Malik (9/13/06)

Saint's Row (360)

From Volition

When it was first announced, Saint's Row was seen as yet another in a long chain of cheaply done and poorly executed Grand Theft Auto clones. Between the screen shots that first graced 360 preview galleries and the limited initial coverage, it could not be overlooked that SR looked like it would be another Driv3r, The Getaway, Mafia, or The Godfather.

When you look back at the legacy of all that Grand Theft Auto 3 and later had done correctly, and all that was horribly mutilated and mangled by the clones, it seemed like only Rockstar could sit on the throne of being the king of 3D sandbox/crime games. However, while Driv3r, The Getaway, and The Godfather all tried to reinvent the wheel, Volition tried something very different with SR; they would not reinvent anything. They would simply aim to improve upon what Rockstar had done so well.

So, with screams of GTA fanboys on one side of the fence yelling how SR is a cheap clone, and with Volition and 360 fanboys screaming how GTA is a beta test of Saint's Row, one can nly look at Saint's Row as an individual game...and not at what inspired it or was imitated by it. So, how is Saint's Row as a game? As an individual entity in the world of the geek? Read on...


Quite similar to the plot of GTA:SA...wait...let's start over. This is not a comparison of Saint's Row to any other franchise. This is a real honest review of a real honest attempt at gaming greatness. So, like how any of us would rather be judged on who we are and not how we compare to greatness, SR deserves the same honest judgment.

Saint's Row focuses on the 3rd Street Saint's out of the Saint's Row neighborhood of the fictional town of Stillwater. This is a completely fictional town in a unknown state in the US that has some hills, some water in the form of both a harbor and a river, and a semi-major national airport. This is also a town under siege by three other rival gangs which are all attempting to take control of the city.

On one hand, you have the stereotypical Latino gang; Los Carnales. This is a gang of low-rider loving, drug dealing, family orientated men. They control the southern end of town, which consists mainly of the factories, the harbor, the warehouses, and the airport. The one characteristic that most marks this gang is that they have brought the Columbians in to help with taking full control of the drug game.

To the north of Saint's Row, you have the Vice Kings. This is a gang obviously influenced by Death Row Records. You have Mr. King, a wealthy record mogul who was once a lowly gang banger in his day, as the head of this group. The primarily control aspects of the entertainment industry (leaving them in charge of downtown Stillwater), while having a few too many cops in their pockets...and a nasty power struggle in their ranks.

On the west side of town you have the Westside Rollerz (notice the cool "z"). This is not as much a gang as a bunch of rich street racing punks being joined together through some, at first, mysterious power/person. These kids mainly control the suburbs, the area around the local stadium, and Chinatown. In a nutshell, this is just a group of spoiled rich kids with fast cars and big guns.

To round things out, we have the protagonist gang; the Saints. The Saints are the equal-opportunity gang of Stillwater, bringing together men and women of various races and backgrounds under a single abandoned roof; the Saint's Row church.

As the game opens, we are introduced to our nearly voiceless protagonist (you). While it may not seem like it for some time, you do have a small bit of personality...but you just don't speak until the situation definitely calls for it (after finishing any major story arc). You are just another random civilian in the city when a mini gang war erupts in front of you. Next thing you know, cars are on fire, bullets are flying, and you're about to be executed. That's when Julius and Troy, the first and second in command of the Saints, arrive to save your life. Julius asks you to join up with the Saints, and that's where the game finally begins.

As the plot progresses, you will get a great chance to go through four very unique story arcs, with many diverse characters calling the shots. You will spend time doing jobs to help the Saints regain some notoriety under the eyes of Julius. You will take down the Rollerz with the subtle help of an undercover Saint. You will take down Los Carnales through the strategy of one of the smarter Saints. Best of all (at least in terms of humor), you will utterly destroy the Vice Kings under the wing of a psychotic, trigger-happy maniac. Then you will wrap up some loose ends and see a fully evolving plot, from start, to middle, to conclusion.

When it comes to action games and plots, not many can offer quite the emotional range of what SR has in store. Each character has a unique personality and motive. There are very few events in the game that will happen with no real reasoning behind them. While some events may seem cliché, it is only because of the long standing truth; everything has been done before. What matters is the mix of these clichés...and that's something SR has down.

Game Play

This game builds upon the now classic open ended sandbox world genre in many great ways. The majority of the game is based upon you enjoying an open world which is completely and freely explorble from the moment the first cinematic is concluded. This world offers dozens of things to enjoy, from "activities", to main story missions, to the ability to steal any vehicle and go crazy with any weapon you find (be it by spending cash at a weapon store, finding them on the bodies of fallen civilians and law enforcement officers, to finding some lying on the ground). This is a freely enjoyable mini-world with miles of streets and dozens of enjoyable attractions.

