|Developer:||Volition|||||Release Date:||2006|||||Systems:||Xbox 360|
This week on Super Adventures I'm going to fix an obvious omission on my site that's been bothering me for two years. I've written about Saints Rows 2 to IV, but I've completely overlooked the original game in the series! No I'm not talking about Grand Theft Auto 3, but I understand your confusion.
I'm a big fan of the Saints Row sequels but I've only played the first game once back when it was new, and only long enough to think 'wow, this is familiar'. The impression I've been getting from others is that the game was pretty much a practice run for Volition, a generic GTA: San Andreas clone without the personality the series developed later, so now I'm going to play it properly and see how true that is.
By the way, the game's 10 years old this August, and the console it was released on was discontinued in April, so that means it's officially retro! Maybe. Either way it's a pleasure to finally introduce the Xbox 360 to Super Adventures (even if I'm only doing it because this bloody game didn't get a convenient, easy to screenshot PC release like its sequels).
(Clicking the images will make them big, so you can see all the nice H.264 video compression artefacts).
Seems that the powerful character creator was part of the Saints Row series from the start, though the choices they've given me are kind of weird. I thought Saints Row 2 had every option imaginable, but that's just because I never imagined the 'Nose Roll' slider. Plus all these sliders for yaw, elevation, pitch, longitude etc. have got me wondering if the guy's face was engineered by Boeing.
It's always a guy by the way, there's no way to play as a woman in this game (though the sequels would later retcon it so this character may have been female). I can't select a voice either, and the hair selection's unimpressive. Though I am impressed by the way he's keeping his head perfectly still while I'm adjusting it. There's an innovation other games could learn from.
The game begins with a cutscene showing an average night out in Stilwater. Things start off small with a guy dressed in blue hitting a guy in yellow with a baseball bat. Then these folks in red drive up for a drive by and suddenly everyone's whipping out guns. A blue guy with an AK blows up the red guys, before getting capped in the head by a yellow guy, who then tries to shoot my dude!
I don't even know what his problem is; I'm just an innocent passer-by in the wrong place at a bad time! He just didn't want a witness I suppose. There’s a gunshot, the screen goes black... and it turns out I was rescued by team purple!
In the later games the player character runs the Saints, but here they're led by Keith David. I mean a character he plays called Julius, not the actor himself. I have to make that clear because Keith David himself shows up as the Vice President in Saints Row IV.
Julius didn’t save me out of the kindness of his heart though; he wants to recruit me for the Saints. I suppose he was impressed by how effortlessly I failed to defend myself just then. Personally I'm impressed by how fast Julius talks. It's like the actor had an appointment and absolutely positively had to get the entire game's worth of dialogue recorded in half an hour. My guy on the other hand is... less talkative.
Sleeping Dogs is all about the hand to hand combat though, while fighting in this is something that theoretically happens if the bullets ever run dry. I'm meant to be punching with the left and right triggers, and holding both to block when appropriate, but I'm pretty much just tapping the bumper here to kick everyone into unconsciousness. In Saints Row 2 I'd get a little cutscene every few punches to show my character doing a special move, but this doesn't do that. I can't even grab people and use them as human shields!
I played some of the classic 3D GTAs recently and man they're stingy with the health pickups. It's a pain in the ass to get right to the end of a long mission with a tiny sliver of health left only to get gunned down at the finish line, so I'm happy I have to have the option to hang back for a few seconds to heal up.
And that was the entire first mission! The Saints Row sequels kick off with increasingly elaborate and ridiculous set pieces escalating the point where the protagonist's hanging off a nuclear missile in flight while Aerosmith plays, but in this I just had to kick a bunch of people and I was done. Now I can move on to mission two: buy a gun and shoot all the fools in yellow that are hanging around our church.
Those GTA games also have lock on aiming, but Saints Row has free aim, all the time. Though I can't find a way to aim down sights or even pull the camera in a little, so getting shots on target with my worn out analogue sticks in this semi-choppy frame rate is taking a little work, but it's nice to play a GTA-style game that actually wants to be a third person shooter. My crappy aim's not a problem as long as I get there in the end, as the enemies are kind enough to drop ammo (and sometimes money) to keep my underfunded murder spree going.
The power of the Xbox 360 allowed driving physics to reach a new level of realism, but Saints Row's got no interest in that. This car handles so absurdly well that I can feel myself getting worse at racing games every time I take a corner. Plus a tap of the handbrake lets me do an instant 90 degree turn, without all that tedious slowing down business. On the downside it's got me using (A) to accelerate instead of the analogue triggers, which isn't what you want. Especially with the way the car reaches max speed after a just couple of (automatic) gear shifts, making me think I haven't got the button pushed hard enough.
