Saints Row
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-12
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GTA spawns at least a couple of clones every year, and every year we hope and expect that one of them will bring something new to the sandbox game table, or improve on Rockstar’s mega-franchise, in at least some way. Saints Row gets off to a good start as it allows you to design how your in-game character looks in great detail, from face shape, eye colour and shade of skin (if you’ve played a Tiger Woods game in the last few years you’ll know what to expect). You buy food to boost your health, weapons & ammo, clothes and can even change the look of your character in-game, you can steal just about any vehicle you come across and store it in your garage (even customize many of them) – so far, so good, and so very San Andreas

Caught up in a violent gang battle, your character’s ass is saved by the Saints, and naturally you become one of them, and so the game’s story and pattern is set – you complete various tasks and activities to earn ‘respect’ to unlock more missions from the Saints and advance the story mode. Much like GTA you have complete freedom to just tour around the city of Stilwater stealing vehicles, shooting people and generally having a mindlessly great time until you realize that 2 hours have passed and you’ve accomplished exactly nothing.

SR is full of nice visuals and little touches – beautiful water (no boats though), lighting, shadows and physics to die for – the ragdoll effects are better than most first person shooters. The fictional vehicles all resemble something you’ll have seen in real life, from 18-wheeler big rigs to Police 3-wheelers, they all handle appropriately. There are no bikes or motorbikes, and no flying either – but more on that later. The city is huge, complex and diverse, whilst still remaining believable, and it’ll take you a good 4 minutes to drive from one side to the other, and the scenery and lovely textures are seldom repeated.

Unfortunately it didn’t take me long to discover a few problems, including some shameful bugs and glitches, not least the fact that occasionally your vehicle will completely disappear as the game stutters to load a new section of the city, leaving the passengers suspended in mid-air until the game jolts back into life and redraws the car! – This “event” has even resulted in a complete crash of the console, requiring me to turn it off and reboot – along with SR’s lack of an autosave this means I lost about 3 hours play on one occasion…

Other times scenery will disappear completely if you look down on it from a raised position (presumably why we don’t get helicopters or planes in SR), and the annoyance of quickly vanishing vehicles seems even more off-pissing than it first did in GTA III 5 years ago. See a car you want and do an instant handbrake turn and you still often won’t see the car you passed – it’s disappeared! - surely the 360 has enough grunt to keep drawing a car more then 300 yards away? – and some will even vanish right next to you as you exit down a highway ramp, which doesn’t exactly aid the game’s immersive qualities. Sometimes the textures will also lose all detail at quite close distances, and search as we might we couldn’t find a widescreen mode (at least in the promo version we were sent).

Oh, and if you’ve seen the TV ad and are expecting great things from the multiplayer game, then don’t – it’s laughably bad, suffers so badly from lag in a game with more than 4 players that we actually checked the speed of our connection! All the MP maps are confined to indoors arenas, multi storey car parks, office buildings etc – forget those visions you had of full-scale gangs wars in a sprawling city. Non-custom games work in a similar “matchmaking” way to Halo 2, but I’ve sat in a pre-game “lobby” for 10 minutes on more than one occasion waiting for the required number of players to join without luck.

Another common complaint from people who’ve played the game is the lack of indication that you’re getting hit by bullets – many a mission has been failed simply by the fact that there is no “threat detector”, and there’s often so much going on that spurts of blood gushing from your character aren’t enough to tell you that you’re being sniped from afar. Cars will also explode like they’re full of C4 explosive when they reach a certain damage level, which whilst being spectacular to look at, also results in some annoying deaths.

As you progress you’ll be able to recruit follower Saints, and they can really help – leaning out the windows of cars to shoot enemies and backing you up well on foot, the only problem I found with these guys are that sometimes they’ll take an age to jump in the car with you, and they’ll also steal dropped weapons that you needed! (ammo is always at a premium in SR, you use TONS of it and will have to buy most of it from gun stores). Baseball bats, knives, molotovs, grenades, pipe bombs, handguns, machine guns, rifles (including the mandatory sniper rifle for killing from afar) even a rocket launcher all feature in the game and deal suitable amounts of damage – if nothing else SR is very satisfying in the gunplay & explosions departments.

The overpowering feeling I got when playing SR is that it simply isn’t finished, and the designers had many more ideas they wanted to incorporate into the game; for instance despite a decent back story too many missions feel exactly like the previous one, there’s a massive airport with just one small jet standing forlornly there, there are miles of railroad track in the game with detailed rolling stock, but no moving trains apart from the city’s L-Train, miles of beautiful water (and a docks and boatyard) but no usable boats, and many vehicles like Taxis, Ambulances, earth moving vehicles, car transporters, fire engines, delivery vans etc. all of which could and should have side missions available to them, but don’t – and where are the motorbikes?

SR saves itself from total gaming hell with its good looks and levels of detail (just doing side missions and customizing cars can occupy you for countless hours), but the oh-too-common Xbox 360 game lack of quality control, and visual horrors like horizontal tearing and texture glitches are far too frequent. After a couple of weeks of play I still find myself enjoying it, and then having a hair-tearing moment as it crashes and I lose hours of play (thankfully you can save anywhere, and you should get in the habit of saving every single time you achieve anything). There are rumours that SR will be patched at some stage, but that doesn’t do the thousands of gamers that don’t have Xbox Live much good does it? – this whole PC game-style “ah release it as is, we can always do a patch” way of thinking leaves 360 games at the top of a slippery slope, with a growing pool of angry Consolegamersharks at the bottom – developers and Microsoft QA better beware!

Best Bits

- Good looking
- Excellent physics and ragdoll
- Spectacular explosions
- Loads of detail and lots to do
- Neat customisation options
Worst Bits

- Buggy, including one that can lock your 360 up solid!
- Tearing graphics spoil the look
- Vanishing cars
- Samey missions
- Not enough indication that you’re taking damage
- The whole street gang thing has been done to death, and done much better
- Seems unfinished, hence the score

by: Debba

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