Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beaten : Saints Row

Last week I finished a three week long tour of duty in Saint's Row, an early XBox 360 release that yeah, I'm just getting around to playing. Yes, my blog has become, for the forseeable future, a site that reviews old XBox 360 games. Everything I write about a game like Saint's Row has probably been scribed by much more timely bloggers years hence.

Anyway, Saint's Row is another great sandbox game, like Just Cause and Grand Theft Auto IV. It seems as if I'm getting fixated on that genre. Saint's Row is really a lot like GTA IV, with some new aspects that make it far more than just a clone.

Sure it has vehicle theft, driving, shooting, violence, a huge city, missions, side missions, and lovable sociopaths as characters, just like GTA IV. But Saint's Row has a vibe and feel all its own. It's fun, colorful, and so over-the-top as to be a nearly satirical look at its competitors.

The game has a great gang mechanic, with players doing things to help establish their street gang as the major player in the town. There are three competing gangs, and missions act as a framework for the all-out turf war that wages between your gang and theirs. Neighborhoods are taken, and have to be defended, in a play mechanic similar to Just Cause's guerilla war.

The side activities range from the standards like street racing and car theft to innovative and hilarious ones like escorting hookers around with their clients, making sure to keep away from pesky news vans and paparazzi, and others like collecting insurance fraud money by falling in front of cars in traffic. These missions are all fun and get very challenging in later levels.

Another interesting design choice is that these missions - at least some of them - must be done to fill up the player's respect meter. Once the meter is full, the player may take on the next story mission. So there's really no bypassing the side content (although there's so much of it that players can skate through the game doing only the tasks they find easiest) and just running through the story mode.

The game has a challenging but not impossible vibe throughout its play. There are no mid-mission checkpoints, so failing a mission can mean restarting, driving to the mission, and facing some parts of it over and over. It's not too harsh, though, and the game is so much fun that it's worth the struggle.

Derivative in many ways, innovative in others, Saint's Row is just simply another enjoyable game world to explore. The music throughout the game is utterly fantastic, and the ending is epic - so good in fact that it's got me thinking about picking up the sequel, Saints Row 2, which came out last fall. Hmmm, maybe after the price drops a bit.

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