Grand Theft Auto managed to create a genre that up until now had never been brought to life better than by Rockstar. With GTA4 slated for 2007, fans of free-form gaming need to wait some time for the next episode of this icon but the wait is getting easier. After all there are a lot of promising games lining up to take over the lead, think of Assassin’s Creed, Crackdown, Just Cause and this Saint’s Row.
Saints Row is all about respect. Respect that you need to earn to continue in the central storyline and to unlock new missions (which are quite original and offer more than enough variation). The way you fill your meter is your choice. You can recruit homies to help beating other scum, you can rob just about any store, gas station or pub, you can design your character from top to bottom and dress it up, give it tattoos, and in short you can do whatever you want in a way that has rarely been shown.
By coincidence, your character gets recruited by the Saint’s Row gang and after some obligatory fighting to proove your value, you get more and more entagled in a bloody gang war where you have to get rid of the Los Carnales, the Vice Kings and the West Side Rollerz. That way you conquer and defend more areas (36 in total), you gain respect, and of course more money that you can use for your (mostly destructive) appetite.
Buy yourself a big and better house, fill your garages with cars of your choice, paint them in your favorite color and buy a bigger spoiler, choose for those more expensive boxer shorts and let your hair be done by the coolest hairdresser in town. If it gets too hot under your feet and are the gangs or cops getting too close to you, then you can always pass by the local “forgiver” who cleans up your reputation in exchange for some cash. You decide everything and because of that this game becomes a real event rather than a bunch of missions.
Next you yourself, also Saint’s Row, an impressively big but especially intensively detailed and crowded area, plays a leading role in the game. The inhabitants react surprisingly realistic, not only by falling ragdoll-wise against a wall to afterwards getting a wheel on their head, but also when you start shooting or steal a car, or just take a dangerous turn with your car. Even the fire fights play good and are almost at the level of a full blown FPS. You don’t have auto-aim but the controls are so good that I didn’t even notice that. The same goes for the physics of the vehicles that are equally tight. Only when driving backwards the camera tends to struggle a bit, but that’s really a small detail.
Discovering everything that can be done isn’t only a joy because of all the action, surprises, unforeseen possibilities and adventures that go along with them, but also the interface, the map and the mission structure make all of this a breeze to start and lose yourself. That everything looks beautiful in high resolution is at the moment of course an added benefit. Not only the textures, models and details have been finished up to an unseen level, also the structure of the city, the variation in architecture and the realistic-looking structures and neighbourhoods add to the impressive visual experience. On top of that there are no loading times, you walk in and out of buildings without delays and you’ll easily forgive the occasional framedrop, pop-up or vertical sync problem. Let’s also not forget that the cut-scenes are excellent. Only with the vertical sync something goes wrong now and then but not in the way you could see in the demo. And indeed, the music is mighty fine as well!
Who thinks that after finishing the game it’s over with the naughty fun will have to review his opinion thanks to the many multiplayer modes. Although we couldn’t test them extensively also here a lot can be done. With game types like Protect the Pimp, Gangster Brawl, Big Ass Chains and Blinged Out Ride you won’t have a lack of replayability and options to have fun with your friends. With Protect the Pimp for instance one group needs to get the pimp safe and sound at the certain location while the rival group has to try to whack him. And meanwhile you can act tough in the lobby with the character you’ve created!
I can continue filling pages on this game but in the end you just want to know whether or not you have to buy this game and the answer is simple: Yes! Saint’s Row is a fantastic game, just like it’s a city that will become your second home, an experience that will make your X360 blow until late at night for one hell of a virtual ride. For lovers of GTA, this is a must; a clone of course (radiostations anyone?) but one filled with hormones and testosteron, with guns and bazooka’s that continue to spill fire through every broken window, and sweat puberal fun out of each smelly pore. This, my friends, is life in Saint’s Row and THQ and Volition have just set a new standard for free-form gaming!