A recipe ought to be swirling around in the gaming industry, as Saints Row seems all too familiar, bringing back the same shooting, driving, blowing up stuff, and 'de-limbing' innocent by-standers for the fun of it style of gameplay we've all come to embrace in our collections, happily pulling it out again if the mood strikes that certain dark side of our naughty gaming brains. But is it really just a good case of copy and paste, or is it much more than that? I, for one, believe that Rockstar may be in a little trouble. Does that answer your question?
Perhaps you have had discussions with a friend or two over what you'd like to see come to GTA, what you didn't like, and what you would change up. Perhaps in that comprehensive list you included being able to hear the radio of the car as it passes you by, or even as you enter it, maybe having rag doll effects and eject-able members inside of the vehicle, or possibly the ability to customize you characters nose width down to the millimeter. Welcome to Stilwater, the city in which you'll help the Third Street Saints to control.
The detail Volition put into Saints Row is almost sickening. Starting the story with your character creation, you are thrown into a menu set which puts The Sims to shame. Although clothing, tattoos, and accessories aren't all just given to you off the bat, they are attainable, and you will want to check them out. Starting out with one of its strongest points, Stilwater is brought to life with a cutscene, your custom character included, showing the crime-infested streets for what they are worth. That being cuss words and bullets, but none-the-less convincing. Picked up and recruited to the Third Street Saints by Julius (voiced by Keith David, to answer all of those people wondering "Who is that. I know that voice"), you are beat like the opponents of Ricky Bobby, pummeled for initiation (if only there was more leg stabbing in Saints Row). Kind of an odd start, but the story continues and only gets better along the way, pulling you back to it every night. Michael Clarke Duncan, David Carradine, and others alike continue to provide excellent voice acting to the characters that develop immensely throughout the game.
Saints Row starts off quick, throwing you into the free roaming world almost instantaneously. The first couple missions are quite simple as to provide some time to get familiar with the controls. Of course, it picks up very quickly soon thereafter, making you scrounge for money, find or purchase weapons, and go around town doing 'Activities' such as stealing hoes from abusive pimps and free loading off of fraudulent insurance money. These activities will earn you money and respect, as do clothes bearing the Third Street Saints color (purple). Story missions will not begin until you have proven your worthy, raising your respect bar to the appropriate level, an aspect I thought slowed the game down slightly, and unnecessarily doing so at that. The missions themselves can also grow weak at times, not supported by much innovation. They are fun and rewarding none-the-less, but with 5+ GTA titles under certain gamer's belts, Saints Row may get dry.
Jumping into this one will be like a bicycle if you have dabbled with GTA, having a learning curve of about fifteen minutes. The simplicity of the quick switch inventory is yet another 'why-don't -they-do-this-kind-of-stuff-more-often' addition, simply holding 'B' and using the left joystick to select the gun from the direction it is located. The rest of the controls are typical while on foot or while driving, but always showing crosshairs as your character will lean out and shoot in any direction you are looking. Everything handles well, and the vehicles are all beautifully done, actually having a decent amount of variability on the effects to the car when damaged in certain areas. A common occurrence in the GTA series, for obvious system memory reasons, was what I liked to call the "recurring current model syndrome". To explain, the current vehicle you are in will usually show up much more often. In Saints Row, not so much. They also decided to make all pedestrians quite resilient and smart in the sense of they will actually get out of the way. This makes the hunt that much more exciting, especially when the incredible rag doll effect is produced on a lot of a half dozen or so people. Your character and other drivers are all alike, being able to be thrown out of your vehicle in the event of a head on crash or an up close and personal interview with a brick wall. The vehicle explosions are by far the most spectacular I've ever seen in a video game of this magnitude, producing flames and parts and a heat blur to boot. The vehicle models are extremely detailed and mapped to a key, as you can use a door as cover, you can take your door off when it's ajar, and you can get killed/hurt by a flying door (or mirror). The destruction value is also immense, offering detail that GTA or any other has never delivered. The pedestrians themselves do not suffer from a world of incest, as you'll barely ever see twins on the side of the road. Their mannerisms are wide and they have an array of sayings based on current events.
The detail moves on and on with small things like bugs that fly around lights in dark areas or at night, police vehicles with lights that can go out piece by piece and look incredibly real in lighting effects. The top of each cruiser will have a unique number and will be used in dispatch, cops will go to the trunk to pull out the shotgun, mud can build up the side of your car, spray effects when a windshield is shot is straight from the movies. If caught in an explosion or hit by a vehicle yourself, you can be thrown into a ragdoll effect and then smoothly transition into getting up off the ground. Hitting gas bars will hurt you and your car, charring and wrinkling the body. Rainstorms will limit your visibility and blur far distances, possibly limiting down to only the glowing street lights, which also blur and stream during movement. The 43 achievements will keep you busy, and the world is comparable to about half the physical size of San Andreas, but there are buildings to enter on every corner, just walk up and walk in, no loading times necessary. Buying booze for health will physically make you drunk for a couple minutes, slowing your response time and blurring your vision, slightly wavering your control over handling a vehicle or weapon. Cars can have bike rakes on top; your character will even pull out his pistol to shoot the victim while stealing the car. Every bullet casing is accounted for, dropping down and hitting the floor with a ting, the bullet leaving the nozzle and creating a blur from the heat of the gunfire. The water is breathtaking, being photo-realistic in every way. Yes, you can swim. The views in the horizon go on forever and are also just as enjoyable, but don't expect Saints Row to slow down or load, its rock solid.
Multiplayer may be its weaker end, as online experiences weren't very pleasant. To begin, the games took upwards of five minutes to collect enough people to initiate a match. Some games aren't exactly spelled out on what to do, especially in the mode in which you must pimp your ride out faster than the other team. Sticking to death match or a mode Saints Row calls "Big Ass Chains", is usually a good call. In "Big Ass Chains", you simply collect dog tags from your departed victims, returning the chains back to the base rewards your team with points, first to a certain amount of points wins.
If there is any way for an ear to have an orgasm, Saints Row will induce it. It does, in fact, allow you to hear (in 5.1 surround) the radio of passersby, and it engulfs you from right to left (or left to right, depending on the door you get in) as you enter the vehicle. Even standing near a car sounds realistic, having the sound muffled by glass, that is until you shoot it out, thus making the music loud and clear to the street around you. Custom soundtracks are obviously possible, but I wouldn't doubt I'd be wrong if I said you'll be able to find something you like in the track selection available. There are actually hidden CDs in the game as well, each ten CDs you collect unlocks a brand new track.
From every angle you take, Saints Row is golden. You'll drive around and conquer Stilwater for hours to come and enjoy every minute of it I'm sure, as it's just too solid in the main functionality to induce any less. Saints Row not only is a new addition to the sub-genre of free roaming action games, but it is the new leader, and for all the right reasons.