Saint's Row Review (Xbox360)

The city of Stillwater is home to the Vice Kings, the West Side Rollers, Los Carnales and the 3rd Street Saints.

Fire’s hot in case you didn’t know, so it hurts
Well, if we can’t fly then why should they!?

Are you Ready to represent the Row? I know I was, long before the game hit the shelves. Now Saints Row is actually a small portion of a much larger spread, Stillwater comes with many distinctive neighbourhoods. Each one is designed to feel urban, gritty and all seamlessly interconnected.

Everyone I’ve talked to Saints Row about at some point if not straight away has jumped in with a Grand Theft Auto mindset. Now this is either leads to an “it looks to be just as cool as” or a “what a rip off” reaction. Ultimately that’s for each gamer to decide for themselves in the end, but I strongly urge any ‘die hard’ Rockstar storm trooper out there to give the Row a chance.

A huge dominant feature in Saints Row is the interaction with your gang, now while it’s not necessary to bring along some crew it can be just so darn fun anyway. Getting a fellow homie to tag along is a simple push of the D-pad. Now they’ll follow you until death, or you drive off without them. They can turn the tide in a battle, offering themselves as extra targets and dishing out as good as they get. You need only attack someone once and they’ll do the rest, hitting a guy when surrounded by a ton of the Row can be a pretty funny sight as you see a frenzy of fists, knives, baseball bats and two-by-fours.

The AI in general is pretty hilarious at times, as well as annoying in certain circumstances, for the most part though it’s a pretty solid performance. Gang members will use cover, as will police, and they’ll try not to expose themselves for too long unless they know they’ve an overwhelming advantage. Even the little things make the city more believable, seeing pedestrians walk along with a newspaper, shopping in stores, calling a cab – makes it all the more sweet when you deliver a big swooping boom of chaos.

What better way to deliver that said chaos than the Havok engine? Saints Row is ragdoll mad and proud of that fact, its one thing to crash into an oncoming car but quite another when you can make the other guy/gal (or yourself) smash through the windshield. Volition has embraced a depth of action only made possible by this physics engine and they couldn’t have made a better choice in my opinion. There’s no blood or limbs flying off, but you don’t need that when bodies are flipping and flying through the air as you’ll barely able see the screen anyway, from your tears of laughter.

A car exploding is another great site, and a general purpose hazard. Don’t expect just a boom and some fire, they’ll be bang alright but also flying debris and then there’s the chance of being hit by the very thing you’ve sent into low orbit. Some cars look like a mechanical dog and they’ll perform like one, slow pondering speeds. Manage to score a metallic bullet and you can immediately feel the difference.

Respect is everything in Saints Row, just like the flow of cash and lets us not forget the bling. Completing missions or activities throughout Stillwater can earn you big respect points, which unlock additional story objectives as you progress. Activities are ‘side missions’, they are in no way necessary to finish the game but the additional respect, cash and rewards they grant can be well worth your investment. Some are noticeably harder than others, hunting down cars for the chop shop can be a leisure break compared to drug trafficking. There are many to choose from, my personal favourite would have to be Insurance Fraud where you get to really utilize the ragdoll take on things by simply flinging yourself into traffic.

Customisation is a real hot feature in many games, with more and more stuff being offered up to the player. You can choose from four prefixed racial presets, Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Asian. From there you can adjust anything about the face, nose, ears, chin, cheeks, brows, eyes etc. Hairstyles add that finishing touch, but even if after a while you get tired of your characters looks you can easily adjust everything using the plastic surgeons and barbers littered about Stillwater.

Clothing has been researched and developed a lot in Saints Row, and Volition has adopted a hip hop concept allowing you to layer your clothing. Not only that but you can go as far as rolling up one trouser leg, or the other, or not. Deciding on your bling is just as freebased, left wrist, right wrist, right hand index finger, left hand ring finger etc. So far Saints Row has exhibited the best wardrobe customisation of any game I’ve seen.

Certain clothes can a little extra rep gain
Always look after your Hos’

Saving the game is very GTA-esque, bomb it to your crib and use the giant rotating game box. As you take more and more neighbourhoods (if you want) you get bigger amounts of cash flowing in to the Row. These bundles of green are ‘stored’ at your home but it has a limit so if you want to maximise your profits its best to always swing by once in a while. A great idea is the weapons cache, while GTA traditionally would populate the outside with floating weaponry; Saints Row gives you the same menu as if you were at the gun store. You can change guns or restock on ammo anytime with no cost, some activities reward additional weapons at the crib.

Yes in game that does involve a significant amount of the crime grand theft auto (see what I did there?); there is a garage where you can store your freshly jacked cars. Once you’ve flung the beast inside you can recall it via a menu nearby your cribs garage, the car is loaded and you can take it out for a spin. Now a neat feature is that if it blows up you can visit Rim Jobs (Stillwater’s chain of garages) and they’ll recall it and charge a small fee to get it repaired which is fantastic if you just ‘lost’ that newly pimped out automobile.

