X05: Saints Row Updated Hands-On

THQ and Volition show off the latest version of their promising third-person action game for the Xbox 360.

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AMSTERDAM--Saints Row was on display at Microsoft's X05 press event in Amsterdam, and we took the promising third-person action game for a ride. We got our first look at the Volition-developed urban action game earlier this year prior to E3 and were impressed by the ambitious change of pace from Volition's previous work. Since then, we've gotten peeks at the game as it has slowly come together. The version on display at X05 was the most recent, although it was suffering from the expected bumps as it makes the leap to final hardware.

The X05 version offered the meatiest chunk of the game experience we've seen to date. Besides the now-standard option to run around the city experimenting with various gameplay mechanics, the game included some of the ancillary tasks you'll be able to take on in the game. Volition reps on hand noted that the biggest challenge in creating a demo for a game like Saints Row is the game's open-ended gameplay, which encourages players to explore and go through the game however they like. The demo showed off a portion of the character creation feature, which lets you select a preset Asian, Caucasian, African-American, or Latino visage for your virtual gangbanger. Once you settle on your look, you can run around the city to interact with non-player characters and the environment.

The most noticeable addition to this version of the game is the map screen, which featured icons denoting places of interest such as shops. The cool thing about this particular version of the game was that it was possible to initiate holdups at the stores. The mechanic seems simple--you initiate the act with a button press, then intimidate your target with a weapon until the target heads over to a safe and opens it, leaving you with a stack of money to collect. Driving has also improved quite a bit since our last look at the game, offering tighter handling and a bit of tuning on the camera.

The visuals are looking cleaner, particularly the main character. The environment is also teeming with activity, detailed streets, and buildings. The rough spot to the action was the frame rate, which has taken a hit with the shift to final hardware. Though the action bogged down fairly often, Volition reps noted that it should improve quite a bit once the team goes back for another round of optimizations tailored for the final hardware's specifications.

The audio sounds a little bare-bones at the moment, because the music tracks in the game are being implemented. We heard one track, but for the most part, the full audio package of licensed music tracks has yet to be dropped in the game. However, in talking with reps from Volition, the game is poised to get some pretty cool tunes that should please most folks.

Though the work-in-progress version of Saints Row we played was rough around the edges, we're still looking forward to it. The content continues to impress us and leave us wanting more. The visuals are stylish and offer a smart showcase for the 360's power. The audio is shaping up to be an interesting collection of ambient noise that will be complemented by the eclectic soundtrack being compiled for the final game. Saints Row is slated to ship during the Xbox 360's launch window in the US. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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