Welcome to the next gen world of mayhem and snatch called Saints Row. While this all new title is not a new genre to the gaming industry, it's the first to hit the most powerful next gen console exclusively on the Xbox 360. While many might make comparisons of this game to others that have been on the market, none of those games can match the graphics, physics and free roam. If you are looking to sit back and enjoy an open environment of gangs, bangs and explosives, Saints Row might be for you. Read on as we cover this first installment of Saints Row.
In Saints Row you are a member of the 3rd Street Saints. Under threat from rival gangs and corrupt officials, you must conquer the city of Stilwater one district at a time. Saints Row starts with a bang and never slows down, offering an unparalleled level of customization and the freedom to progress through the game any way you choose. Every action taken in the fully dynamic world helps you earn respect; get enough of it, and the city is yours. Saints Row is revolutionizing the open world genre, allowing players to battle it out against rival gangs online for the first time. The game will support 12-players on Xbox Live.
After you spend a good hour or so reading through the extensive manual (recommended before play), pop in your new Saints Row DVD. You will find that load time is on par with the majority of 360 games. First up is character design. Now if one so chooses, they can just take the default character and be on their merry way. I spent about a half hour or so creating my character to resemble with, along with the wife (she had to make sure I didn't give myself more hair than I really have). There are multiple ways to go about your character creation. If you are undecided, I recommend you creating 2 games. You can go with the default character and just free roam the entire game, and you can choose to start a secondary game with your personalized character and follow the campaign to the end.
There are 36 neighborhoods to take over in the city of Stilwater.
Your gang is The Saints, which are fond of purple attire and talking
smack while defending their gang.. Your rivals are Los Carnales, the
Vice Kings and Westside Rollers. The game starts you out at your home
base for the Saints, which is a nicely design church.
If you have the funds, you can buy quite a bit of stuff including train tickets, cars, weapons and food. As the map grows, you can elect to take a train to certain points to speed up your missions. You actually don't ride in the train, but instead you warp to your destination. If you really want to ride on the train, you can, but you must do so on TOP of the train, which gives you a nice scenic tour of the city and outlying neighborhoods. You can build up money very quickly, so collecting your entire onslaught of weapons will be very easy. Drive by shooting is by far one of the most entertaining aspects of this game. Not only is it easy, but it's fun being able to shoot rocket launchers out your window (or convertible) as you have your designated chauffeur drive you through the city just by giving them a call on your cell phone. Even your driver will shoot at your enemies while driving with you. They will normally not shoot until you start shooting, so the AI seems to have some smarts. Overall, the AI is pretty dense, and only knows to move out of the way when a car is about to run them over. The lines are funny, and there is plenty of dialog, but you won't get much more than that.
I also witness just how bad the FBI is at driving. During one scene while I was being chased down by the police via helicopter, I stood my ground in the water. At no time did the FBI think about stopping their black Chevrolet Suburbans from going off the water front edge to chase me down. One after another, the FBI showed up each time I took them out with my rocket launcher, they proceeded to drive their burbs right into the water.
The best thing since sliced bread is Xbox Live. This is the first game of this particular genre to take advantage of this stellar service. While the online is entertaining, it's not as much fun as I had initially imagined. My thoughts were server based gangs where you have neighborhoods that you need to take over, and this would evolve over a period of time. The idea of developing your own gang never made it to this first version of Saints Row, but they did put in some fun games that end up being similar to your typical "deathmatch" and the like. You will even get "spawn" campers taking advantage of the train system. That is beyond the control of THQ, but is irritating none the less.
Graphics & Sound
This is no Xbox 1 game, as you will see as you immerse yourself in the game. The graphics are truly next generation when looking at the overall map, character and vehicle combination. As seen in the below screenshots, you will find some of the hottest graphics are the explosions and fires (pun intended). If you have seen the fire graphics in Call of Duty 2, which are the best fire graphics on a next generation console, this matches.
The cars are finely detailed, showing real time reflections and shadows. THQ spent a lot of time supplying numerous "no name" vehicles with different paint schemes and conditions. If you are a car nut like me, you will be able to see which cars they are modeling each one after. Everything from a Mini to a Pontiac GrandPrix seems to be present, sans logos. The real time car damage, spinners and even suspension and turning are all very realistic in their appearance.
The character creation is almost limitless. If you try hard enough, you will be able to create a character that looks like you or even Harrison Ford. Be prepared to spend some time with all the facial feature controls that are available. You will be able to control well over 100 items on the face alone, giving you precise details. If you use the zoom feature during your creation, you can fine tune the measurements of ear location to lip thickness. What makes this really impressive is seeing your exact character in all the scenes, including the cut scenes. I could see where Saints Row could add the digimask feature of the Xbox Live Vision camera to replicate your face which would make creating your character less time consuming. Next update anyone?
The audio is stellar with full 5.1 surround. You can hear exactly where gunshots and voices are coming from. The sound along with the massive soundtrack make this game very fun and entertaining. But not all is perfect in the graphics and sound department. The biggest problem you will find is what some call "popping" or "pop in" or even "draw distance". This is mostly present in your interstate driving. As you drive along you will see cars "pop" onto the interstate right in front of you. In my best guess I would say they appear about 1/8th a mile out when the system is ready (and capable) of drawing them in. Same goes for the trees popping on the screen about the same time as the cars.
The other issue I found was how the Xbox 360 system would slow to a crawl during activities that involved lots of action and graphics. An easy way to see this would be to work on the Mayhem missions, where you increase your money and respect. This involves going from city to city causing as much damage as humanly possible. I was able to rake in some serious damage on the interstate by stealing a semi and taking out numerous other cars and semis. As the trucks and cars start to explode, and traffic gets backed up, you will also see your Xbox 360 back up. Pressing the "Guide" button during this event show the blade slowly reaching across the screen completely void of any text or images, leaving you with an empty blade.
One of the cool things that THQ nailed was the rag
doll physics of the characters. Running over people will send them into
the air, flopping about. Even more exciting was going head on (pick up
the speed a little) into a car passing by sends the occupant through the
windshield. Talk about cheap entertainment.
By no means is this game innovative. However the game does build on what is already out there, which is what many people are looking for. It also takes advantage of the next generation power (albeit programming might be off due to resource use on the 360), sound and graphics. There are no loading times when walking into rooms, buildings or connecting cities. If you are looking for what I could call mindless fun, this is the game for you. The game is rated "M" for mature, and for good reason. At no time would you want to play this game around your younger son or daughter. There is an abundance of cursing, which is almost too much in my opinion. If you can look past some of the drawing distance issues (popping), stale AI and system slow down, this game will be in your collection at least until Saints Row 2 hits the streets (we can all hope!).