Saints Row Review
Saints Row may look like just another Grand Theft Auto rip-off, but the rare quality of its action and presentation make it stand tall on its own merits.
- It successfully copies the oft-imitated-but-untouchable Grand Theft Auto formula
- fun, responsive driving controls are as good as on-foot shooting action
- impressive presentation, featuring amazing explosions and great audio
- mostly well-written, well-acted story will compel you to keep playing
- various little why-didn't-someone-think-of-that-sooner features.
- In some ways, it will be familiar to a fault to anyone who's played much GTA
- some noticeable bugs and glitches
- not much variety to the mission design.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Rockstar North, the developer of the Grand Theft Auto series, should be very, very flattered by Saints Row. After all, developer Volition's take on an open-ended criminal action game is almost criminally similar to GTA on first impression. Like GTA, Saints Row offers much the same combination of driving and shooting action; it's set in a fictitious, modern American city; it lets you run or drive pretty much wherever you want to right from the start; it's got a ton of licensed music on the soundtrack; and it's got a sense of humor that ranges from dirty to dark. But this superficial lack of originality only hurts the game at first glance, if at all. As outstanding as the GTA games are, you'll find that Saints Row is similarly enjoyable in many important respects--and even better in a couple of key ways. That is, like GTA, Saints Row finds its own careful balance between realism and fun. It's an exciting, dynamic experience that's frequently rewarding and rarely frustrating and can keep you coming back hour after shameless hour, as you cause mayhem throughout the rather large, detailed city of Stilwater. What's more, a surprisingly entertaining storyline and a number of smartly designed gameplay features make Saints Row a memorable game in its own right.
You begin play by determining your character's appearance, and you have what seems like a limitless number of options to choose from. There are presets for different ethnicities, but you can proceed to make your character look however you want. It seems gimmicky at first, but since your physical appearance--at least your clothes--do end up having some impact on gameplay, the sheer variety during character creation is impressive. The game starts with you nearly getting caught in the cross fire of a gang war. You're saved by Julius (voiced perfectly by Keith David), the charismatic leader of a racially diverse gang called the 3rd Street Saints, one of Stilwater's four biggest criminal groups. And he invites you to join up. The game's introductory cutscene has a couple of lines of painfully bad dialogue in it, suggesting that Saints Row will go on to bombard you with horrible clichés and an appalling fake attitude. But, somehow, somewhere, the story gets really good. Maybe it's the expressive characters and the excellent voice performances by the likes of Michael Clarke Duncan, David Carradine, and others; or maybe it's the choreography of the cutscenes and the quality of the dialogue. It's probably all of these combined. Saints Row isn't always clever or funny, and in the end, the story will leave you hanging. Even so, for its occasional misses, the quality of the game's writing and storytelling turns out to be one of the highlights.
The beginning of the game sets up how the gameplay experience itself is structured. There are several different main story arcs for you to follow, involving the Saints' war against its three rivals. Each enemy gang has its own identity, preferred vehicles, and major characters, and you may attempt to take over their turf in whatever order you wish. However, you can't just jump from one story mission to another. The game makes you earn "respect" before you can take on missions, which is mostly a contrived way of forcing you to try out the many different ancillary activities available in Saints Row, rather than just blowing through the story. This structure might seem heavy handed at first, but since there are many fairly easy and entertaining ways to earn respect in the game, it turns out to be more good than bad. The search for more respect will introduce you to some of Saints Row's many amusing minigames. Though most all of them are fun, the best ones are probably "insurance fraud," in which you must deliberately throw yourself into oncoming traffic as violently and in front of as many witnesses as possible, and "mayhem," which simply tasks you with causing as much death and destruction as possible within a certain time limit.
