Saints Row Review

Upon booting up Saints Row and diving in, it’s unimaginable that any gamer could not see it’s inspired by the Grand Theft Auto series. Inspiration doesn’t really effectively describe the relationship that Saints Row shares with Grand Theft Auto – but neither does ripoff. Saints Row is based upon the ideas established by the GTA series, but has managed to refine the finer aspects of the game, resulting in a more enjoyable overall experience.

Saints Row places you in the city of Stilwater, where four rival gangs – the 3rd Street Saints (of which you become a member), Vice Kings, Westside Rollerz and Los Carnales – are fighting for control of the city. Unfortunately, you’re forced to join the Saints, as opposed to choosing which of the gangs to join. Had developer Volition decided to allow you to pick your allegiance, it would have really helped to provide you with more of that do-anything feel. But as a new member of the Saints, it’s your job to help eliminate the competition and take over Stilwater.

The main attractions here are simple concepts that aren’t revolutionary in their own right, but when applied to a game like this make for a much more fun all around experience. The first of these is the customization factor; while San Andreas allowed for you to purchase clothing for your character, Saints Row takes it a few steps further. When you start a new game, you’re able to customize every detail of your character’s face and portions of their body. Sure, you can’t map your face into the game with the soon-to-be-released Xbox Live Vision cam, but given enough time, you can create a pretty accurate virtual version of yourself. If at some point throughout the game you’re tired of your face, you can do what any wannabe gangster would do, and take a trip to the plastic surgeon.

Saints Row’s other major addition to the genre is the inclusion of multiplayer. With the exception of some fan created mods for the PC versions of the GTA games, no game has managed to quench gamers’ thirst for some form of a multiplayer in this massively popular genre. Saints Row delivers with a fantastic suite of modes and ways to play over Xbox Live or via system link. The obligatory deathmatch modes are included, but when you get to the more complex (and consequently more fun) modes such as Protect tha Pimp and Blinged out Ride, you’re in for a real treat. The game even includes a co-op mode over Live, although it’s questionable as to why only two levels are available to choose from – it seems like something that was cut out to be made available later through the Xbox Live Marketplace. Regardless, what is available is downright fun to play. Even the multiplayer lobby, which is a boring experience in most any game, manages to be fun, allowing you to run around a small warehouse where you can fight your future teammates and enemies.

Instead of going with the flow as most other games would, you won’t find clans in Saints Row. Instead, you’ll be able to either create or join a gang which has all the functionality you’d expect from a clan. Mimicking the system found in the single player, you’re able to completely customize your online character from eye color to jaw width. Clothes and tattoos cost cash, so you’ll need to participate in some ranked matches before you’re able to create your own truly unique gangster. Unfortunately, severe lag ruins what could be a wonderful experience. Lobbies are typically void of most lag, though you’ll see a player skip around from time to time. But once a game actually begins, you’ll find yourself driving into walls, shooting at nothing and running off ledges. This isn’t because the game’s controls work poorly; in fact, the game controls extremely precisely, and it’s hard to really gripe about what is an all around excellent system. The only time you may find the controls hard to digest is when you attempt to aim, fire and drive at the same time. But while playing online , doing that combination of things will seem like a cinch by comparison; you’ll encounter such extreme lag so consistently and frequently that it more or less renders the game unplayable. It truly is a shame, but a patch promising to fix these issues is currently under development at the time of this writing, so hopefully these woes will be addressed.

Given that the multiplayer is so severely handicapped, you’ll obviously find yourself turning to the single player, which is a hefty experience in its own right. Easily 35+ hours of gameplay can be squeezed out of it, and there are always plenty of missions, activities and lawbreaking just waiting to be committed. Saints Row contains 13 different types of activities or minigames scattered throughout the city of Stilwater to keep you occupied. These include hostage, where you carjack someone with a passenger and prevent them from exiting the vehicle until they surrender a ransom, drug trafficking, where you ride shotgun and protect a drug dealer as he makes his rounds, and insurance fraud, where you throw yourself in front of moving vehicles to create as significant of an accident as possible. That last one is my personal favorite, and also may quite possibly be the most entertaining thing to do in a video game that you’ll never want to ever try in real life.

Missions and strongholds alike wait to be conquered; these two portions compose the main storyline. Similar to the opening of The Godfather game, you are saved by a member of the gang that you’ll consequently join. After being canonized, you’ll take part in a variety of missions to take over the city and evict the Saints’ three rival gangs. Missions are fairly straightforward and follow the obvious formula you’ve come to know in similar titles. Stronghold, on the other hand, has you completing a variety of tasks to take over a territory from your enemy gangs control. While generally fun, these can often times be so cliched as to be anything but fun. One Stronghold tasks you with destroying drug equipment located throughout a few buildings. There’s no room for strategy though, as all you’ll need to do is just go in guns blazing; thanks, conveniently placed explosive barrels!