However, before you can start to enjoy all of that, you first need to create a protagonist. The only real limits you face in this is on your height, you gender (male), and by what is allowable in a real human. You can design the general build from muscular and fat to skinny on all accounts. You can design where you facial features are located, what structure your face has, you hair style, and what general skin and hair color(s) you have. If you want to make a famous face, you are more than free to do so. Plus, this is all easy enough to manage that I was able to make a close representation of myself with only about 15 minutes of fine tuning.

However, even if you like you character at the start of the game, you may change your mind as you play. Well, if such a feeling of regret befalls you, then you can easily visit either a barber or a plastic surgeon during the game to update or radically alter your past commitments. Best of all, no matter what you want your character to look like, you will not suffer any adverse conditions. If you want to make a regular doughboy, you will still be able to run like the best of them.

Once you've really began, the main missions will help to guide you into understanding both the story and your abilities. You will quickly be introduced to melee fighting with your gang initiation baptismal ceremony. From there, you get a crash course in ranged fighting, and then you get to see the finer points of driving and also the joy of "activities".

So, you may be wondering what I mean by activities. Well, as mainly optional side events/mini-games, you can initiate an activity. These will range from finding prostitutes for local pimps, to escorting famous "couples" in the back seat of your car as you try to evade the paparazzi and angry spouses, to causing complete carnage in specific areas of the city, to street races, to demolition derbies, finding vehicles for chop shops, fulfilling hitman based contracts, gunning down foes as a driver makes his daily drug running rounds, to even defrauding insurance companies by tossing yourself in from of speeding vehicles. Each activity will require you to use some balance of skills, intelligence and strategy, and a bit of luck. However, most of all, each activity will give a nice break from the normal game play and give one hell of a chance to kill some time without realizing it.

These activities do serve a slightly grander purpose. By finishing an activity (which usually will have eight levels of challenge), you will gain further respect which will allow you to access new main story missions, and you'll score a bit of cash in the process. If you manage to clear all eight levels of an activity, you'll also get an nice bonus for your efforts. This bonus could be anything from new homies to call up when you need some assistance to new weapons and vehicles that are found at your crib. Some will even boost your abilities by making you more resistant to damage from various sources or granting infinite running ability. Even when you finish an activity, you can go back to retry it all over again. To round out this wonderful experience, if you fail after so many levels of an activity, you can start again from the level you failed at. No need to start all over again. Ever.

Speaking of earning new weapons and vehicles, you can store over 50 vehicles in the garage at your crib. If you decide to take a vehicle to an auto shop to change the looks or abilities, you can save it, forever (or until you delete it), in your garage. If a garage saved vehicle gets destroyed, you don't need to worry; go back home and pay a small price ($500) and the car will be fixed up and returned home. Leave a car on the road and you can find it back in your garage when you get back home. This also lets you enjoy the prospect of buying new cars from the dealerships and tuning them into a dream machine.

When I say you can customize your cars, I don't just mean choosing from a few paints. You can paint your body, trim, and rims all different colors from a palette of several hundred colors possibilities, covering the range of matte, glossy, iridescent, pearl, candy, and metallic colors. You can change you car's body kit, spoiler, roof, hood, grill, add nitro, add won't find this level of customization outside of Need For Speed.

Best of all, each vehicle in this game controls quite different than any other. Small cars will not all run with quick acceleration and low top speeds. Some will handle like crap, some will be fast but slow to start, some will be true racers. Steering is never the same in any two different car models. Also, each vehicle closely resembles an actual car, but obviously be named differently to avoid licensing issues. You have VW Beetles, Honda Elements, Corvettes (classic Stingray style and modern), Impalas, semis, buses, Ferraris, Lexuses (Lexi?), Imprezas. You even have the joys of stealing and/or destroying fuel tanker trucks.

Beyond the driving, this game offers even more finer details. You have eight weapon slots (melee, fist, pistol, SMG, rifle, thrown, shotgun, and RPG) that are easy to access by simply clicking the X button and selecting a direction. You also have easy access to summoning fellow Saint's to be under your command who each come with unique weapons and a great deal of intelligence. If these homies die, you can revive them without hesitation.

When you get down to your actual controls, you will find none of the antiquated auto-lock combat systems. You will freely control your aim with the right stick and your movement with the left. This means you will always be responsible for your own actions in combat. You won't have issues of not locking onto a certain target, unless you are just incompetent with the analogue stick.

When you're finally ready to take part in some of the actual main missions, you will be able to bring all of these factors together into one solid package. You will usually need a nice blend of shooting, driving, running, and planning for each mission. However, if anything goes wrong, you don't need to worry about reloading an old save or losing precious money to a hospital or jail stay (no losing weapons on death!). You can simply click the A button and retry from where the mission began.