The game uses a Saints Row 2 style GPS, meaning I get a dotted line on the map leading me through the Saint's Row District to my objective. Hang on, Saint's Row has an apostrophe in its name, but the game title doesn't? Well now I'm just confused. I know we're trying to take over the whole district, but then it'd be the Saints' Row, surely?
|Saints Row 2 (PC)|
Once I’ve collected one prostitute I get to move up to level two, where I need to collect two prostitutes! Each completed level gets me a little more respect until I get a little 'x1' under my health and stamina bars showing that I can get on with the actual plot again. Well, it's better than taking my cousin Roman bowling in GTA IV I suppose.
There's nothing like a cover system in the game, the shooting's pretty basic, but I'm more nimble than your typical GTA protagonist so getting my ass behind a wall is simple enough. Plus I can duck behind something if I'm in trouble. Blue barrels are the ones that don’t explode, right?
(A), and fire the gun with the right trigger at the same time! Or maybe I'll try just running him off the road, because that is really awkward.
One thing I like about the game is that whenever it tells me to find a car, there’s always one right there nearby that’s up to task. I also like how there’s enough draw distance to see the city in the background! There's a bit of obvious pop in, but it's pretty good for the very first sandbox game on the Xbox 360. Yep, that means the game's even older than Crackdown. Oh no, now I’ve got the phrase "Agency supply point" echoing around my head again.
For completing the mission I win the neighbourhood it took place in, meaning I get an extra $400 a day I can withdraw from my crib! That’s free money that builds up just for spending time in this sandbox.
Even if I take a car out, get it shot up and drive it off a cliff, when I come back it'll be in my garage again! Which makes a lot more sense when I can waste money on car mods. Trouble is it doesn't get repaired in there unless I utterly destroy it, so I'd have to drive that wreck to a shop to get it back into fighting shape before using it. Kind of encourages me to just take cars off the street instead of using one of my own rides.
Also annoying is that I can throw dozens of cars in there, but it doesn't let me sort them! I have to scroll through the whole list to check I haven't brought in a duplicate. Though on the plus side, I own dozens of cars.
Right, I've completed the first few missions and cleared up Saint's Row. Trouble is the entire city of Stilwater's split between these gangs, and until they're all gone we'll never have peace.
So like in the other games the Saints are fighting a war on multiple fronts, taking on the Vice Kings, the Westside Rollerz and
Saints Row the Third and I worked backwards from there, so I just assumed that Gat became more prominent as the series went on after he became a fan favourite. But nope, even in this game the characters won't stop going on about him being their top lunatic.
People call my dude 'playa' by the way, as I haven't climbed the ranks to 'boss' yet. I haven't even got myself some colours to wear yet!
Clothes give me a bonus to the respect I earn on activities, so it's in my interest to get that percentage to go up as soon as possible. Trouble is I get more of a bonus if I'm wearing expensive apparel, and even more if it's purple, so the game’s basically pushing me to dress like the Joker.
No shop is off limits, though at $3000 for a coat I'm going to have to save my pennies before I visit the high level retail area. Still, it's not like there's any character upgrades or real estate I'll be spending the money on.
Thankfully it's not that kind of escort mission, as all I have to do is drive around and keep my client out of the prying eyes of roving news vans while they have some fun in the back seat. Funny how it's another activity about driving prostitutes around, though clients can be men or women so everyone gets to join in.
There's a lot of female gangsters roaming around as well, which I'm mentioning because it really stands out after playing the GTAs. The game's not as balanced as the sequels though.
The Saboteur again or did the world just blink out of existence for a moment? At least I didn't fall out of the world, though be honest I wouldn't hold it against the game if I had.
|Saints Row: The Third (PC)|
Alright, I'm bored of the Escort activity. What else is there?
Mayhem is basically just like a Rampage or Kill Frenzy in GTA, where I have to do a certain amount of damage within the time limit. I've been provided with infinite submachine gun ammo for the duration of the activity, but it's actually kind of hard to shoot cars as they always drive away! It'd be fair to say I'm doing a bit crap.
It doesn't help when I just keel over and 'YOU'RE SMOKED!' flashes up on screen. I probably got shot by someone, but the game's so terrible at giving me feedback when I'm taking damage that I only learn about it when it's too late to run and hide. Saints Row 2 handles it better by putting a marker on screen to show which way the hurt's coming from.
One thing Saints Row does far better than its inspirations is put a checkpoint at the start of the missions so I can instantly restart with no fees. But failing an activity on the other hand means a long drive back to the icon from the hospital. They let me keep my guns though! Which is good because it's the middle of the night and shops actually close in this game. Why they had to add that little bit of awkwardness I don't know; it's not like the game cares much about realism otherwise.
A lot of players seem to love Insurance Fraud but even after beating the sequels I still suck at it. The only way I get any points is by bringing an ambulance or cop car and driving it fast enough into oncoming traffic to fly through the windscreen. Hopefully into a police car, in front of another police officer (for the cop witness multiplier).
