Saints Row is one of those games which you were never to sure about; I mean in the run up to its release Volition released new screenshots and fact sheets to tempt us. The one question running through every gamers mind though was simply ‘is Saints Row another GTA wannabe?’ Things didn’t get off to a good start for Saints Row as it was originally meant to be a release title and even though everyone seems to say ‘as long as the game is good I don’t mind how long it’s delayed,’ what they are in fact thinking is ‘ah damn it, not another delay.’
As for Volition they are the guys that brought you Red Faction II, Descent, Summoner and The Punisher (a game which is so underrated). So what could they do with Saints Row that Rockstar hadn’t already done with GTA?, well 360Monster went and found out.
The first thing you will do when you start the game is create a character and the level of customisation involved is reminiscent of EA titles like Fight Night 3. You can change everything from your characters build to the amount of fat in your cheeks. You will find yourself spending a good hour just making a new character, there is so much to edit. Of course for those who don’t care about the look of your character you can simply choose a set character model and you’ll be on your way.
Once you have made your fiddy cent look-a-like you will be thrust into the volatile streets of Stillwater. The first thing you will see in the game is a nice little cut scene, this is merely an info video to let you know what gangs you will be facing up against. Once the cut scene is finished you can either go off and raid some gun shops and shoot some hookers or you can join your new gang the 3rd Street Saints.
To join you simply have to kick the crap out of some of your fellow gang members (talk about getting off on the wrong foot) which again is not that much of a challenge more of a tutorial showing you how to beat people up. [Who said computer games were not educational? -Ed] Once you’re in the 3rd Street Saints you can start earning money by completing missions or activities and by god there’s a lot of work to be done before taking control of Stillwater. Activities include ‘escort’ which is where you have to protect a hooker and her client from the paparazzi, you get the usual with this one, by that I mean car chases with press vans on NOS while your passengers make rather loud noises.
Next you have ‘Drug Trafficking’, this one you don’t even have to drive, you simply have to protect your drug dealer friend from being killed, you don’t even have to leave the car to complete this one. You also get the ‘Chop Shop’ where you find cars and chop them up for money, ‘Hijacking’ where you half inch a nice car and sell it to a garage, ‘Destruction Derby’ which doesn’t need much explaining and ‘Hitman’… well if you need me to explain that then you shouldn’t be buying Saints Row.
By far the best activity is Insurance Fraud, you have to make money by diving in front of cars and you get bonuses for hitting ambulances and police cars. It’s just hilarious watching your limp body fly through the air after being hit by a rival gang member driving at 210mph, then it’s even better watching your bank balance grow with the injuries. The side missions themselves will keep you happy for a good twenty four hours at least.
The campaign on the other hand is in fact quite immersive, you have to try and take control of Stillwater by defeating the High Rollerz really they are nothing but boy racers…codename CHAVS. The Los Carnales, who are just a bunch of high rolling Spanish guys trying to pick a fight with anything that moves… codename hamsters. Finally there’s the Vice Kings, these guys are the creme de la creme, they live in penthouse apartments and have some really blinged out rides and ladies at there disposal. They are led by the kingpin of Stillwater, Benjamin King who is in fact voiced by the kingpin from the daredevil films Michael Clarke Duncan.
Another thing to note about the campaign is that you have to earn a set amount of respect to play out certain missions. Sometimes you will have no respect and the only way you will be able to carry on with the story mode is by first completing a few side missions. Now this is great as it means that neither the side missions nor story mode can truly be completed without doing a bit of both. A great idea which will see you travelling all over the map whether you like it or not.
That brings me on to my next topic the voice overs and the list is long and filled with some well known actors and actresses. Keith David who starred in one of the coolest ever movies The Chronicles of Riddick plays your boss Julius and also features in the Saints Row TV adverts finishing them off by saying "you ready for this playa?". Johnny Gat is voiced by Daniel dae Kim, for those who are staring blindly at the screen he’s the Chinese guy in Lost.
David Carradine, Tia Carrera, Freddy Rodriguez, Clancy Brown and many other famous faces voice various characters within the game. The thing about having famous actors doing voices is that when you hear them in the game you immediately relate to them, what’s more without knowing it you will, in some form, become attached to certain characters as you will feel you really do know them in some way.
I’ve already talked about the voice covers, but there is also a radio system much like GTA in Saints Row. I am a bit cheesed of though as one of my fave aspects with the 360 is the fact you can plug your iPod in to the USB slot and let rip, so it baffles me as to why Volition couldn’t make a radio station for your music, instead I have to pause my personal music when a cut scene comes on and it can get really annoying. There are of course multiple radio stations for those without MP3 players and the music includes rock, pop, classical and much more and it also has various interviews some of which are a laugh to listen to.
