Saints Row Review

I can just about hear the meeting with must have gone on in the offices of developer THQ:

Manager 1: “Hey, lets make a game for the Xbox 360.”
Manager 2: “Yeah, sounds good. But let's not do anything too original.”
Manager 1: “Nooo, nothing like that. Hmm, how about we make an exact copy of Charlie's Angles?”
Manager 2: “Dude are you insane? That game was horrible! Let's at least rip off a good game.”
Manager 1: “Yeah. The heck with it, let's just make a GTA clone like everyone else is.”
Manager 2: “Brilliant!!”

Well I suppose if you are going to go and copy a game you might as well copy one of the most successful game franchises from the past several years, Grand Theft Auto. And that's pretty much what THQ has done with the game Saints Row for the Xbox 360. But what makes this interesting is that they made a copy that is better than the source material in several ways, and it's those new improvements that make Saints Row a game worthy of your least until GTA 4 comes along.

The mean streets of Saints Row.
Saints Row takes place in a city named Stillwater and as luck would have it this city is pretty big, has lots of crime, and tons of cars to jack. Your character is nameless, or at least I don't every recall hearing what the name was but if this was a Kevin Costner movie I believe your name would be “Man without Voice” as your character doesn't ever say anything. While you may be voiceless you do have a lot to say about how your character will look. Saints Row has very deep character customization options to let you mold your gangster, uh I mean gangsta, in a huge variety of ways. You don't get much choice in clothing at first but as the game progresses you unlock a small wardrobe. Seconds into the game you are right in the middle of a gang war with bullets whizzing by and you're just moments away from seeing the game end very quickly. As luck would have it you're saved by the leader of the 3rd Street Saints, Julius. You may not speak, but there are a lot of people who do including Julius. The voice acting in Saints Row is very good and just may be one of the best I have run across. The list of names is impressive and includes Michael Clarke Duncan, Keith David, David Carradine and Tia Carrera. The voice acting is great, but the dialog itself can be a let down. Where GTA often was able to balance itself between crude and humorous, Saints Row finds itself more on the juvenile side way too often.

One of the ways Saints Row sets its self apart from GTA is they way it handles progressing the story. Instead of having a main mission with some optional side quests, Saints Row makes the side missions much more important. Really the only way to continue the main story is to finish side missions and earn respect. The side missions include the familiar ones from the GTA crowd and a few new ones like “insurance fraud” where you “take one for the team” by tossing yourself in front of a moving car...and what isn't more respectful than a man who will jump in front of a truck just to earn some extra cash. As the game moves along you acquire more and more of rival gangs turf but of course the old gangs will keep trying to reclaim what was once theirs, so you can expect a few cell phone calls alerting you to some action. But say that the heat gets a little too much for you? Like repainting your car in GTA will get the police and others off your back, Saints Row has a drive-thru confessional and even a plastic surgeon that will let you change your entire look.