Developed By: Volition
Published By: THQ
Release Date: August 29, 2006
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore,
Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language,
Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol
If you've even glimpsed at a review on any other website for Saints Row, you would have seen the game described continuously with this phrase: Grand Theft Auto clone. While this is mainly true, there are quite a few differences (and upgrades) that make this game a solid entry into the GTA clone category and into the Xbox 360's growing library, although it's arguably the harshest M rated game on the 360. The game starts off with the incredible player creator. This is one of the most in-depth character customization tools I have come across. You can easily create a hideous freak, or even make your character look like you. The cut scene interaction with your created character is flawless, and possibly hilarious depending on if your guy looks like he was Dr. Frankenstein's test subject. After you have created your player, you start off with a cut scene that throws what this game is about right out in the open. You are propositioned by a prostitute, walk past a guy selling illegal items and witness a gang shootout. That pretty much foreshadows what the rest of the game will be like. After that you are taken in by a man named Julius, who is the leader of a gang called the 3rd Street Saints. Once you beat up many of his "homies" (?) you enter the gang and start your quest to take over the entire city. The way the progression system is implemented allows for a surprisingly deep and open-ended single player mode. You must earn respect in order to have a crack at the missions, and to earn respect you must complete certain side quests or activities.
The activities are as follows:
Snatch – You must go out and find select prostitutes, kill their pimp, and bring them back to a brothel (yes it's as bad as it sounds). Oddly enough, there will be two or three prostitutes that you must bring back, but bringing back one constitutes a victory.
Mayhem – You are given tons of weapons and a goal of maximum property damage. You can shoot people (although they don't earn too much points) and blow up everything in sight. You get combo points by blowing things up one after the other. Chop Shop – You are given a list of cars that the shop owner wants, so you must go out, steal the cars, and bring them back to the shop. It gets a little frustrating when the owner wants a specific spoiler on a certain vehicle that may be incredibly hard to find.
Hitman – Just as it sounds. You are given a list of people to kill and you must find and kill them. This is a difficult activity as the directions to where these people are is very vague and tracking them down is mainly just hoping they'll spawn around you. Escort – This is definitely the most tasteless of the bunch. You must drive around with a prostitute in the back of your car while she "entertains" a client. You have to stay away from vans that want to film it (the client is usually someone high up in the city). All the while you hear everything that goes on in the back.
Drug Trafficking – Escort a drug dealer around and protect him while he makes his deals. Shoot any gang members or police that follow you.
Racing – One of the only non-violent/sexual activities in the game. Exactly how it sounds. Street racing.
Demolition Derby – Also another activity that is exactly how it sounds. Just cause tons of damage to other cars without exploding.
Insurance Fraud – The absolute best of the bunch. This one is a complete joy to play, mainly because of the incredible physics system. To claim money on your insurance, you must hurt yourself as badly as possible. To get the most points you must throw yourself in front of a speeding vehicle (ambulances work best) and inflict the most damage on yourself. Although it sounds awful, it's done without blood or gore so it ends up looking extremely comical.
Hijacking – Along the same lines as chop shop, except you are shown where the vehicle is and you don't have to bring it back to the shop. These activities along with holding up stores, reclaiming territory that was taken from you, and taking over rival territory all earn you respect that you use to proceed with the main storyline.
The missions that go along with the main storyline are usually either protecting/escorting someone, killing every other gang member in a certain area, or demolishing private property. They aren't too different from the separate activities besides the fact that they advance the storyline. Although the sandbox game play and "thug life" presentation might closely mimic GTA, the first thing you'll notice about Saints Row is the huge upgrade in graphics.
Seeing that this is a "next-gen" game, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the graphics are boosted. The clothing, buildings and car explosions really stand out. The clothing is appropriately wrinkled, the buildings boast much more detail than GTA, and the car explosions are stunning with the fire, smoke and warping effects. The framerate rarely stutters and the pop in is minimal and understandable to keep the stable framerate. Unfortunately the game suffers from some noticeable "tearing" in some areas where the screen looks like it splits in the middle for a split second. Although this doesn't permeate every section of the game, it shouldn't be there at all. To top the graphics off, Saints Row has a terrific physics system. Bodies fly realistically when they are hit by vehicles and react just like they should when shot. This is one of the best upgrades from GTA, especially in multiplayer. It's incredible when you get into a head-on collision with another vehicle and the other people fly through their windshield. Very well done.
Right up there with the graphics, the sound is fantastic. The voice acting is top-notch though occasionally over the top. With the pervasive strong language it's hard sometimes to fully appreciate the voice acting, but it is well done. The gun sounds, explosions and other sound effect are all effective as well. The music on the other hand is a mixed bag. There are seemingly hundreds of songs that come over the radio stations, but they are all rap. Every last song is some form of rhyme about killing cops or smoking pot. Thankfully with the Xbox Guide you can use your own songs any time you want so it's not that much of a problem. It just would have been nice to use the radio system to play your own songs instead of them constantly playing.
Leaving all the other upgrades in its dust is the online multiplayer portion of the game. From the lobbies to the gang customization aspects, this is one hefty multiplayer section. Although as of now the lag renders some games nearly unplayable (Volition is working on a patch) it's still an incredible amount of fun. There are 7 different modes that you can play in a portion of the city (unfortunately, no open-ended multiplayer).
They are as follows:
Protect "tha" Pimp – One player on each team begins as a pimp (he can only slap, which is an instant kill) and the other players must escort him to an exit point at the other end of the map. This mode has been the most fun, as the pimp slaps never get old. When a player is slapped he basically flies to the other end of the room at incredible speeds.
