Monday, July 31 2006 @ 12:00 AM CDT
Few titles actually manage to sell more than one million copies. It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that once a game breaks that mark clones begin to flood the market. The Grand Theft Auto clones have all been generic, lackluster clones of the franchise leaving Rockstar to advance the genre with blockbuster after blockbuster. Volition has stepped up with Saints Row and hopes to claim its own large chunk of the sand box market and set a bar that hopefully surpasses the GTA franchise and a chunk of its market share.
The very heart of the game will feel familiar to anyone who has played the GTA franchise. Controls feel much the same but add some advancements that feel extremely fluid within the game. Changing weapons is as simple as holding B and pressing the left analog stick in the direction of the weapon you want to equip. On the fly in the middle of large fire fights I had no problem switching from a gun to pipe bombs and back again.
Saints Row features a fairly deep create a player interface. Just about everything can be customized and will be displayed during all the games cut scenes. After creating your bad ass it’s time to get beat into the gang. The streets in Saints Row are in constant warfare as numerous other gangs exist all fighting for territory. Your crew however seems more focused on cleaning up the streets with the help of gun fights and breaking down the other crews.
The streets are all about respect and Saints Row is no different. Completing missions will be the quickest way to increase your respect. It can also be raised from killing rival gang members and doing various side missions. An example of these missions is Snatch. Talking to a local pimp you find he needs more hos. You will hit a competing block, kill the pimp, holler at some hos and return to slap a bitch and collect a piece of the action in return. Respect will unlock the various missions that carry the games main story. For the most part it should not be hard to earn enough respect from your normal running in the city but the missions will allow for new forms of income which is always welcome.
One thing that instantly got me to get a big kool-aid smile was the game physics. Based on the Havok engine, Saints Row features rag doll physics that make the various characters in the game flail and collapse in very exaturated ways. I found myself jacking cars just to get into accidents with. On some of the larger accidents I managed to create, people were flying out of windshields, doors and hoods went flying and chaos ensued. Walking around after the accident I was able to witness the destruction I had just created spread across the road. The game has these moments where the destruction can become really impressive.
From what we can tell Saints Row should provide plenty of comedy. After completing one mission I was asked to drop off a guy at “Freckle Bitches” so that “I can get myself a fun bag”. Turns out that Freckle Bitches is a burger joint that features a meal called “The Twins”. At FB you can purchase food which goes into your radial menu. At any time you can use the food in your possession to regain your heatlh.
Just as in GTA you will have an ability to wipe your notoriety. Forgive and Forget is a chain of drive-thru confessionals that operate in Stilwater. By running or driving through F&F all of your notoriety is reduced to zero for a nominal fee. However, there are a few missions where F&F is not able to reduce your notoriety. The plastic surgeon allows you to change the body of your character after initial character creation. Here you can change your ethnicity, darken or lighten skin tone, adjust muscle and fat, and totally reconstruct your face (you have to go to the barber shop to change your hair). In addition to recreating your character, going to the plastic surgeon gives the added bonus of removing your notoriety.
Running around the city the NPC’s have tons of dialog and in my few hours of playing did not get worn out of hearing the same things over and over. The cast of characters is impressive. David Keith, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mila Kunis, Michael Rapaport, David Carradine and Tia Carrere all have a hand in Saint's Row.
The multiplayer in Saints Row should only add to its replay value. Blinged Out Ride (BOR) is a Team Game in which the goal is to create the flashiest car. Each team is given a car at the start of the Match. The team car's health, its current Bling level, how much money is needed for your next upgrade and the time remaining in the match are all displayed on the HUD. Big Ass Chains (BAC) can be played either as a team or individual game in which the goal is to score the most points by dropping off chains. Whenever a player dies, they drop a chain. If an opponent walks over the chain, that chain is added to their total. Protect Tha Pimp (PTP) is a Team Game played in rounds. In PTP, one Team must escort a Pimp to safety while the other Team tries to stop him.The Pimp's Team has to escort the Pimp to a location indicated on the mini map within the time limit. One player on the team is randomly chosen to be the Pimp; this player wears the Pimp Hat. Gangsta Brawl (GB) can be played as either a Team or Individual Game in which the goal is to kill as many of the opposing players as you can.
Currently there are two co-op modes in Saints Row Mob Rule and Turbulence. In Mob Rule you and your ally are transporting a drug shipment when a riot breaks out. You need to take the drugs to a fortified warehouse on the other end of town. In Turbulence the cops have ambushed you and your ally as you return to Stilwater from an overseas drug deal. You must fight your way out of the airport. If you are able to complete the goal before either player loses their last life, you beat the match. In Co-op you cannot regenerate health.
So will Saints Row be a much hyped game that fails to deliver? With GTA headed to the Xbox 360 as well Saints Row will no longer be the only sand box franchise available on the Xbox 360. I have no doubt though that Saints Row won’t quickly climb to one of the few Xbox 360 titles to surpass a million systems. Though the demo was only a few levels, I spent almost two hours running around seeing how much trouble I could create in the city. Saints Row should provide hours of time to waste. Any fan of the GTA franchise will be happy to see that Saints Row sticks to the formula, but also advances the genre and avoids the stale clone feel.