The next thing to think about is in-game customisation and just like your character customisation there’s a lot on offer. You can pimp your ride (I came up with that myself…I mean it…now lets watch some MTV), this includes adding spoilers, body kits, decals, window tints, rims (including really cool ones that don’t stop spinning, get this they call them ‘spinners’) and of course every cars caffeine Nitrous Oxide aka. NOS.
You can also customise your clothes from boxers to boots. Various shops within the game sell different clothes. The list of accessories include belts, trainers, boots, baseball caps, top hats, baseball shirts, basketball jerseys, jeans, suits, leather jackets, sunglasses and much much more. If you want to buy some bling you can buy various pieces of jewellery like crosses or jewel encrusted guns to hang around your neck. That’s not all; there are also tattoo shops within the game where you can add anything from flaming skulls to Ak47 to your body. I myself am partial to the huge tribal tattoos, but there’s something for everyone.
On the whole the game is pretty big, it will take you a good week or two to complete the main single player mode, but it will take you a lot longer to finish off 100% of the game. The campaign is immersive and will see you playing out all sorts of missions from taking on hundreds of guys with nothing more than a baseball bats, where as others will see you simply taking out a single set target. The side missions are also good fun and are great for earning more respect to play more missions and also even better for earning more cash to spend on that Rastafarian hat you’ve always wanted.
Graphically this game looks amazing, I’m trying not to compare it to GTA, but compared (good start) to GTA it’s a lot better. The character models are smooth and run walk, jump and fall without any unusual glitching. Also the little things like fences, walls, trees all look amazingly detailed. This extra level of detail was probably the reason the game was delayed for so long, but looking at it you realise that it’s worth the year long wait.
The explosions are also mouthwateringly good. Watching a car explode after pelting it with a round from an AK47 is nothing short of awesome. Chain reactions is even better, multiple explosions despite at times slowing the game down look unbelievable. Again trying not to compare it to much to GTA the explosions in GTA were a tad lifeless and the resulting wreckage looks pretty crap to be honest, but with Saints Row the flames, smoke and wreckage all look… well believable.
Not forgetting the games ragdoll physics which makes things like dying look cool (I couldn’t have made that sound any more morbid). The ragdoll physics is best seen when you go full speed into a head on collision with another car and the other driver will fly through the window and his limp body will float over your windscreen up towards the heavens as if it were high on Red Bull. It also makes the insurance fraud activity look unbelievably funny and is worth buying the game just to watch your limp body get run over by twenty two cars and an ambulance.
Sadly I did notice a lot of slowdown within the game, this can happen at anytime anywhere. It’s probably because of the fact there are hardly any loading screens, but to be honest I’d be much happier with loading screens as the slowdown is unbearable, it ruins a great game when it does happen.
Control wise the buttons are all arranged very neatly. Things like changing a weapon have been made so simple by simply pressing B and using your thumb stick to select a weapon or D-Pad to eat some food. The cars also handle quite nicely, each car is unique enough to have a favourite, I myself love the HammerHead it’s quick, excellent at drifting and quite tough. The drive by shooting system is pretty cool to; you can shoot at any angle, anywhere with a nice selection of weapons.
The game itself will last for a good few weeks if you go through all the side missions as well as the story mode. What’s more the games lifespan is increased furthermore by a pretty neat online multiplayer section of the game. Ranted at the moment it is plagued with lag, but after a patch or two it will be as streamlined as a Shelby GT500.
Online you can play with up to 12 players in all and against all or team based matches. There are tons of matchtypes including good ol’ deathmatch where the aim is to kill stuff using you homies as backup. Pimp my Ride is also pretty neat, in this you have to collect money by stealing jewellery then using that money pimp up your ride, first one to pimp their ride to the set level wins. There is also Protect the Pimp where one of your team mates or you yourself become a pimp and have to live out the onslaught from the other teams, then the pimp will switch to the other team and your job will then be to kill the pimp. There’s a couple more, but I found that those three where the best to play.
You can also play co-op games with a friend, again this is a great feature and it is great fun going around Stillwater with a mate killing every Tom, Dick, Harry and Wilma. Ok so the online is at times horribly laggy, but once the glitches are ironed out it will be unbelievably addictive online, even now with all the lag its still playable enough to be fun.
Overall the game is unbelievable fun, the story mode is immense and immersive and will have you playing until the sun has set and risen again. The side missions also add to the lastability of this game with great activities like Hijacking and Hitman, it is truly awesome. It looks like a next-gen game and considering I hated the GTA series I was surprised by just how much better Saints Row was. Despite the screen slowdown, online lag and a couple of other missing features this is a damn good game and is definitely worth its £50 price tag.
Originally Written By: Lee Matthews