Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Well, then Rockstar – the developers of that universally adored Grand Theft Auto series – must be feeling pretty bloody good about themselves right now.
Not only do they have in their locker a collection of the very best games of all time, but Saints Row appears to be pretty much an exact copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. How’s that for flattery?
While GTA basically created a brand new "sandbox" genre - the freeform shoot and drive ‘em up - Saints Row aims to take that winning formula, give it a dash of next generation stylee paint, and chuck it out as the biggest third party Xbox360 title thus far.
But can Volition’s latest title really beat one of the very best? Or does it pale in comparison to its elder brethren?
We must admit our views were ever so slightly blinkered when we first slipped the Saints Row disc into our Xbox360.
Having heard of the many – and we mean many – comparisons to the GTA series, and seen the somewhat clichéd and tedious clips that have spread across the Internet over the last year, our expectation was for a boring, copycat title that’s only claim to fame was taking all the goodness that Rockstar can inject into a game, and managing to turn it all sour. So here we are, eating humble pie as we type away…
One thought was absolutely correct, mind you. This title is virtually a carbon copy of the last GTA title. Freeform driving action? Check. Missions to pick and choose as you wish? Yup. Licensed soundtrack? That too. Gang wars? Uh huh.
If you’ve played a GTA title previously, you’ll know full well what to expect. After undertaking a mission, chances are you drive to place X initially, before either killing person Y and Z, or escorting fellow Y to a safer place. A bit repetitive, but it’s your bread and butter to earn the cash to purchase some bigger and better weaponry. Oh, and clad yourself in some of the most "loud" clothing since we last watched an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.
Each mission you undertake earns you not only a truck load of cash, but more respect, which in turn opens up more missions to play through. There’s also of course a main storyline to progress down if that’s your inclination. But wandering off the main path and simply cruising for a while offers some good times in itself. Maybe those chavs in their pimped-up Novas have it right?
In fact, the storyline proves to be one of the better attributes of Saints Row. Surprisingly well voice acted and played out with some downright dark humour, you’ll find yourself up long into the night purely to reach the next cut scene. And for a game copying GTA, you’ve got to include that sometimes sick and twisted humour to keep us hooked.
Obviously being a title on a next generation console, it looks pretty stunning. Where the GTA series looses a huge chunk of polish because of its huge areas to explore, Saints Row manages to hold a fairly high level of detail in every single area. In fact, at very worst you’re looking at a solid looking game. It doesn’t quite reach the highs of Condemned and Project Gotham Racing 3, but it’s certainly no slouch in the looks department.
In fact, no area lacks polish. Even the vehicle handling is as solid as the proverbial rock. The on foot shooting action – one area that GTA doesn’t score too well in manages to come across as mildly enjoyable.
We’ve learnt a lesson from this – we really should keep an open mind. Saints Row might not quite be a star, but it’s certainly well worth a look.