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Saints Row Review

Saint's Row pack shot
Genre:Urban action / Sandbox
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.saintsrow.com/
Release Date:September 1, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:Grant Wilson (Midnight)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

For anyone taking their first look at this game, you'll immediately draw similarities to Grand Theft Auto and to be fair the developers have 'borrowed' a lot of the game-play style from the GTA games. Of course, there's no Xbox 360 GTA game yet so we can't compare directly.

As with so many games the first task is to choose and then customize your character. For anyone who is familiar with Fight Night Round 3's custom options you'll be right at home with the amount of features available. You can change everything from the muscle tone on your body, hair colour and facial structure in the form of how deep your eyes are set into your head; even chin shape is an option. The amount of things that you can change will undeniably guarantee that your character looks unique; I was sorely tempted by a pointy, Jimmy Hill style chin. Once you've finished setting up your player you're thrown into a fight scene where the aim is to impress a gang into letting you join, this basically involves beating some of them up and shows you the basics of the controls from jumping to punching and blocking.

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From then on, missions are available to you through lit up sections on street corners. Completing a mission gives you both cash and reputation which is measured against the other three gangs in town. Your reputation governs how people react to you, and you can also use it to extend your gangs territory in the city. Of course with such a large game area to play in you'll need to grab yourself a car to make getting around that little bit easier. This is where the GTA similarities really start, with even the animation of ripping someone from their car seat even looking pretty much the same. Once in your car you are able to do drive-by shootings depending on the weapon you have equipped. I found aiming while driving around quite hard though, as you not only have to aim the crosshair but perfect the timings for different car speeds. This is by no means a fatal flaw though as you can always resort to just running people over, which to be honest is far easier and also saves on precious ammo! And thanks to the physics engine, quite a few amusing things can happen while trying to run people down, falling street lamps can be quite a hazard.

To aid you in your missions you can also recruit 'homies', in game terms this enables you to have up to three computer controlled friends thugs to fight alongside you. Losing these allies is nothing to get worked up about as when one's been downed by some well placed bullets you have 30 seconds to revive them by pouring some beer over them. Quite frankly, if beer was this magical there are several gameSlave staff members who would be immortal by now. Anyway, this forgiving system also extends to your character, getting shot will obviously drain health but if you can get out of combat for long enough your health will start to regenerate of its own accord. If you do actually die though, you can either restart the current mission or else you will be placed outside the city hospital and have to find some transport and get back to where you were. Strangely the hospital staff don't get the police to remove your guns either, so you get to keep those which I guess is no bad thing.

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The money earned from missions can be used to upgrade and improve on your favourite stolen car. Upgrades range from decals, neon lights right up to nitrous which gives you a handy way of escaping the police. Something that annoyed me in GTA was that when you'd finally done up your car you could lose it all thanks to one crash. Thankfully, Saints Row does away with this by letting you pick up your car from the nearest scrap yard so you don't have to start all over again. Of course you don't have to spend your cash pimping your ride. You can always just use the extra money for some bigger weapons instead, although changing your cars look does help with losing the police.

Weapons range from the traditional knives, crowbars and a multitude of pistols, up to rocket launchers and grenades. The shotgun has a nice big bang to it and sends people flying down stairs and into walls in a very pleasing manner. The explosions are satisfying to watch, with a well placed RPG sending cars flying into the air flipping over with all the doors bursting open. Damage to the car models themselves is also well done. Slight crashes result in dents and broken glass while full speed head on crashes will give a nice concertina effect. There are many destructible objects in the city too. You can drive through wooden fences and pretty much most of the objects will interact in some way with you as you hit them.

Vehicles are obviously a big part of the game and they all handle nicely, different types of cars have different handling of course, with sports cars sliding nicely around corners and big people carriers feeling very heavy. The cars do all have working radios too, with selectable stations with over a hundred songs to listen to in different genres. The ability to stream Mp3's from your pc or even an I-pod, to replace the in-game music is also a nice addition. General sound effects are also very good, nice and meaty, just how you'd expect them really.

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Graphics too are also worth mentioning. The characters all look great up close and the vehicles are impressively modelled. Lighting is also solid, with the day/night cycle causing car headlights to be used, shining out a path in the road in an impressive fashion. The city itself does give the impression of being huge, dusty construction sites, churches and very well designed streets that barely seem to repeat. Building textures are also very good, all in all Saints Row looks great.

I must say, that after playing the demo on Xbox live I can't say that I was looking forward to playing much more of this game. The demo had major slowdown in a lot of areas and didn't really grab my attention at first. Thankfully there is pretty much no slowdown at all present in the full game and once I had played a few of the early missions I found myself having a great time driving around the impressively huge city. Obviously as I said before, there will be a lot of comparisons drawn between this and GTA but I can say that I had far more fun playing Saints Row than I did with any but the first of the GTA series. The story and dialogue both get better the further you progress and the missions are all fun to play and never take themselves too seriously.

Once you've completed the main game or are tired of doing missions you can hop onto Xbox live and play on some of the different modes available. There's "big ass chains" in which players must gun each other down and drop each others' necklaces off at certain points on the map. There's also an escort style game where one team has to escort a pimp to safety while the other team's job is to try and assassinate him. You also get a simple deathmatch mode and also a team deathmatch variant.

Another mode sees players compete to upgrade their car the quickest. The last Xbox live options are co-op missions which sees you and a friend take on gang members strewn around the city. All in all there's something for everyone to play online although I did notice some lag in the deathmatch missions a couple of times, however it was nothing too major. Given the amount of multiplayer options, it's more or less a given that you can also form gangs (clans) of buddies and challenge other gangs to game types. You can even easily dress up in similar uniforms so as to be identified. It'll be a while before we see if this results in some good clan match style games or leagues but who knows what they have planned for the future?


Saints Row proves that you don't have to be original to be fun and stands head and shoulders above the last GTA release. It most definitely comes with my recommendation and I'll definitely be playing more of it online in the future. It proves to be great fun and a worthy addition to any 360 owner's collection, if you can stand the colourful language and extreme violence.

The bottom line
8.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Addictive
  • Great multiplayer modes
  • Excellent vehicle handling
  • Huge detailed environment

Not so good stuff

  • Some missions can get repetitive
  • Some on-line slowdowns on occasions
  • Not very original

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