Saints Row for XBox 360: Like Grand Theft Auto, but Grand Theft Auto-ier!

Once upon a time, there was a little game named “Grand Theft Auto” on the Playstation 1. Stealing cars and running over pedestrians was the order of the day then, and still appears to be now. “Saints Row” shows exactly how far this genre has come since it was first seen in 2001.

Was “Saint’s Row” made by Rockstar North, creator of the hugely popular series? No. But after five minutes of playing this game, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were back in Liberty City once more. Is that bad? Well, yes if you’re like one of the knockoff games that tried to cash into the Grand Theft Auto boon. Luckily for us gamers, this is not the case with “THQ”‘s spunky“Saint’s Row”.

Working in the game industry, when I hear people describe what a certain game is like, “Grand Theft Auto” has been the staple experience to liken to almost to any free roaming, killing game. The conversations go something like this; “Oh yeah…that new “JAWS REVENGE” game, it’s like Grand Theft Auto, only in the sea.” or “Yeah, that “Simspon’s Hit and Run”, it’s great…a lot like Grand Theft Auto, only with Simpsons characters.”

The majority of those games don’t even come close to GTA, sure, games like “Godfather” or “Mafia” have definite elements of GTA; cars, guns, sleaze but nothing has really out done GTA, except of course, the next release in the hit series.
Yet, in “Saints Row” we have something different from all the knockoffs from over the years. They haven’t tried to differentiate themselves from GTA, nor have they tried to make a cheap “all corners cut” version of the game. They have taken the GTA experience, and enhanced it for the next generation.

You start the game as an innocent passer-by who witnesses a huge gang fight. The streets of Stilwater are full of this, fighting against each other and feeding the crime underworld. The two survivors are members of a new gang, looking to wipe out the rest; the Third Street Saints. This is where the story and the fun begin.

Saint’s Row
‘s in-game map is covered with interesting locations, side-missions and much more. Its intuitive GPS tracking feature, allows places like stores, clubs etc to be found with ease. This is one huge improvement on the GTA franchise, no more confusing maps or difficult directions. Just follow the dotted line. The game does have a strong mission based story, involving escort missions, huge killing sprees and thefts.

But probably the most satisfying parts are in the mini-missions which there are plenty of. From murder contracts to drug trafficking, you will kept be happily busy for hours. Whilst not as big as the entire state you get to roam in “GTA San Andreas”, what you have instead is a beautifully rendered city at your mercy. No sterile, unchanging environments…fire hydrants explode in a blast of water when hit with a car, parking meters gush change when crumpled under your car’s wheels, all serving to further envelope you in the game.

But the explosions, oh the explosions! Does anyone remember when the Death Star exploded in the original Star Wars: a New Hope? This huge space station went out in what seemed like a puff from one of those automatic room air-freshners. Good for 1970, but this is the 21st century man! And MAN did they get this right in Saints Row. From fire, to passenger’s bodies…all fly off on there own trajectory when a vehicle is caused to explode. Shrapnel spews out, hitting all and everything in its way and causing its own mayhem.

All this is great, but lacking if not backed up with AAA sound effects and Saints Row once again delivers here. Great voice acting (listen for Michael Clarke Duncan), inspired and varied soundtrack and booming explosions add huge depth to the gorgeously rendered graphics. The “create your character’ feature also adds to the depth of graphic prowess exerted by ‘Saints’.

The amount of options rival that of “Elder Scrolls Oblivion“, with different ethnicities, clothes, hair styles, piercings…you can look as ghetto or as preppy as you like! (We’re all thugs deep down!). Changed your mind later in the game? Hey baby, this aint no GTA…visit the plastic surgeon for a REAL new look.

A fluid control system makes it feel much similar to ‘Ghost Recon-Advanced War Fighter’. The free-aiming makes it much more realistic than the lock-on feature often found in these games. The cars control well, and offer a similar variety to that of Grand Theft.

XB LIVE
Great XBOX live features help this game to come alive further with superb multiplayer matches involving “Team Death match’. Fan of “Counterstrike“? The superb “protect the Pimp” mode allows team battles very similar to that of the famed online FPS.

All in all here we have another awesome addition to the XB360 library. I first played this game last year on a very early demo, speaking to the main developer from “Violition Inc“, I sensed a great game. I played the recent released demo and was a little disappointed. But playing the final version, those first impressions come flooding back…although tearing a whole library out of the annuals of GTA fame, this game actually seeks to one-up Rockstar’s hit franchise, and does so superbly. Open, next generation game play will have you hooked for hours with great replay value. Play on Playas!

And take heed GTA IV, Saints Row has seemingly finally shaken your vice grip on this franchise. Live and learn my friend, live and learn.

OVERALL RATING 8/10

Title : Saints Row
Platform : XB360
Developer : Violition Inc
Producer : THQ
Genre : Action, Shooter
Rating : MATURE : Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
Release date : US : 08/29/2006

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