Stilwater is a large and breathing city. In your adventures, you’ll run into plenty of hooligans and be witness to various crimes and car accidents that you had no involvement in. While it pales in contrast to San Andreas in terms of sheer size, the city is more than large enough to house everything. Some technical issues, however, mar the immersion that Stilwater would otherwise provide. Load times are practically nonexistent, and you’ll never encounter one as you explore Stilwater. As a result, you’ll notice plenty of pop-up, including buildings and other structures, although it’s most noticeable when oncoming vehicles suddenly appear out of thin air. Perhaps even more distracting is the pop-out. Several times I was being chased down the highway, and in an attempt to shake the heat, I took one of the off-ramps, only to have it disappear from underneath me. I somehow managed to keep driving and after a few seconds the road reappeared, but it was extremely annoying to have the illusion that my car was flying. Additionally, when you encounter a significant number of enemies or vehicles in close proximity to one another, the game’s framerate will drop drastically, although it tends to recover after a few moments.

Scattered throughout the city are various stores and shops that sell food (your source of health), guns, clothes and more. At times you’ll hear sales advertised on the radio, which actually take place at these locations. In addition to these shops, there are other times when you’ll explore indoor environments, only to be disappointed with the lack of interaction available within them. Most every object you’ll encounter – indoors and outdoors – is static and stationary. Even some useless actions such as having a soda pop out of a vending machine would have been warmly welcomed.

A radar/GPS system makes navigating Stilwater enjoyable, instead of being a chore. The option to enable a waypoint at any location you choose also cuts out the constant pause-and-check-the-map variable that was readily evident in the GTA games. Instead, your mini-map will display a set of arrows directing you to your waypoint. While it is invaluable, at times the GPS can send you off in the wrong direction, only to have you turn around after starting down the street. Usually this isn’t much of a problem, but in timed missions it can cost you those valuable seconds that could make the difference.

Saints Row handles well enough, with the exception of the aforementioned complexity of driving, aiming and shooting at once. This can be overcome with enough practice, so it’s no deal breaker. Be prepared to say goodbye to auto-aim, as the weapons you equip will, by default, require you to manually aim them. It may sound like a negative, but in all actuality the auto aim systems used in similar titles never worked particularly well. However, for those who wish to employ it, there is an option to toggle auto aim on. The only real problem with the control setup lies within the game’s camera; generally speaking, it works well enough. But when driving, the camera takes far too long to swing around and center behind you. When you suddenly need to go in reverse and then pull a 180 to avoid being killed or caught, the camera will cause plenty of issues. A quick fix is to pull both of the bumpers quickly and then let them go, but if you are already driving and perhaps shooting, then the buttons are just too far away to pull this all off fluidly.

Speaking of shooting, the selection of weapons you’ll find is just lame. You’ve got your basic pistols, SMGs, shotguns, rifles, grenades, melee weapons and a rocket launcher. That’s it. There’s nothing unique or exciting, and you’ll quickly wonder why the weapons are limited so much. It’s disappointing when so many new things have been tweaked and added, and the basics of the game (guns and vehicles) didn’t make the cut. Don’t expect to see any motorcycles, planes or helicopters, either; apparently, they didn’t make the cut as well. Another department that’s lacking is your inability to control vehicle-specific functions, such as the plow on a bulldozer or the trailer on an 18-wheeler.

Many of the tweaks and refinements found in Saints Row don’t do much to affect the way you’ll actually play, but make the game itself that much more fun to play. The first one of these I encountered was very early on and completely by chance; I was driving down the wrong side of the road and had a head-on crash with another car. Nothing exciting about that, but wait – did that person just go flying out of their windshield!? I went out to check, and sure enough, there she was laying next to my car. Playing around with this a bit more I began to notice the amazing ragdoll physics. Hit someone at high speed, and instead of just flattening into the ground like a pancake, the person will actually fly into your car and then fall off should you slam on the breaks.

Another disappointing portion of the single player game (and perhaps the most disappointing aspect of all) is the complete lack of a personality of the main character. In this era where gamers love characters that ooze with a realistic personality (as evidenced by Alyx from Half Life: Episode One), it’s inexcusable to star a character who basically never talks. Customization is nice, but I personally would prefer to be able to play dress-up with a character who exercises his right of speech from time to time.

Saints Row isn’t the best looking game on the system, and this is especially evident when you suddenly notice another bland vehicle suddenly pop up on the horizon. Character models aren’t particularly flashy, either, but being the purely best looking game around wasn’t Volition’s goal. The physics – between the amazing ragdoll effects, and the way in which cars will break apart from damage – are some of the best around, and put it leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

The game also features twelve different radio stations and more than 130 songs. One station is an attempt at the humorous talk shows found in the GTA games, but it fails to really ever make you laugh out loud. Compounding the problem is the way in which Saints Row attempts to steal the humor found around the cities of GTA; it just isn’t the same, and you’ll often wish they just hadn’t tried to copy this particular aspect. While there’s plenty of music to be found within the game, I didn’t find anything that really contoured to my tastes and I often found myself going for a custom soundtrack or no music at all.

Despite its shortcomings, Saints Row is a fantastic addition to the Xbox 360. It contains a long singleplayer experience, and has the potential to be an extremely rewarding online one as well. With the promised fix for the online lag, this may become one of the best games on the console. Simply put, this is a solid sandbox experience with plenty to do, fun achievements and a greatly refined experience over other titles in the genre. Technical issues or not, as things stand, fans of GTA who aren’t tired of the overall formula and gangster world from San Andreas should definitely look to pick this one up.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Myspace
  • Google Buzz
  • Reddit
  • Stumnleupon
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Technorati
Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

Leave A Response

You must be logged in to post a comment.