• We’ve lost count of how many games have tried to emulate the Grand Theft Auto series and have failed. True Crime, Driver and Mafia are just a few of those games that have tried and failed to capture the fun of GTA. However, now a game has stepped up to the plate that not just copies Grand Theft Auto to the letter, it takes what it already has and improves upon it dramatically. Some people say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Saints Row is more like Volition saying to Rockstar, nice try, now here’s how you do it.

    Caught up in a battle between the warring factions of the fictional city of Stilwater, an a typical American city based loosely upon Chicago/Detroit, you only survive a fierce gang battle thanks to the Mother Teresa with a gun like actions of Julius Little, leader of the 3rd Street Saints and his deputy Troy. Julius welcomes you to come along to the Saint’s headquarters, an old abandoned church on the Row as the Saints prepare to take what was rightfully theirs. Sure it might not have the cinematic flair that the likes of Vice City and its failed drugs deal has but as for opening to the rest of the game, it fits in perfectly with the tone and scale of Saints Row.

    As you might have guessed, the city of Stilwater is under the grip of an epic gang war, the likes never seen in a videogame before. With the other three gangs controlling 95% of the city at the beginning of the game you have your work cut out for you. Each has their own reason for being in power, each have a weak point. The Vice Kings, the second largest gang have the police in their pocket and a huge legitimate business perfect for laundering money. Los Carnales have the drugs trade sewn up and the Westside Rollerz… well they have the illegal motor trade under lock and key. Each is determined to crush any opposition; each is determined to keep their own stake. Each has crushed many like you who’ve come before and they see your fate as no different.

    Saints Row

    Outside of the missions and activities there is still plenty to do including exploring and well being a general pain in the backside to the citizens of Stilwater. If you’re a little short on cash then you can always perform a hold up or if you’re less patient break into the back during the day and crack the safe. Provided your quick enough you can make a clear getaway. If you have nothing to do at night then you can alternatively break in to the same shops and take part in the thief mini game where you have to get to a pawnshop before the police arrest you. Other mini games include the ability to take hostages, as well as taking part in street races. While not critical to completing the game it’s a good way to waste time while waiting for the shops and various time limited activities to re-open.

    Another area that the game has clearly imitated Grand Theft Auto is the game’s sense of humour. As in GTA the game is filled with adverts that don’t take themselves too seriously. The same can be said about the various radio shows. Unfortunately, both the posters and radio chat aren’t as smart as the jokes in GTA, plus they are perhaps a little too heavy on the profanity making it sound more like a Colin Farrell movie than a GTA homage.Â
    One aspect in which Volition shows the way is the ability to use taxis. Ok so it’s something small and fiddly but it’s surprising how much it adds to the game and it’s sense of reality. You can’t just jump in one though; you have to ring for one. Yes, that’s right, ring for them. In fact taxis aren’t the only things that you can ring for. The list is huge, and includes many of the shops you can visit in your everyday travels.

    Speaking of the shops you can buy a huge variety of things in Saints Row. Aside from the obvious things such as weapons and health you can also buy things such as liquor, drugs, clothes and even a car. It’s even possible to get haircuts and plastic surgery, handy when your being chased by the 5-0 and are too far away from a forgive and forget.

    Speaking of Surgery, before you even start the game you are able to choose the appearance of your character with a massive selection of options. Using a slider system similar to The Sims 2 you are able to create pretty much any face you can think off. We’re planning to make George Bush as soon as we’ve finished the game once because lets face it, there’s going to be nothing funnier than seeing G. W. Bush running round the streets with a rocket launcher in his hands.

    The selection of weapons within the game is quite good as well with a nice variety of weapon types to choose from including melee, pistols, machine guns, shotguns, rifles, thrown and rocket launchers. You can only carry one type of each at a time but it’s not a problem to drop a certain type to pick up an enemies gun however, if you still have a substantial amount of ammo and you swap types you’ll loose the rest of that ammo so be careful when swapping weapons.

    Of course, weapons in the case of Saints Row aren’t limited to the ones you can purchase in the shops. As you progress throughout the game you’ll be able to gather more and more hommies around you until you reach three followers. The ability to have more than one pair of hands when taking on other gangs is very helpful and thankfully these guys and girls can take a real punch. Even if they die it’s as simple as feeding them booze by pressing the Y button to revive them.

    Unlike Grand Theft Auto if you die you don’t lose your weapons, a refreshing change from the frustrating of uncontrollable deaths that often happen in this type of game. However, you do lose a proportion of your cash but it’s often less than what you’ll have earned in the time you were in hospital. A simple trip to your stash is enough to rectify the deficit.

    The only real problem about Saints Row is that unlike Grand Theft Auto, the city is landmark-less. That’s not to say there aren’t any but quite often they’re miles apart and useless for navigating. On the plus side the difficultly in learning the streets like the back of your hands means the sensation of the city being huge last longer than GTA. Thankfully the game also has something else that GTA has always sorely lacking: a navigation system. By opening up the map screen and place a waypoint you can find you way around the city quickly and efficiently.

    On the Xbox Live side of things the game is well thought out with each player taking part in an online gang war, but is ultimately poorly executed. Unfortunately there is no way to limit the amount of player in a game unless you make it private. You’ll often find you’ll reach a nice amount of players without suffering lag and then the game will decide it can fit another six players in creating a huge lag that ruins the online side of the game. Hopefully Volition can rectify this soon by releasing a patch that changes that part of the game.

    Visually the game is stunning, especially on a high definition TV with tiny details such as the mirrors in the car reflecting what is behind it in crystal clear detail. Shadows that move with the light source are also particularly impressive. Another area where the game is particularly impressive is the sound in the game with sound effects and music not just the best parts. In fact by far the most impressive parts of the game are from the voice actors, with the professionalism of the performances from Keith David who plays Julius (The Arbiter in Halo 2) and Michael Clarke Duncan who plays Benjamin King (The Green Mile, Armageddon) really making the whole thing believable.

    Score: 9/10

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