting pedestrians and shooting at cops, youâre in for a treat. Personally, I think Saints Row delivers rather more satisfyingly on this count that the 3D Grand Theft Auto games have. Escalating encounters with law enforcement result in you getting better and better weapons, and the game doesnât let realism get in the way too much â the physics lean toward that of cartoons, and getting busted or killed has a very limited impact on your ability to wreck havoc time and time again.
The controls are very solid. Again: itâs very much like GTA. However, Volition have made some strides with aiming. There is no automatic locking-on here â just good old manual aiming, as in most third-person shooters. And it works very well. Visually, too, Saints Row is good; I doubt itâs really getting everything it could from the 360, but thereâs very little to complain about (especially when it comes to explosions and people being thrown through their windscreens when they crash).
Actually, âvery little to complain aboutâ says a lot about Saints Row. It is a very well made game. And the little things make all the difference, too. Being able to customize your character is fun â but giving clothing the ability to affect your reputation and earn you respect just makes it that much better. Cars are also customizable â and again, you can improve in more than just aesthetic ways (with nitrous and hydraulics, for instance). And you can get âhomiesâ to come along and help you out on missions, which â despite their sometimes imperfect AI â can be a huge help.
The city in the game, Stilwater, is pretty huge. In fact, itâs actually quite intimidating at first. But the main and mini maps show clearly where important locations are, and it shouldnât take you too long before youâre getting your bearings.
The soundtrack isnât quite up to the lofty standard set by GTA: San Andreas. But it nevertheless has a very good array of licensed tracks (including songs by Iggy Pop and De La Soul). And, in addition to the various radio stations, you can make your own playlist for when youâre not driving.
Multiplayer may set Saints Row apart from its predecessors â thereâs some good times to be had, certainly â but donât expect as much here as youâre getting in single-player. The online modes â quite an interesting selection, actually â support up to 12 players per game, but unfortunately with so many there tends to be quite a bit of lag â and it isnât possible to put a lower player limit on a game.
Bottom line: Saints Row is the best GTA rip-off to date â well put-together, and immensely fun. Iâd call it an investment, even just for the joyriding and random mayhem. And itâs in stores now.
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