Pimping cars is yet another level of personal touch, you can take the most crap-tastic piece of scrap and spice it up. Certain vehicles are off the list though such as emergency service vehicles, which is a shame I was looking forward to a nitro’d FBI wagon for those tight situations.

The control scheme is very simple to get used to and you’ll be blowing away entire city blocks in no time at all. When driving about you can use the left analogue to shift the camera around, if you have a weapon equipped you can shoot in a 360 degree arc. This however can take some getting used to. Speeding away from the police or enemy gang can be hectic, so effectively driving blind so you can fire shots of at your pursuers isn’t always the best approach to lose them.

Notoriety is a double whammy in Saints Row, as you can royally tee off the 5-0 (that’s street talk for Police) and as well as a specific gang. Both can rocket to five ‘stars’ and then utter mayhem ensues, and yes you can max out both for some entertaining showdowns. The police will engage you and other gangs so it can be strategic for them to rip each other apart so you can pick off the leftovers.

You can carry one type of each weapon, easily accessible by pushing the B button and using the right analogue stick to select an armament. If you tap the D-pad you use up a health booster which you can buy from Stillwater’s fast-food chain or pickup from others. It’s real easy to switch weapons mid fight from say gunning down some guys, blowing down a helicopter and then swapping back. It can become second nature in no time as each weapon type has a fixed radial position.

The story of Saints Row is good entertainment and with a heavy celebrity voice cast list. Though you may only interact with some important characters briefly, you’re treated to ingame cut scenes showing the impact you are beginning to have on their lives. There is one thing that can infuriate and that’s the lack of mission checkpoints or of a restart option for activities. The last mission for a particular gang (of whom I won’t mention) involved a trip to the airport. Initially you need to floor it along the highway, and then when you get there you have to blow a lot of stuff up. Repeatedly dying after a while can begin to sow seeds of anger, especially when you have to repeat the highway speed race each time as well, clearly a checkpoint system could be introduced as I felt like going supernova after the seventh rerun.

Music is a big thumb up, there are tons of tracks buried deep and surely you can find something you like. Mp3 player, yes you can play tunes (either from the game or you own custom Xbox 360 selection) on a mobile mp3 player which plays constantly. So if you’re constantly hopping in and out of cars and get tired of changing radios stations then turn the mp3 on. It’s great and what’s more you can visit a Stillwater music store and buy tracks for you to play, obviously Volitions evil and devious attempt to brainwash the pirating masses into purchasing music, which is kind of odd given the very nature of this game.

Radio stations and indeed the game in general is injected with humour but sadly I feel it gets no where near as funny as perhaps they’d like. Yes, GTA is still king when it comes to scripting genius as most ‘funny’ radio moments in Saints Row either left me un-phased or partially grimacing. It’s a great shame as it would have added the perfect touch to an otherwise already fantastic audio selection experience, but maybe next time.

The guys at Multi Theft Auto are probably considered deities among us mere petty mortals for delivering a multiplayer experience to GTA. Volition decided not to fight the inevitable and implement a multiplayer to mix things up. There’s a number of modes available, each unique enough to satisfy a particular players taste. One involves a team protecting the pimp (who wears the big pimp hat); the other teams must kill this guy at all costs and recover his hat. What’s hilarious is that the pimp can use the pimp slap which is an instant death move.

If shielding or shooting fleshy pimps isn’t you thing then perhaps pimping out a car is. Each team must strive to get their car to the max level of pimpage before the other side; of course you can sabotage each others efforts by blowing the bits out of each other. If it explodes then your downgraded a level so once a team reaches the top it becomes a deadly race to the finish line.

Xbox Live marketplace offers another benefit with discussions already flying about the official Saints Row forums for a patch to be released. Yes, though usually reserved for PC titles, the developers are working hard to hammer out some missed hiccups and to reduce latency (or lag) for online play.

Helicopters, planes, motorbikes and boats are strictly off limits to the gamer. You get to see the odd chopper whizzing about if you offend the police enough, or casually forget to pay back the loan shark. Teasingly there’s a parked Lear jet at the airport but it’s only eye candy, water fairing transport and bikes don’t exist at all. With the games engine it would have been interesting too see how they play out but I guess we’ll have to wait for a sequel?

Give or take a beating, and join the Row – good times!
Let no one dis your gangsta attire

While Grand Theft Auto will always cast its shadow I found Saints Row to be a credible title to stand on its own. Volition haven’t shamelessly ripped off anything, they’ve taken serious note to what gamers like in the urban sandbox ‘genre’ and applied their own spices. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve some ‘merchandise’ to run past the 5-0, perhaps I’ll score me some bling, or a haircut along the way.

Top Game Moment:
This is a hard one. I guess I could say either blowing the stuffing out of everything that moves in Mayhem, or lobbing myself in traffic for a bit of Insurance Fraud.