Gangsta Brawl/Team Gangsta Brawl – Standard deathmatch that can be played in either free-for-all or team forms. There are a few small vehicles in some levels and all the weapons are available. Unfortunately whoever gets to the sniper rifle first usually wins, as it is nearly impossible to see where they are with the servers being extremely glitchy right now.
Blinged Out Ride – Each team has a beat up car that they must upgrade a certain amount of times before the other team does. You have to collect chains and turn them in for money in order to upgrade your vehicle. This can be frustrating as one team can constantly blow up your car when you are almost finished upgrading.
Big A** Chains/Team Big A**Chains – An unfortunate name, but still manages to be a fun mode. Each player has a chain, when they are killed their chain drops and another player must take it and bring it to a drop off point. The more chains you collect at one time, the more points you earn. Will be better once the lag is fixed, but remains a decent mode until then.
Co-op – Very poorly implemented. Only contains two small levels. One level has you killing all the cops in an airport and another has you carrying boxes through some side streets. Overall the multiplayer is a fantastic diversion from the single player experience.
Again, I can't give a completely accurate critique of the multiplayer as lag is causing it to be a little chaotic. The way you earn money for your gang from each match is an excellent idea as well. You can use that money to purchase clothing or jewelry, and it always gives you a reason to keep playing if you want to earn enough to buy new pants or shirts. With a few more maps and a smoother server and matchmaker (it's quite slow as of now) it'll be no surprise if the Saints Row multiplayer stays around for a while.
Reading through the main review, there's no doubt you've already come up with the assumption that this section isn't going to be too pretty. And you'd be correct. This game is mature in every sense. Starting off with violence, this game pulls no punches with the violent content. From small random acts of violence to massive shootouts, this game puts you in control as you kill endless amount of innocent and not-so-innocent citizens of Stilwater. The cut scenes also depict mafia-type murders and harsh violence against women. Surprisingly, this game contains a minimal amount of blood (shown just as a light mist) when guns are involved, and no blood at all when fists or melee weapons are involved. I'm not sure where the ESRB rating of "gore" came in, but it's certainly not during regular play. -8 for cold-blooded killing (some murders involve calling an ambulance and shooting the driver for respect), and blood spray. The mild restraint shown with blood certainly does not carry over into the language area. Cover your ears children, the cursing in this game is pervasive in every sense of the word. If you were to count just the F words alone, I'm sure the total tally would be 1000+. The cutscenes are full of cursing, and the main game play is full of cursing. If you pass someone in the street, chances are they'll swear. These are some vulgar pedestrians! They use every word in the book, down to some of the harshest derogatory and sexual slang. This is by far the most offensive game I've played in terms of language with nothing being out of bounds. The only good thing is there is an option to turn off voices, which give some reprieve, but takes away a lot from the story too. -10 for constant and shocking foul language and sexual terms in their worst form.
**Warning: The following part of the review contains descriptions of mature content**
The sexual dialogue isn't the only sexual content in the game. Prostitution is seen as just an everyday job, and nearly all the female characters in the game are involved in some area of prostitution. The "partial" nudity is actually a little more than that. You can enter strip clubs and brothels, where female characters are seen completely topless (with tiny-sized stars "covering" nipples) and they are dancing on poles or in some cases giving oral sex to clients, which in some shocking sequences are other women. This game is not about sly innuendos or "wink-wink" sexuality, expect full on depictions of the dirtiest forms of sexual interaction and dialogue. Absolutely disgusting, and if I wasn't planning on reviewing it, I would never have finished single player. Thankfully, multiplayer contains no sexuality besides some possible posters of bikini-clad women in a few levels. -9 for an absolutely disgusting outlook on sexuality with people seen/heard having sex and topless nudity. The ethical portion of the game is another sinkhole. You are required to kill cops in some missions, and it is unavoidable in some others. You can easily kill pedestrians any time you want with minimal repercussions. The whole point of the game is to overthrow other gangs in order to take over the city. The gangs are separated mainly by race (the Los Carnales are Mexican, the Vice Kings are African-American, the Westside Rollerz seem mostly Hispanic and the 3rd Street Saints are a melting pot of races). The races are pure stereotype, and it depicts the Mexican people as pure drug runners, the African-American people all like a Samuel L. Jackson movie character, etc… Just like GTA, don't expect to feel uplifted by the morally bankrupt cultural teachings of this game. -8 for a terrible sense of morality, racial stereotypes, and choices that go against traditional values. Overall, this game is arguably the best GTA clone so far, as it has taken the "urban mayhem" design and made it better with an excellent progression system and online play that will hopefully be lag-free soon. Unfortunately the content is downright disgusting and extremely offensive. If content doesn't usually bother you, a rental is still recommended, as there are some visuals and terms that are shown and spoken that would normally be considered taboo in other videogames.
Game Play: 18/20 – Only brought down by repetitive and (some) overly difficult missions. Graphics: 9/10 – Screen tearing and mild pop in can't hide the game's beautiful graphics. Sound: 9/10 – Great voice acting and sound effects, but one style of music does not a great soundtrack make. Stability: 3/5 – The single player is quite stable for a game this size, but the multiplayer is glitchy and needs a patch quickly. Controls/Interface: 5/5 – The aiming is spot on and the mini-map is fantastic. Violence: 2/10 – Blood is minimal but the violence borders on barbaric, especially during some cut scenes. Language: 0/10 – Horrible, pervasive, and extremely vulgar. The game is trying to accurately depict the "street life" but comes across much too strong. Sexual Content: 1/10 – Downright disgusting. Full body nudity is the only thing keeping this score from reaching 0. Occult/Supernatural: 10/10 – No occult or supernatural content is present. Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 2/10 – Killing cops, civilians and completely destroying personal property are all goals. Racial stereotypes are also present.