Saints Row stands tall on its own

Since it was publicly shown off, Saints Row has been compared time and time again to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series. The similarities cannot be ignored, however. It is obvious that development house Volition, best known for the Red Faction series, and publisher THQ copied heavily from the sandbox game play formula that made GTA so popular.

While Saints Row is nearly a carbon copy of GTA, it stands tall on its own merits, taking what made GTA such a fun game and building on its shortcomings while adding a bit more, focusing much more on gangland warfare.

Unlike in GTA, you are free to create your own character from scratch, defining characteristics such as your ethnicity, hairstyle and even your nose size. It’s not as in-depth as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but it offers a wealth of options to tweak to your liking.

Once released into your virtual playpen you are tasked to “clean up the Row,” as in wipe out all of your rival gangs, including Los Carnales, the Rollers, and the Vice Kings. As a newly canonized member of the 3rd Street Saints, you have to work your way up the ladder gaining respect as you go along.
The entire game revolves around the aspect of respect. The more respect you earn the more storyline driven missions you unlock and “homies” you can recruit to travel with you through the streets of Stilwater.

You gain most of your respect by doing activities scattered throughout the city. This is where Saints Row differs from GTA. A much heavier emphasis is put on side activities and missions not related to the story, since it is necessary to complete them in order to progress in the main storyline.

Activities range from “Hijacking” to “Drug Trafficking.” Our favorite was “Insurance Fraud,” which charged us with jumping in front of cars to create the most gruesome accidents in order to get away with more money.

Although the system of having to perform these activities in order to unlock the main storyline missions may seem like a chore, it forces the player to explore the other avenues available to them instead of simply playing through the main story and nothing more.

For those familiar with the GTA series, the city of Stilwater is larger than Vice City, but not quite as huge as San Andreas. Although it is not as big of a world as San Andreas, its certainly more concentrated. Volition seemed to have put a bit of work into designing the heavily urbanized locales through the three segments of the city.

If you want to take a break from the single player story mode, you can hop onto your Xbox Live Gold account and take the action online, engaging in six different game modes including “Protect Tha Pimp,” and “Gangsta Brawl.”

Saints Row isn’t for everyone, and it is not exactly original, but it succeeds in being the first to take the GTA gameplay formula and create a well-executed gaming experience. If you are a fan of the GTA series, or simply an Xbox 360 owner looking for the next best “pick up and play” title, then this is the game for you.