Saints Row

It’s the game people are referring to as a Grand Theft Auto type of thing, as I’ve only played GTA II on the Dreamcast (at time of posting this review, August 2006), I can’t really compare them, but Saints Row is in tha muthaf**kin’ house y’all.

Rated 18 and rightly so, this is hardcore violence, with plenty of swearing and not really any sex, but lots of references and lewd actions.

The idea is to get into the Saints, a gang that has big plans and needs you to help carry them out. It’s not too difficult and you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting canonised, it just involves fighting some existing gang members and once completed, earns your way into the Saints and an achievement worth 10 points.

Well, where do I start? There’s just so much or even so little you can do, the playing area is the city of Stilwater and you’re able to go literally anywhere that’s accessible by vehicle or by foot. Controls are nice and easy to get to grips with, I must admit that I prefer to use the trigger buttons for accelerating and braking when driving vehicles instead of the default A and X buttons, but that’s just me.

Most of the cars handle pretty much the same, bigger vehicles are a bit clunkier and slower to handle, which is understandable, but a car is essential for getting around and if you don’t want to drag someone out of their car or pop them in the head (if you’re holding a gun at the time), you’ll find them parked around different places for you to conveniently use.

Cut-scenes are nicely done with some decent voice acting, your character doesn’t have a voice, but you’re only supposed to be getting the jist of what the mission will entail anyway. You get to choose how your character looks before you start playing through the customisation process, so it’s up to you what he looks like and whether you want him to have a big chin with a long nose and eyes too close to each other.

Once you’ve completed a few missions and activities, you should have accumulated enough cash to buy some clothes and give your character a different look, you can even go the whole hog and get some plastic surgery while you’re at it.

Another thing you accumulate when doing missions is respect, building up respect means you get to have followers and they can come in handy when facing a rival gang. You can use followers on some missions, but activities are mainly a solo event that earn you cash and respect, wearing clothing that has the gang colour also gives you a clothing bonus.

Earning cash is essential to your existence, really, if you die or get busted by the cops, you need money to be revived or bailed out. At one point of the game, things had gotten so bad that the entire police force was after me and even SWAT vans were blocking the roads as they tried to take me down, there wasn’t really any way out, so the best thing to do was give up. The strange thing was, instead of just busting me and take me to the station, they hid behind the car doors and shot me dead…

Vice Kings missions are the storyline as each one of them is usually about taking over a hood by killing the leaders, after some time though, they will try to take the hood back and you need to go back and reclaim that area. This is where having a follower can help your cause as they will shoot at rivals while you drive, you can also shoot while driving and can be a good tactic to use the car as a shield.

One of the things to remember is, don’t waste too much ammo on the members, go for the head guys as they’re the ones running things, once they’ve been taken out, you get the hood back.

The activities are what some refer to as ‘side-missions’, as previously mentioned, these are ‘tasks’ that you can do to build up some cash and respect. There are 8 levels to most of the activities except the ‘Chop Shop’ activity, which is an ongoing thing until you’ve delivered every car on the list to the shop. You don’t need to worry too much about weapons and ammo as they’re sometimes unlimited, but usually just one or two weapons may have unlimited ammo depending on what the activity is.

One example of having unlimited ammo is in the Mayhem Activity, due to it basically requiring you to destroy as much you can within a certain time and cause $xxx amount of damage, you get unlimited grenades to blow stuff up with.

It’s a good-looking game with nicely detailed environments, it’s just a pity that it suffers from graphical glitches in some parts and although it doesn’t really affect the gameplay, it’s something that shouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the testers. Another thing I found slightly annoying was how you needed to ‘select a storage device to use save/load’, I have a hard drive connected to the console and no other ‘storage device’, I shouldn’t need to choose.

Character animation is done well, with good ragdoll physics which you get to see when you smack into someone with a car or they get blown up or better still, smash through the windscreen of a car you’ve just nudged into a wall or hit head-on. There’s quite a variety of nicely detailed vehicles to drive and they’re solid, solid as in not looking or feeling like they’re just a bunch of polygons stuck together.

The soundtrack isn’t too bad and boasts an impressive 12 radio stations with over 130 tracks, some of which can be unlocked and put into your custom playlist, so you have a choice of what to listen to as you’re driving around. People will make comments as they pass, some maybe quite nice, some are pretty abusive.

You don’t need to stand for that, ooh no, go up to them and smack them in the mouth for saying you look scruffy or that you should be locked up and while they’re down, stamp on them, yeah, who’s the bitch now?!

As I said at the start of this review, I haven’t played the likes of GTA III or Vice City, so I can’t say whether it’s better, worse, in the same league or whatever, but what I can say is that it has great gameplay that will last you over 30 hours.

The main story missions are well thought out and some of them will take more than one attempt to complete, once you’ve got used to the way you select weapons, things seem a lot easier and remembering to use followers helps to ease some of the burden of going against a mass of rivals. The free-roaming element is nice and you can have a good drive around to take in the scenery as it fades into view by using the streaming technology.

If you want some hardcore gangsta action, Saints Row won’t disappoint and will give you all the violent gang-related action you need. The only disappointment was that it has the graphical glitches and even crashed at one point. Save points aren’t that frequent and not toot easy to find, there’s one in the Saints base (the church) and the ‘Loft Crib’ (your house), but you’ll need to keep an eye out for others dotted around the city.

Other than that, I’d definitely recommend it as a worthwhile addition to your collection, especially if you’re connected to Xbox Live and want to take on other gangs online or even play co-op with a friend.