The reason basic activities like rescuing hookers and defending drug dealers going on their equivalent of a paper route are entertaining in Saints Row is because the game has rock-solid driving and shooting controls. The game's action is gleefully and appallingly over-the-top to the point of being silly, though the liberal use of profanity and adult content in the script earns this game its M rating with honors. The dozens of different cars in the game not only look great but also have distinctly different handling characteristics, yet they're all quite easy to steer through tight turns and oncoming traffic and so forth. What's more, the game is filled with truly spectacular explosions and a good selection of guns. Also, you'll frequently get to fight alongside up to three computer-controlled "homies," who'll do a thoroughly competent job of following you around and helping you kill whoever's shooting at you.
With the exception of a few fairly tough story missions and higher-level side missions, the game is very forgiving. Your character's health automatically regenerates if you avoid taking damage for a while, and you can suffer a lot of punishment before you die anyway. Also, you can carry health-restoring food items around with you, but even if you do get smoked during a mission, you're then conveniently prompted to start it over from the beginning, instantly. The alternative, when you die, is a quick trip back to a hospital, from which you can easily carry on. The game is awfully nice when your friends die, too. If you have allied gang members following you around and one of them gets knocked out, you've got 30 seconds in which you can instantly "revive" the guy (by pouring a 40 oz. beer on him, which may or may not be dumb). While this sure beats having to restart a mission because a computer-controlled character got himself killed, the system is really too generous since it effectively makes your allies invincible.
Saints Row offers some other conveniences that are on the verge of being innovations, most notably in its map system. Your onscreen minimap doesn't just point you in the general direction of where you need to go (if you have a mission objective); it shows you an optimal path to get there. This makes navigating Stilwater's streets, especially during high-speed chases, much simpler than in similar games, where finding your way around a city can be as tough as evading the authorities. Also, the game's main map can be instantly brought up at any time at the touch of the start button, and you can always set a waypoint from wherever you are to wherever you want to go. Saints Row even lets you save your progress whenever you want, and your hideout can be magically used to store dozens of different vehicles and an unlimited supply of basic weapons. All of these little things add up to make Saints Row, in a couple of words, very playable. You get to spend your time in this game getting to places you want to go and undertaking action-packed missions, rather than getting stuck in trial-and-error ruts, getting lost, staring at a lot of loading screens, or feeling like you're not making progress.
Much like GTA's world, the world of Saints Row looks a lot more realistic than it really is. You can safely ignore all traffic laws, and even if you do start to commit wanton acts of unprovoked violence, there's little real consequence. This doesn't mean it isn't fun to stir up trouble, though, such as by holding up a liquor store or driving down a busy sidewalk. Getting into serious trouble takes a little work, as the cops won't come after you for speeding or running red lights or anything like that. In fact, they'll ignore you even if you jump on the hood of one of their squad cars with a shotgun in hand. It takes a fairly deliberate and violent act to draw the authorities' attention, and you also need to watch out for rival enemy gang members, who may come after you in increasing numbers should you start killing their own. This can make for some exciting pitched battles, when your gang, an enemy gang, and the cops are all having it out. If you've got some gang members with you, they'll shoot automatically while you drive around, and some sequences (predictably) put you in the gunner position while a computer-controlled character does the driving. You can even shoot and drive at the same time, though it's hard to concentrate on both steering and aiming.
- Downloadable Game
- Player Reviews: 1,088
- Game Universe:
- Saints Row (PS3, MOBILE, X360),
- Saints Row 2 (PC, X360, PS3, MOBILE, BB),
- Saints Row: The Third (PC, PS3, X360),
- Saints Row 2: Ultor Exposed (PS3, X360),
- Saints Row 2: Corporate Warfare (PS3, X360),
- Saints Row Double Pack (X360),
- Saints Row IV (X360, PC, PS3),
- Saints Row: The Third - Gangstas in Space (PS3, X360, PC),
- Saints Row: The Third - Enter the Dominatrix (PC, PS3, X360),
- Saints Row: The Third - Penthouse Pack (PC, PS3, X360)
- Number of Players:
- Number of Online Players:
12 Players Online