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Taking back the Row

Saints Row

Enter the latest 360 offering from THQ; Saints Row.

Set in the fictional city of Stilwater, Saints Row thrusts the player into a violent gang war between 4 rival gangs fighting for supremacy. Volition has taken the tried and true open world formula and has given it a much needed next-gen face lift, offering unparalleled customization as well as robust multiplayer over Xbox Live…a first for open world games.

Cover ArtSince the first pictures of Saints Row were released onto the internet there were comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto series. And to be honest, rightly so. Yes this game is very much the same and at first glance by the first time gamer you could think you in a 360 version of a GTA title. But upon closer inspection you will find that there are some differences between the games. Grand Theft Auto has been the game for drive-by’s and gangland warfare for quite some time now, and why not the recipe for success was simple; good story lines, massive playground to shootexplore, good graphics but most of all great playability. How many times would you look for the combine in San Andreas just because your mate had found one? Well now GTA has some completion and for me, so far at least, Saints Row has come up trumps.

When you first fire up the game you get to start a new single player game. The first thing you must do is create your character. No more being CJ or Tony or some other person that the story writer decided upon. This time you get the chance to be who you want to be, in a Tiger Woods style of way you can change just about everything in your characters appearance. Of course I opted to get Lucy to help me out here and I think her tastes are not quite gangland but he sure does look like a pretty boy. Saints RowAs per most games now you can changer your appearance later on if you are not happy. The usual hair dressers and clothes shops for the immediate change. But now we have a cosmetic surgeons we can also look in at; handy if I wanted to toughen up my pretty blue eyes! Whilst this idea is not cutting edge by any means it does add a good feeling of being at one with the game. Once your character is saved all cut scenes now include your character as you made him.

The SaintsThe main story is about the 3rd Street Saints. The Saints are run by Julius with one thing in mind; take down the rival gangs and take back the ‘row’. Rival gangs come in the form of the Los Carnales, the Westside Rollerz and the Vice Kings. Each gang has it’s own story line and can be played through individually; essentially making this game consist of different stories. However in order for you to take part in the set mission’s you must have enough 'respect’. No matter how many times you drive round with Vanilla Ice playing out at max, you won’t earn respect. To get your gang noticed you must take on the other gangs on smaller side line activities. These little missions make up the bread and butter of the game and elevate you to a high enough rank to carry on in the main quests. There are a varied selection of mission to suite your mood, try the 'snatch’ activity where you must snatch hoes from rival pimps and deliver them back to your own. Or if your after something else try hijacking rival gangs cars. Saints RowOf course you can not carry on this reckless disregard for long before you end up in some form of trouble. This is where the handy HUD display will help you work out the best plan of action. As per GTA if you end up on the wrong side of the law the men in blue will come hunting for you. You can tell this from the blue bar at the bottom of the mini map in the bottom left of the screen. More stars means you will be getting a pasting and no free call. But if you lay low you will notice the bar reduce. This is done for each star and then you are home free. I also found it slightly easier to out run the police in Saints Row compared to GTA. However look carefully and you will see a similar bar at the top of the mini map. This is your rival gang meter. Cruise down the pavement and run down a Westside Roller and they will show no tolerance. Keep it up and soon you’ll attract the attention of the law at the same time! This time there is only one place to go; the Forgive and Forget church. Pay (and I mean pay) a visit and soon the sun will be shining again from your highly polished ass.

I find the controls really simple for a 360, but then I never played GTA on a Xbox; it was always a PS2 title. However die hard GTA fans might find a slight change and keep pressing the wrong button or missing the shoulder button to change weapon, I’m not too sure about that weapon selector. One comment that came out was the lack of a lock on target feature when shooting. This for me was important in GTA as the movement and firing of weapons was so ass about face. Saints Row have made things simple, control stick for moving, second stick for view, keeping the tried and tested Halo style movement. Because of this I don’t think the lack of lock on is too critical. Add to this the two weapon system. When in unarmed combat you can control the left fist and the right fist, then follow up with a kick. Very handy in close quarters, but now each weapon has a second feacture, pistol whipping fun to be had by all!

When it comes to weapons you have the usual array of pistols and SMG’s if your lucky you can find the larger RPG’s and rifles. These always add an extra element of fun, remember to save the game before you embark on a killer spree. Most of which are available at the Friendly Fire gun shops. Saints RowTransport comes in the usual elements, strange looking cars that might be modeled on a real life version but called something strange, all of which can be 'borrowed’. The styles and types of cars change according to the location you are in, but all can be modified and the local panel shop. One of the best features about Saints Row is the garage. No more will you have to stick just one car in there, drive a car in the garage and it is added to your 'stash’ of cars. Activate the garage again and there is the complete list of cars you have added, take one out and trash it, no worries it will still be in the list. Very handy.

If you are a die hard fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, in a few words; no. The game is very good but you will just sit there making comparisons and finding faults; trust me you will. If not then it is well worth the investment, if only just to tide you over until GTA is announced.