Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 08/29/06 | Genre: Action
With the lack of a next-generation Grand Theft Auto, THQ and Volition set out to fill the void on the Xbox 360. Originally set for release as a launch title, Saint's Row looked choppy and unplayable when I first saw the game at E3 2005--before the launch of the Xbox 360. Fortunately for us all, the decision was made to push the release back so that Developer Volition could continue fine-tuning the game.
Months later, I saw the game--this time at E3 2006. Though I was optimistic about Saint's Row, the game was still very rough around the edges and left me with an empty feeling. SR appeared to be a very average title and a blatant rip-off of Grand Theft Auto. Previewing games is not easy--especially when we see titles so early in the development cycle. At CVGames, it is our policy to remain as optimistic about a game--while mentioning the hurdles the Developer still faces before "going gold" with their title. Sometimes the final product ends up stinking like three week old garbage. Other times, the end result resolves any issues seen in preview versions. Most of the time, however, the game ships without resolving many of the problems that plagued the preview versions. Knowing this, I reluctantly put Saint's Row into my Xbox 360. What I saw surprised me.
First, lets get a few things out of the way. While it is true that there is not a "next-generation" version of Grand Theft Auto currently on the market and a version is not scheduled to come out until fall/winter of 2007, Saint's Row is a copy of GTA. There is just no denying that at all. For the few of you out there that are not fans of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, this does not mean you should skip Saint's Row. I personally am not that fond of GTA. For some reason, however, I really enjoyed SR. While this may seem to not making any sense at all, there are a few reasons why. Mainly this is due to Developer Volition resolving several things about the "GTA gameplay" that I found unbearable. Admitting to not liking GTA can cause some fan-boys to riot in the streets. So before you resort to violence and flame me, please hear me out completely.
The first element of Saint's Row that I immediately noticed a vast improvement over GTA is the map. Like in Grand Theft Auto, SR has a full map of all places explored in the menu screen and during the actually gameplay, in the lower portion of the user interface (UI), a smaller map is present. What sets Saint's Row apart from GTA is your very own navigation system. As the player goes through any mission, the map in the UI, and on the menu screen, provide the user with a green dotted line to their goal. This system can also display enemies in red if the particular mission has any present. The navigation system is not limited to a single route either. If the player veers off their present course, the navigation system will adjust the route accordingly. Another benefit to this system is that you can select any known location on the map and set your own navigational line to it--even if you aren't in a mission. This means you can say goodbye to ever being lost in the world of Saint's Row!
Gameplay is very familiar to anyone who has picked up a Grand Theft Auto game before. Players participate in missions to earn respect. Once you have earned enough respect, you can then move on to carry on the story mode. This forces you to participate in the side missions that you may not normally care about. The game is also greatly lengthened by this because you are not able to participate in the main story mode whenever you feel like it. Some may hate this and other will like it. I personally am in the camp that likes it because I finally have a legitimate reason to do the non-story modes in the game.
One big change to the “GTA formula” is actual online play. While the gameplay is laggy as heck and has been virtually unplayable, Microsoft and THQ have been hard at work in resolving any issues with the online modes. Unfortunately with the way 360 online games go, by the time the issues are ironed out, it may be nearly impossible to locate enough players to participate in the up to 12 player online mode. However, there is also a co-op mode that does not suffer from nearly as much lag.
Saint’s Row may look, sound, and play a lot like Grand Theft Auto--but this is one Xbox 360 game that is worth playing if you need a next-gen clone of GTA to satisfy your gaming desires until Rockstar delivers their hit franchise. Although it suffers from a few technical issues, SR is a great Mature rated game. Just remember this title has some very adult themes in it and it can offend those of you that are amused by mature languages and subject matters. For everyone else, Saint’s Row is one title that you should take for a spin in your Xbox 360.