Seems to me that a number of these activities are about figuring out the trick rather than having fun playing around, especially when I get to the higher levels. And I have to get to the higher levels to get the respect to keep playing the bit of the game I like. Then I have to do it two more times, because every activity has three icons on the map.
Saints Row: The Third's big glowing racing game chevrons floating on the sides of the road to lead me down the correct route.
Then I tried the Hitman activity, driving around the city in circles searching for the target I was given. I wouldn't recommend it. The Chop Shop activity went better, as at least the cars had the decency to turn up. Still kind of tedious though.
I'm thinking I'll just get a map of graffiti locations and spray over them for respect instead.
The car customisation is another feature lifted from GTA: San Andreas, though it works a lot better in this due to the fact I get to keep the car forever afterwards. Weirdly Grand Theft Auto IV, the game's true follow up, dropped car mods entirely while it was clearing away the clutter.
This looks like a nice spot for a screenshot comparison, as I'm curious how it compares to its sequel.
|Saints Row 2 (PC)|
First change I've noticed is that the city becomes an island! They could've extended the map to the left a bit, maybe add some countryside, but nope they just dropped the land into the ocean. Though they have extended the islands to add things like a beach, a university, an ampitheater, a prison and a nuclear power plant, meaning that the original Saints Row's Stilwater is a less interesting place to hang around in.
While I'm talking about the map, I want to whine about the activity icons not telling me what level I've reached in them. I have to check a separate activities page to find out and that only gives me place names! Otherwise this is a big step up from San Andreas' map.
|Saints Row 2 (PC)|
Alright, enough posing in front of holy buildings, I need to head back to the crib and make a withdrawal. There's a cash limit for my stash so I need to make regular visits to empty it out.
Alright this is where I keep my floating icons. It's a bit of a shithole but I've no need of food or sleep so I only visit to grab my money and reload my pistol. I can also change into cheaper, less useful clothes or use the save point. I can save the game anywhere and any time I want, but sometimes it's just nice to have an actual save point floating. If nothing else it reminds me that there's no autosaves, and I really do need that. I had to redo a few Escort levels after turning the game off without saving.
But I've found myself a real escort mission now, rescuing kidnapped women. Fortunately I can revive people by walking over and pouring out a 40, so aggravation's at a minimum. Also they've got guns and are being helpful, it's great.
Maybe I'll go get myself behind a crate and let them handle it, as I'm paranoid about my health now. I keep glancing over at my bar to make sure it hasn't been emptying while I was distracted with putting bullets into people, as I really don't notice when I'm being hurt. I haven't ran into any mid-mission checkpoints so far and I'd prefer not having to replay everything all over again.
EVEN LATER STILL.
Sometimes territory I own is attacked by a rival gang who wants it back and I have to fight for it if I want my income back. It's all very San Andreas, but it's not a huge inconvenience to me. I don't mind driving around a multi-storey car park squishing gang lieutenants under my wheels if that's what it takes to fill my respect bar in this town.
Anyway I'm stopping here now as I think I've reached the limit of the game's hidden depth. Well, except for the multiplayer modes, but that's not really my thing. Especially as you can't co-op the actual game bit of the game.
In my Saints Row 2 article I mentioned that the game was like the missing link between Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and Saints Row: The Third. Well this is the missing link between San Andreas and Saints Row 2. They even kept the fast food, car modding and graffiti minigames! You could say it's a massive rip-off, but I'd rather think of it as an alternate universe version of Grand Theft Auto IV with more padding and less phone calls from your cousin.
I can't say it's as pretty as Rockstar North's actual sequel though and the frame rate wasn't quite silky smooth, but it's not a terrible looking game either. Well, aside from the times the world disappeared around me, but that happened like twice in the 14 hours I played it, it's a non-issue. The story not the highlight either really as it doesn't have the characters of either the GTA games or its own sequels and it's rarely laugh out loud funny. But it is a fun game, and even though it doesn't drop you into action movie set pieces, or go utterly batshit insane, it does has its moments.
As a sandbox crime simulator it's... derivative, but solid. I'd probably be more enthusiastic about it through if it'd stop kicking me out of the missions to go do more activities. The third person shooting is definitely dated and hampered by the frame rate, but it's a big step up from the GTA 3 trilogy and honestly I think I prefer it to GTA 4 as well. There's no lock on aiming, I could steer my playa around comfortably, and I never ended up two thirds of the way through a mission with half a hit point left in the tank and no hope of finishing it. Some games suit regenerating health, and I'd say this is one of them.
If you like the GTA games or the other Saints Rows then don't dismiss this out of hand (like I almost did) just because Saints Row 2 is the same thing done better, as it's actually pretty entertaining in its own right. It's just a shame it's still exclusive to the Xbox 360 after all these years.
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