Saint's Row Review

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Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Gangs rule Stilwater. The ordinary citizenry of Stilwater is plagued by corrupt politicians and tasteless retail stores, caught between three rival gangs. But a new force is emerging from the poorest ghetto, Saint's Row. Rescued from a three-way gang gunfight by Julius, leader of the 3rd St. Saints, one man is brought into the city-wide battle. After a few gun fights, hijackings and high-speed chases, the decrepit church at the heart of Saint's Row morphs from a fourth-rate gang headquarters into the seat of power for all of Stilwater.

Kyle Ackerman

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is one of the best-selling games of all time. Only, this isn't San Andreas. In many ways, Saint's Row is a better game. The soundtrack may not measure up to Rockstar Games' latest masterpiece, and Saint's Row's celebrity cast is a notch below that of San Andreas, but Saint's Row combines lessons learned from the Grand Theft Auto franchise with the power of the Xbox 360 to provide play that beats Grand Theft Auto at its own game.

Plenty of games have tried to duplicate the success that the Grand Theft Auto franchise has achieved, but Saint's Row is the first game that's passed the only test that's important for a GTA clone: it's fun. All the San Andreas trappings are here: there's massive gang warfare over a west coast city, the ability to steal every car you see, a vast string of story missions, a huge city to explore, and a radio filled with a dozen stations of familiar music. And while there are a few places where the storytelling can't quite match Rockstar snuff, Saint's Row gets rid of many of GTA's irritations and adds what I always wanted in Rockstar's games. There's no need to pump iron or chow down daily to maintain your character's shape and abilities. And there are great features, like the ability to call up a driver who'll follow your instructions, freeing up your character to focus on gunning down critical targets.

Saint's Row adds so many mini-games that the story missions are often secondary. Players can spend all their time shuttling prostitutes to johns, hijacking cars, tagging walls, or assassinating targets. My favorite was the insurance fraud mini-game that took advantage of rag-doll physics and had me hurling myself in front of oncoming traffic in the hope of making a quick buck. These games aren't entirely optional – you need to try them to earn enough respect to unlock story missions. But the designers outdid themselves in making sure that there's always some cool task, just around the corner. There's no need to constantly drive across town to find something to do – in fact, it's all too easy to get distracted by the vast playground of Stilwater.

There's one area in which Saint's Row goes too far. Apparently, the humor of the GTA games wasn't juvenile enough, so Saint's Row strives at every turn to be more tasteless than every game to come before. The prevalent fast food chain is "Freckle Bitch's" (a not-so-satirical take on Wendy's) and used clothing can be bought at a chain called "Sloppy Seconds." And if those stores don't clue you in on the game's mature content, there's a lot of sex (usually just barely off camera) and the strippers are topless. But oddly, for a game with so much low-brow humor, the gangs of Stilwater are surprisingly politically correct. The game tries to capture everything stereotypical about the hip-hop image of gang warfare, and yet every gang has members of all ethnicities and both genders. Even gangs have to appeal to the masses.

There's so much to do in Saint's Row that it would be easy to go on for pages and pages describing every possible activity and action, and listing all the clever touches that Volition managed to add to the formula. But let's be honest. You've played a Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game, and Saint's Row follows the same formula, but adds countless refinements and a level of graphics that no PlayStation 2 game could approach. By the way, big kudos to the developers at Volition for the ending they planted on the story. It's easily worth finishing all the story missions to see what happens when you finally rule the city.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 7, 2007 6:24 PM.

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