GTA Wars: The Attack of the Clones.
Saint’s Row, the Xbox 360’s own much hyped “GTA Killer” (at least until GTA IV hits in late 2007) has finally arrived on Xbox. The inevitable question on every 360 gamers’ mind is ‘How does Saint’s Row compare to GTA?’ Well, the answer is that while Saint’s Row does a lot of things right, it doesn’t quite replace the Grand Theft Auto series. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what Saint’s Row does do is compliment the Grand Theft Auto series by its blatant reproduction of the Rockstar Games’ cash cow.
Saint’s Row has two immediate advantages over GTA. The first is the obvious leap to next-gen, which means that the graphics are far better than GTA’s often vilified art style, and the physics engine adds a new dimension to gameplay. The combination of these elements really makes Saint’s Row feel like a next gen title; perhaps San Andreas’ bigger, stronger older brother. The second advantage is that Saint’s Row follows Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which gives it the ability to study Grand Theft’s shortcomings and improve upon them. And Saint’s Row does improve upon a number of areas where GTA is lacking. The graphics are the most obvious improvement. The character models and environments are much improved, with reflective surfaces on vehicles and a world that animates as if it were truly alive. Another improvement is the ability to fire more than just the Uzis from a moving vehicle as well as the ability to shoot in any direction from a car. There is also the aiming system, which eschews lock-on for a pseudo first-person control that aims with a free reticule. And there is the obvious online multiplayer, which is almost always worth the price of admission. GTA mods add multiplayer, but only for those who are willing to wait nearly a year to pick up GTA for their PCs, then wait even longer for someone to create a working mod. Saint’s Row offers online multiplayer out of the box.
Saint’s Row’s multiplayer has four modes. There is Gang Brawl which is simply deathmatch, Big Ass Chains, Protect the Pimp, and Blinged Out Rides. Right now, there’s a noticeable lag, but if online gamers can endure that, Saint’s Row has a definitely entertaining online multiplayer.
One thing that no one will accuse Saint’s Row of is originality. In a number of ways, it blatantly “borrows” elements from GTA, most especially the hip-hop heavy San Andreas. The recruitment of gang members, the customization elements, and the “urban” theme is almost enough to embarrass Rockstar with its flattery. However, Saint’s Row does slip in a few original ideas. The progression scheme allows the player to advance by earning respect, and earning respect is done by completing activities. Completing activities gives the player points towards unlocking new story missions. The activities are fairly diverse, ranging from simple Mayhem (which is basically causing as much destruction as possible in a limited amount of time) to Racing (self-explanatory) to Hi-Jacking (find a specific car, steal it, and bring it back to a warehouse) and the really innovative Insurance Fraud (injure yourself for points). The best part of this system is that the player is allowed to only play the events that he chooses. If you like racing but hate hijacking, you can skip hijacking altogether to earn your points in racing. Of course you miss out on some of the gameplay, but you can still play through the story mode and complete the game. Also, the map is very user friendly, allowing players to alter the legend to only show save points, stores, activities, or all. Players can also pick a point on the map they wish to go, and the map will give them the most efficient route there, which even changes in real-time if you miss a turn.
Saint’s Row also has a vast amount of customization. Players can steal a car, take it to a garage and change the color, alter the body, tint the windows, or even add nitrous or hydraulics to the vehicle. The cars are a lot more durable than in GTA, and once saved to your garage, can be retrieved from auto garages or personal garages with ease. Destroyed cars can be repaired and restored, solving GTA’s problem of customizable cars that are too easily lost or destroyed.
The sounds in Saint’s Row are also very well done. The voice acting is composed of an all star squad and is authentic. The sound effects in the game are equally superb. The soundtrack is diverse and interesting, but mainly composed of B-list songs, definitely not the massive and popular track listing made popular by the GTA franchise.
There are a few complaints to be registered. While the gameplay is fun, it is so overwhelmingly reminiscent of GTA that there are times that you’ll feel like you’re playing GTA. For better or worse, there are very few things to make the game distinctly Saint’s Row. Also, there is noticeable pop-in, with cars sometimes appearing from nowhere. Some of the more hardcore gamers may be turned off by the regenerating health bar, which can make the game easier than expected in certain areas. Even though the protagonist is customizable, you cannot adjust the height or the gender, and the protagonist doesn’t talk at all, an odd choice that seems outdated since Vice City proved how much more likeable Vercetti was than Claude. Finally and perhaps most unflattering is Saint’s Row’s sense of humor. Rockstar set the bar high in this respect, with subtle humor sprinkled throughout the game, replete with jabs and jokes that aren’t completely obvious at the first glance. Volition tries and fails to re-create GTA’s sense of style, but their attempts at humor, from the naming of the businesses to the radio commercials, just comes off as even more derivative and less-inspired than its current gen doppelganger. Also, a lot of the “urbanness” seems forced, like the corny babee!” the announcer spews when a kill is made in the online multiplayer.
