While some might use the word clone to describe Saints Row
, it isn’t the best of descriptions since the game manages to both improve and fall short of the standard set by Grand Theft Auto
For starters, Saints Row focuses more on the “gang” aspect rather than you being one man trying to conquer the entire city. True, San Andreas did the same thing, but Saints Row manages to do it differently and better. Whereas you spent set missions with crewmembers in San Andreas, it is possible to bring a three-man crew on nearly any mission you come across. The approach to story is also different. GTA has always leaned more towards the “drama” side of things by trying to create an authentic feeling experience. Saints Row instead leans towards a more tongue-in-cheek, action movie style. The story is sometimes silly, sometime serious, but always entertaining. This approach doesn’t mean that Saints Row is any less offensive. In fact, it seems to push the envelope just a little more to the point that is feels like it is simply going for cheap, sometimes forced, sophomoric laughs.
While you can always make your own fun by starting massive police chases or playing with the game’s physics engine, you’ll eventually have to enter more structured activities if you ever want to get anywhere. There are a variety of activities you can participate in as you tool around Stillwater. You can track down and kill marks in Hitman Activities, steal cars in Chop Shop or challenge other street racers. Then there are Saints Row’s more original offerings, like Snatch, where you steal ho's from rival pimps; Insurance Fraud, which has you earning big money through accidents; Drug Trafficking, where you protect a drug dealer making the rounds; and Mayhem, where your goal is to cause as much damage possible. And, if those still aren’t enough you can always rob stores, hijack passengers in other cars, storm a rival gang’s strongholds or hunt down Tag and hidden CD locations.
As you complete activities, you earn respect which is then “spent” on Story-based Missions. You arrive as a newcomer and manage to get yourself tangled in an impromptu gang fight where you are saved by Julius and Troy, two members of the Third Street Saints. Julius invites you to join the Saints and help retake Saints Row as well as taking down the three rival gangs, the Vice Kings, Los Carnales and the West Side Rollerz. After retaking the Row, the game splits into three separate stories chronicling the Saints' battles with the other three gangs. By completing missions, you gain control of different territories around the city that will generate money for you as well as giving you easier access to other gang members if you should need them.
Overall, the single-player experience works and has a good flow to it. There’s enough flexibility in the layout that you can do things at your own leisure, but at the same time there’s enough structure that you’re never left wandering around trying to figure out what to do next.
Thanks to a nasty bug that produces game-killing lag as well as major connection issues, the multiplayer modes aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Each of the game types build on basic gameplay types like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag while bringing in a small twist. One type, Big Ass Chains, has two gangs killing each other for chains that can be turned in for points. Another features two teams taking turns acting as either a Pimp’s protection or a group of Hitmen. The goal is to get the Pimp to the end of the map before the Hitmen can kill him. The final, and my personal favorite mode, has teams collecting money that is used to upgrade their team’s car. Once the car is blinged out, the crew must get the car to a show-off point and show it off for a set amount of time. Earning cash in multiplayer modes earns money that can be spent to upgrade your online character.
Again, the match types are fun and bring something new to the game. However, lag issues absolutely kill the fun. I was able to get into a few lag free matches, but a majority were laggy messes. Volition has promised to clear up the lag issue with an upcoming patch however.