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Saints Row (Xbox 360) artwork

Saints Row (Xbox 360) review

"And while GTA has been veering towards a less ridiculous narrative, Saints Row begs not to be taken seriously. One scene features your character flying out of a vehicle at 60 MPH and skidding along the pavement. Instead of dying or winding up in critical condition, he shrugs it off like he stubbed his toe."

Ripping off Grand Theft Auto might land Saints Row a few tut-tuts. After all, how many lame sandbox wanna-bes have been spawned to cash-in on GTA's success? Saints Row steals practically everything from GTA: the police notoriety system, controls, vehicles, weapons, saving cars in your garage, unlockable goodies in your “crib”... but this makes it intuitive, as if it were part of the GTA series. The stolen goods helped make a solid clone that does mostly what it should.

It would be blatant copyright infringement if Saints Row hadn't included some differences, like gaining notoriety from rival gangs (same as you would from police) or the use of a drive-thru service called Forgive and Forget to bribe the cops rather than hunt down arbitrarily-placed power-ups. Even the mechanics feel different and allow for motion and combat similar to a third-person shooter. Customization is much deeper, both for you and your vehicles. You could steal two of the same vehicle in different parts of the city and see more differences than just color. Spoilers, rims, bumpers: whatever you want to change about your vehicle can happen. Buying clothing, also, consists of more than buying different outfits, maybe the occasional hat. There are full outfits available with different styles, even individual pieces you can purchase from a variety of different stores. Though this is a mostly hip-hop inspired game, you can easily make a metalhead, a punk, or even a pimp.

And while GTA has been veering towards a less ridiculous narrative, Saints Row begs not to be taken seriously. One scene features your character flying out of a vehicle at 60 MPH and skidding along the pavement. Instead of dying or winding up in critical condition, he shrugs it off like he stubbed his toe. Quite often you'll fall from ridiculous heights, catch fire, take a rocket to the groin, and survive thousands of bullet wounds; you'll throw yourself in front of speeding vehicles to con them out of insurance money and not take a lick of damage; you'll pulverize a minivan with a semi and watch it explode in seconds while others keep on driving. It's unrealistic, but damn is it fun!

When you're tired of blowing up cars and pistol-whipping random pedestrians, you can get to the mission-based meat of the game. Missions cannot be accessed without “respect”, which is gained by completing side missions (“activities”, as they're called) strewn all about Stillwater. The aspect I've always loved about sandbox games is the side missions. Sadly, GTA has a tendency to hide side missions from you, or make you play a good portion of the main story to access them. Saints Row gives you access to every activity from the very beginning. If you want you, you can blaze through all of the activities before even touching a story mission.

...that is if you feel up to the task. Each activity has three different locations with eight stages apiece. You'd better be ready to tackle twenty-four levels of each mini-game. With as addictive and rewarding as many of them can be, that's not difficult. One activity called Snatch will send you off to reclaim a pimp's/madam's hookers while fighting off rival gangs and the police. Another one called Drug Trafficking will have you riding shotgun to defend a drug dealer while they sling dope. But one cannot forget Mayhem, where you destroy as much as you can to rack up points and receive bonuses based on what you destroy or what weapon you use.

This would be a smooth ride were it not for the slight faults in the activities. Most every activity has random variables. Snatch, or instance, will sometimes place hookers in a limo that you must chase down and shoot up until it belches said hookers out (you'd otherwise find them on a street corner). This wouldn't be worrisome were it not for the time limit. Sometimes that limo makes its way across town before you can reach it, and you risk running down the clock.

There are some others, too:

  • ”Mayhem” will give you random bonuses for killing certain people, destroying certain vehicles or using a certain weapon. Later levels will require you to rack up well over $100,000 in damages, which you cannot plausibly do if you don't have the right combination of bonuses. If you're stuck with “destroying sedans” and “killing pedestrians”, you're pretty well screwed. But get “destroying sedans” and “using rocket launcher” and you can't fail.

  • Street races spawn cars similar to yours, but also set their AI skill and speed at random levels. Sometimes you'll race against smart, fast opponents; others you'll race against slow, dumb opponents.

Any gangsta worth his salt won't run away, screaming like a school girl at the first sight of difficulty, but any smart one knows it's a better move to cancel the activity and restart the level until you have the best possible setup. Sometimes you'll have to do this in the middle of the city and pad all the way back to the activation point. Unlike story missions, you don't get a retry option when failing or canceling an activity. It's a minor inconvenience, but a rather annoying one if you're on a particularly difficult activity or very far away from the activation point.

Getting respect and making bank isn't what Saints Row is all about. It's the domination end of it, the part where you drive up and down the hood and dispose of the other gangs, that makes it thrilling. Missions take on a number of forms, each of which is fast-paced and exciting. You might be blowing up meth labs in one, raiding a gang member's house and stealing his sweet ride in another, or in the passenger seat trying to blast a plane with an RPG before it lifts off. Some missions have several objectives, too. You might steal a car in one to drive it over to a warehouse and start a gunfight, then have to elude the police afterwards. Completing a mission--either a story or a “stronghold” mission--will send your rivals fleeing like scared children. You'll gain control over their turf and earn more money that can be accessed at your crib. Missions have just the right balance of fun and challenge with worthwhile rewards. I seldom find myself saying, “Oh god, not this mission.”

When the game does what it's supposed to, it shines. Controls are tight, making those gunfights and frantic driving scenes more intense and less irritating. You'll still screw up, but you won't be able to blame it on the controls.

If anything, you'll blame it on the bugs. Though Saints Row has been patched, some bugs still exist. One bug hit me hard while I had the lead in a street race. My car stopped as though it ran into a wall, even though it was in the middle of an empty street, and disappeared. My character floated there in a sitting position, turning an invisible steering wheel while my opponents blew past me and won the race. Another glitch can hit you when you've got a fair amount of notoriety and you go through a Forgive and Forget. Most of the police will leave you alone, but a select few will still attack you despite your notoriety being at 0. None of the glitches are crippling, nor do they happen often, but many happen at the worst times.

What holds Saints Row back are a few “if onlies”. If only the activities had more structure...; if only all the bugs had been fixed...; if only the few minor irritations, like not being able to retry an activity right after failing it, had been eliminated... Saints Row would be the king of sandbox games. What the game does do right is take elements from a successful game and implement them with more fluid mechanics, more exciting missions, and less seriousness. Unlike many others of its ilk, it's a GTA clone worth playing. If only it didn't have so many minor flaws...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 27, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Saints Row review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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honestgamer posted May 27, 2011:

This was a sweet review of a relatively new release, an interesting change from your norm. I hope you continue reviewing plenty of retro games, but you did a nice job here. Below, I'm pointing out some sentences that didn't turn out quite the way you meant them to, I'm pretty sure.

Sometimes that limo makes its way across town before you can reach it, and you risk running down the lock.


Missions just the right balance of fun and challenge with worthwhile rewards.

Missing a word

None of the glitches are crippling, nor do the happen often, but many happen at the worst times.

Nor do THEY happen often...

Like I said, this was a sweet review. You did a good job of capturing just what makes Saint's Row a GTA clone worth experiencing, and what doesn't. I'm now more interested in the game than I was before reading your review.
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xDeth7 posted May 27, 2011:

This game came out in 2006.
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honestgamer posted May 27, 2011:

We are aware. Joe typically covers games that are much older. "Modern" was a relative term.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 27, 2011:

Right, but compared to what I normally review (NES era) this is pretty new.

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