Saint’s Row has surprised many gamers with its fun factor. If players can get beyond the fact that the game has obviously made a trip through San Andreas before arriving on the 360, they’ll find a game that is both fun and fulfilling even if it’s a clone.
Saints Row Preview
The free-roaming action genre is taking it up a notch. by Patrick Evans
Usually whenever we see a game that features street violence in an open-ended environment, we automatically assume that it’s just another Grand Theft Auto clone. At first glance, THQ’s Saints Row may appear to fall into this category as well. Keeping it on the streets and offering players an extensive online experience not seen from GTA, Saint’s Row may just be the politically incorrect, socially irresponsible street shooter that gamers will be looking for on 360.
Respect is everything in Saints Row, as it is in every street thug game on the market. The story mode takes you through 35+ missions involving drive-bys, police evasion, and everything that is “street.” While you continue through, you will see your gang begin to dominate the other three gangs in Stilwater, the game’s venue. Missions to earn respect include raiding enemy hideouts and safe houses, taking on opposing crime lords, and ensuring the underground economy of drugs and prostitution remains very profitable.
There will also be an impressive selection of repeatable missions to earn your cash and cred. A chop shop that needs orders filled will solicit your assistance, asking you to steal the cars they need and bring them back with the necessary modifications. If theft isn’t your thing, then try your hand at escorting high-profile celebs as they frequent the local prostitute rings. As you drive the VIP and their “date,” the goal is to avoid paparazzi and other annoyances by any means necessary. Cold-blooded murderers will find plenty of action by accepting contracts for hits all across the city. Finding the hit may be easy, but proceeding with the murder as directed in the contract may prove a challenge in certain situations. My personal favorite is the Insurance Fraud. By pressing a specific button, any damage that you sustain by car collision or fall is instantly transformed into cash. Whoever said “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” obviously never saw this trick.
Saint’s Row certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is evident with their Freckle Bit**’s line of fast-food chains. Apparently having no resemblance to another fast-foot franchise with a female icon, traveling to FB’s will allow you to recharge your health or stock up for later altercations. Even more outrageous is the idea of drive-through confessionals. Visiting Forgive and Forget chains across the city will drop your notoriety with the police for a reasonable price. Image as Designed is available for all your plastic surgery needs as well, allowing you to change every aspect of your character at any point.
While GTA may have had the fast food joints and the barber shops before, what it’s never had is extensive online support for up to 12 players. All of the modes have thugged out names of course. Gangsta Brawl is the Deathmatch mode, sporting both individual and team varieties. Protect tha Pimp is the Saints Row version of VIP, charging one team to defend a weaponless player while the other team attempts to eliminate him. Very similar to capture the flag, Big Ass Chains is a race against the opponent to capture more chains and return them to their base while avoiding enemy gunfire. The most intriguing mode is Blinged Out Ride. Both teams are given a car that they must pimp out while defending it from the other team. Pimping takes money, so players will scramble around the city in search of chains to earn the necessary cash. Once the car is pimped out completely, the team still has to worry about defending it from the opponent.
Saints Row certainly isn’t treading new ground with its single player, but the multiplayer support is certainly a refreshing addition to the formula. One can only imagine what kind of reaction super-lawyer Jack Thompson will have to this game, and I for one can’t wait to see it when Saints Row releases at the end of August.
- The way you like it – Never seen before non-linear game play in a completely open environment, delivering an experience unlike any other inside a fully realized living city, where anything can happen and undoubtedly will.
- Be who you want to be – Create your character from 1000’s of options and outfit him with the latest threads as you rise up in the ranks. Knuckle up or pop a glock to shape your street cred and build an increasingly feared gang.
- Clunker to a Classic – Use money to collect, customize and trick-out your cars gaining ‘much respect’ in the process.
- Smokin’ tunes – Whether in a stolen ride or one bought through racketeering, chill to any of 12 radio stations to hear dope tracks and pick up tips that could help you on your rise to the top.
- Multiplayer mayhem – Recruit gang members or take out rival gangs online in several different modes of play. Use the money gaffled to maintain your growing need for cars, women and gear.