Review: Wu-Tang, we always in the spotlight!!!!
?I am a nightmare walking, psychopath talking, king of my jungle just a gangster stalking? ? Ice-T
Saints Row, the open world gangster sandbox by developer Volition, is a complete rip-off of GTA. Of course, it's also a fantastic game, presented extremely well, with good looks and big improvements to the Rockstar formula to boot. Despite the fact that every last aspect of it is lifted wholesale from Take-Two's baby, right down to the HUD and car-jacking mechanics, Saints Row succeeds in most everything it does and any fan of open-world games in general would do well to look past any prejudices and give it a whirl.
Ok, now that we've got that out of the way lets delve into what makes SR a truly fun and exciting experience. As you'd expect, the game opens with a cut-scene dramatizing your near fatal demise from lead poisoning ? guns don't kill people, rival gang-bangers do, right? Anyway, you're saved at the last moment by Julius and Troy (voiced admirably by Keith David and Michael Rapaport respectively) and advised to drop by the Third Street Saint's hang-out to join the cause. At this point the game dumps you into the fictional city of Stilwater, home to several rival gangs including The Vice Kings and Los Carnales. The Saints find that they're at the bottom of the pecking order, so they're looking to get rough, take back turf, and make a name for themselves all over again.
Of course, you're now free to roam about the city, jacking any car you see, stealing from stores and beating pedestrians, engaging in story and side missions, and all the other fun stuff familiar to any gamer who has Grand Theft Auto experience (the game, not the actual crime). However, first you'll drop by the church where the Saints hang and get a quick jump-in to the gang and you're officially on the Third Street crew. At this point you get your first mission and a chance to save your game. You'll also get some weaponry, and a couple of assassination jobs to pull with Troy in order to make a statement ? the Saints are back, so look out.
The first thing you'll notice about SR is the tremendous amount of detail and sharp textures in the environments. The city looks fantastic, and your character model (which you can modify down to the finest detail via a fantastic set of sliders) is nicely rendered as well. All the cars look great, and overall the graphics are definitely something to get excited about. There's lots of detail on everything from buildings to vehicles, which look sharp and sport nice touches like spinning rims and sweet reflections. The lighting in Saints Row is top shelf as well, and the weather system will give your subwoofer a workout every time it rains. However, all is not perfect in the world of Saints Row as you will experience occasional pop-up on distant objects and some screen tearing (V-sync was disabled no doubt to boost the framerate, which holds up very well but still chugs occasionally. It's nothing that seriously distracts from gameplay though). Cars handle extremely well, and some of the more exotic sports cars and high end vehicles really tear up the pavement. Unfortunately, there are no motorcycles or planes in Saints Row, but there's a huge variety of 4 wheeled vehicles for you to indulge in collecting (you can store cars in your garage and access them anytime you want).
Character animations and AI are also well realized, and blowing up cars with the rocket-launcher never gets old thanks to the extremely robust physics engine. Running over pedestrians has never been so much fun ? and watching them come flying through the windshield is hilarious in a sick sort of way. The city of Stilwater really comes to life around you as people go about their daily grind, cops chase down bad guys (other than you) and you may even drive by a street corner and see a bunch of your boys shooting it out with rival gang members or the police. You can stop and help them out, or just keep rolling ? it's up to you. In addition, once you gain respect (filling the meter means pulling side activities and finishing story missions) you can recruit Third Street bangers to help you out, either in missions or just tooling around. They're actually pretty good at taking care of themselves and you won't have to baby-sit them, though the occasional glitch renders them unable to get in the damned car when the heat is coming down on you, though this doesn't happen too often. You can also use your PDA to contact other allies that join up with you as you make your way through the game.
As you complete story missions (there are 3 main narrative arcs ? The Vice Kings, Los Carnales and The West Side Rollerz) you'll open up new activities, as well as further your influence over the city. You'll gain territory and this translates into cash coming into your crib on a regular basis. Of course, once you take control of a new neighborhood you'll have to make sure the gangs don't try a push-back to reclaim it. You'll get random calls on your cell from fellow Saints to come and help fight, and this consists of high-tailing it to the location and taking out a set number rival lieutenants. Once you kill them all the pushback is defeated and you own that particular area permanently. Gunplay in Saints Row is fantastic, with a free-aiming reticule that handles like a dream and blows away (no pun intended ? seriously) the lousy auto-targeting of the GTA series. As you progress through each gang's main story arc, you'll start to notice strongholds for that particular sect show up on your map. You'll need to take out all the locations before the final mission for the gang in question becomes available. Each set has around 5 or 6 bases and you'll need to assault them and take out everyone in order to continue. The status screen in SR is excellent, with a nicely detailed map, lots of filters so you can locate exactly what you need and an excellent waypoint system that allows you to plot a course and then follow it on your radar to whatever destination you set it for.
In order to open story missions (by filling the aforementioned respect meter) you'll need to indulge in the many side activities that Saints Row has to offer. You can escort various drug dealers as they go about their business, riding shotgun and shooting any cops or enemy gangs that come after you, or engage in a snatch mission or two. Snatches consist of rolling up on various pimps, killing them and recruiting their charges to work for Third Street. You can also race, participate in a demolition derby, take on hitman and chop shop jobs (kill the target, steal a specific vehicle) or just get involved in some good old fashioned insurance fraud. Lots of wholesome activities for the kiddies in this one, right Mr. Thompson? The activities are lots of fun, and each one has up to 8 levels of challenge, but sometimes you just feel like plowing through missions and this system forces you to play the activities before you can continue with the main story. As I said, they are fun though, so you likely won't mind doing them, even if the system forcing them on you is a bit contrived. You can also break and enter stores at night after closing, or just walk in and hold up the clerk during business hours. You can also tweak your vehicles at the various Rim Job locations scattered about the map, buy clothes, weapons and food, or get a tattoo. You can eat to replenish health, or just stay out of harms way for a bit and your life bar will regenerate.
As you'd expect, SR offers a bunch of radio stations ranging from hard rock and alternative to talk radio and hip-hop. The double entendre commercials are all there, straight out of GTA and while the humor's juvenile, it has a certain sense of farcical scatology that definitely makes you laugh out loud once in a while. In layman's terms that means there's more than a few crap jokes throughout the game. While the songs are good, and the variety is excellent, it's a curious assortment of second string hits ? as if the developers paid for the economy package to avoid big royalty fees. It's all good though, and the game even features a personal music player that you can import your own tracks to.
Saints Row offers several multiplayer modes as well and while they're all passable, there's really nothing special about them. Saints Row really shines as a single player experience and that's its forte. The multiplayer isn't particularly inspired, offering a few basic deathmatch scenarios, as well as a co-op mode - unfortunately; you can't just roam the city with a buddy. Co-op missions are restricted to a designated area. Blinged Out Ride and Protect The Pimp at least attempt to interject something different into the online play, but ultimately reveal themselves to be pretty shallow overall. No matter, SR really does work best as a single player adventure.