Saint's Row could also be called Grand Theft Game-O because it's pretty much a complete rip-off of Grand Theft Auto III. But hey! Look at how good GTA3 was. That's high praise, and frankly, Saint's Row deserves it. This game is hellaciously fun.
From the moment you're "canonized" into the title gang until you've taken over the entire town of Stillwater, the game rarely fails to disappoint. Yes, it may be GTA in a bright, new package, but check under the hood, it's completely tricked out.
Saint's Row takes a lot of the ideas from San Andreas and builds on them. Unfortunately, you don't get to pilot planes or boats, but anything you could do in a car is also doable in the Row. And, man, is it fun. The basic premise is that Stillwater is controlled by four rival gangs, and you have to take the town over, one neighborhood at a time.
Does that sound familiar? It's basically the premise behind the end section of San Andreas, where you seemingly had to face hordes of gangsters to take over parts of the town. But Saint's Row does it better. It makes parts of the town the reward for completing different missions instead of pounding you with section after section.
And this time you can save anywhere. Oh, the beauty of saving anywhere in a game like this. Anyone who's picked up GTA knows that having to go to a hideout after each mission to save was a royal pain. In Saint's Row you still can't really save in the middle of a mission, but if you die during a mission (and you will), it gives you the option of restarting the mission without losing anything – weapons, etc. The same is true if you're killed or "smoked" as Saint's Row calls it, and, strangely enough, even if you're busted by the police (evidently, you can bribe them to keep that rocket launcher in Stillwater Prison). All you lose is a little money – bribes, evidently. And that freedom to not have to constantly reload your game is pretty sweet.
There are four gangs in Saint's Row — the Third Street Saints, Los Larnales, the Vice Kings and The Westside Rollerz. Each gang controls a section of the town, and your character has to bring these sections into Saints control.
In addition to tracking how mad the police are at you, the game also charts which gang is mad at you in a similar meter. And there is a way to get rid of both gang and police pressure – not the Pay and Spray, but the forgive and forget confessional – a truly strange way to clear the air, if you ask me, but a necessity in a lot of missions.
And these mission will have you doing everything from riding shotgun with an unlimited ammo rocket launcher to shooting your way on foot through places as diverse as a penthouse suite and an abandoned police station. And there's much more.
The story is pretty great, as it easily ties all of these seemingly odd and disconnected missions together into an enticing package, but there is a disappointingly bitter center to this sweet, sweet story: the end really leaves the gamer hanging. There isn't a clear way of telling if there will be a Saint's Row 2 or not – at least from a game standpoint. From a developer's standpoint, I'm sure Volition will come up with a way to bring back the Row.
You'll just have to see for yourself, and when you reach the credits, make sure to wait through them because there's two more missions and then the real ending and then more credits. Don't miss out on those last two missions; they're just short of perfectly designed.
And speaking of design, there are some technical glitches in Saint's Row. From time to time, I would have to reload my game because the car I was driving in would disappear. And I mean flat out disappear from the screen, leaving my character sitting in mid-air with one hand on the wheel and the other hanging out the window holding a gun. Sometimes the car would appear after awhile, but usually not. And let me tell you, when that happened during one of the last missions of the game right when I was about to finish it, I went ballistic. My voice is still hoarse as I write this review from yelling at the screen.
So if you hadn't guessed already, this game is hard. It's not impossibly hard, but very challenging. Unfortunately, you can't buy body armor, but your health bar regenerates if you don't get shot for awhile. That seems like a good idea, but it's a little implausible. I mean, come on, games can be reality-based. You can't catch your breath and expcct to live after being set on fire for three to five seconds.
And speaking of fire, the explosions are very nice. It really doesn't get old to see an enflamed car fly into the air, especially when you're inside it. When this kind of thing happens, you often get propelled 50 feet up. On fire.
The graphics and music are good, but not spectacular. To get some of the better music you have to buy it at music stores in town or just live with the same five to seven songs over and over on your favorite station. And the graphics aren't exactly what I'd call cutting edge. Saint's Row looks better than a lot of current-gen games, but not as great as say, GRAW.
The controls are very intuitive, but the developers make getting food or a drink out in the middle of combat very difficult because you have to hold the B button down and press a direction on the analog control. When you're getting shot to pieces, you don't usually have time to do that.
Small complaints aside, Saint's Row is worth the $60 it costs. The story and gameplay are phenomenal and everything else works to add to the package. Pick it up now.