There is simply too much to go into any more detail about in Saint's Row. This is not even touching the lack of loading screens when you move about the city or enter a building, the ability to call up random phone numbers for help, cheats, or entertaining voice mail messages, or the true fun of random mission that will place you in shotgun as you gun while a homie drives. You can even plot a location you wish to visit on your map and the ever present mini-map will show you how to get there from your current location.

In the end, there are only two weak spots to all of this. First of all, there are no sea bound or air bound vehicles. No boats. No aircraft. No motorcycles, even. This is honestly a non-issue in this expansive game. The other issue, however, matters. There are glitches in this world that are pretty weak. Your vehicle may vanish for no reason, as will some other vehicles on the road. This is workable, but it may bring about some anger from time to time.


Welcome to the world of HD visuals. If you have HD, this game will look absolutely beautiful. The cars are nice and shiny, which various points of damage possible, guns all look different, people are nicely detailed, and there are no club hands.

The only possible complaints that one can find in this games visuals would be the occasional screen tearing (very rare...for me, at least) and that some character models (for pedestrians) get used a bit more than one may like.

These two problems being put aside, the game is outstanding to behold. The city looks amazing, homes have some rather nice small details, and cars are amazing to see and a lot of fun to visually customize. In the end, this is the perfect example game of what the HD era can mean to us geeks.


Like with the visuals, there is just so much beauty in the aural qualities of Saint's Row. To start things off, the sound effects are absolutely amazing in surround sound. Gun shots sound real and the sounds will always come from the correct speakers to let you know where trouble is coming from. Engines roar or whimper, depending on the vehicle, cars sputter when they have been banged up, and the sound of a bare rim (flat tire) running on asphalt is painfully realistic. You will not find better sound effects on a game this expansive for quite some time.

There's also the amazing features of this game's sound track. While most of the music will feel unknown and foreign (except for one important track...The Aquabats are in the house!), it all feels quite appropriate in this setting. Music is delivered via car and personal stereos with realistic sounding commercials and DJs. While some of the humor found in other games (you know who I'm talking about) with their radio DJs and ads may not be present, this quality only serves to give a more authentic experience. To round all of this out, car stereos don't stop working just because you are not in a car. You can and will hear a muffled radio sound as cars drive past you.

The only downside of the radio in Saint's Row is that it is not scheduled. In other words, if you leave a car as a certain song starts on a station, don't count that same song to still be playing when you jack a different car a few seconds later and change to that same station. In other words, think of it like this; each car has it's own set of radio stations that all play from the same library...but not at the same time. It's not realistic, but it's not a game breaker either.

To round things out with the audio, there's a wonderfully et of skilled voice actors in this game. You have a variety of actors, including Michael Clarke Duncan, David Carradine, Tia Carrere, Keith David, and Daniel Dae Kim (of Lost fame) to name just a few, with great talents and established careers in the acting business. As many other games have shown us in the past (ok...I'll name GTA:VC and GTA:SA since they are examples), when voice actors are skipped in favor of full fledged actors, it usually will bring a slightly more impressive level of talent to the playfield. In Saint's Row, this is definitely no exception...well, there is one exception; Mila Kunis is greatly out of place playing Tanya.

In fact, while some of the dialogue may be cheesy from time to time, the brilliant acting in Saint's Row just helps to make it transition from lame to entertaining. This is not to say that the majority of the plot related dialogue is as forced as some would like us to believe. There are only a few lines that feel out of place, but great acting does help considerably when these rare lame ducks pop up.


As a game, on it's own, Saint's Row is a wonderful example of what we need more of on the 360, or any console for that matter. The controls are solid and the game play mechanics are varied enough to offer something for almost any fan of the classic crime genre. When you throw in some brilliant visuals and some of the best voice acting to grace a game, you get a really solid and enjoyable experience for your senses. However, it's only when this plot, which has plenty of unique twists to help make the cliché novel, is in place that one can full appreciate this game for what it is.

However, there is a failing to this game. It is quite obvious that the modern style of "release a game now and patch it later" was in full effect. There are some serious graphical glitches that can frustrate from time to time. While these glitches are by no means game breakers, they will be noticeable after a few hours of playing.

To round out the entire experience, there is an online multiplayer experience. While I've mainly focused on the single player game, this mode will offer a nice reason to keep the game in your 360 long after the plot has concluded.

So, while taking all of these into consideration, it's not hard to see this game for the gem it is. I obviously avoided it for the majority of this review, but this game, even compared with GTA:SA, is NOT just a simple clone. It takes some of the fundamentals derived in GTA3 and refined in GTA:SA, but it goes so much further with them. We may lose some boats, aircraft, and two wheeled vehicles, but we have a control scheme that makes GTA's look awkward and foreign. So, one it's own merits, and furthermore by surpassing so many conventions derived by Rockstar, it's easy to say that Saint's Row earns a 9.75/10. If it was not for the glitches, this game could be as near to perfect as the 3D sandbox crime genre has ever seen.