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'Saint's Row' Preview (Xbox 360)


It's easy to label something as a Grand Theft Auto clone, and there is usually only one requirement for it – the game tries to be GTA but it sucks. A fair number have come out in recent years, but none have managed to touch the success of that particular franchise. With Saint's Row, the formula is being tested again, but there is something about the game that just might put it on a level field with the heralded GTA series.

In Saint's Row, you play as an unnamed youth of one of several various races, as you get swept up in some street gang violence, and find yourself being recruited by one of the local games. After your initiation, which involves all the gang members getting around you in a circle and whooping your butt (though if you are good enough you can outlast them and not get beat down), you soon find yourself out on the street, and this fictional city is now your sandbox to play in.

Much like Grand Theft Auto, Saint's Row has many of the same trappings: you've got your store where you can buy your different weapons, a store to change up your appearance, the ability to jack cars, rough up people on the streets, etc. Though the games share many of the same elements, Saint's Row features a few new tricks, such as being able to recruit your fellow gang members to join you on a mission.

Based on the time spent with the preview, Saint's Row will follow you and your posse as you rise up the ranks, earning respect by doing the odd jobs across the city or taking down rival gangs. Respect is actually the name of the game, because without respect, you can't advance through the story. Told through in-game cinematics, the cutscenes feature a whole array of characters, with no one being more prominent than the main man behind the whole gang, voiced by none other than Halo 2's the Arbiter himself, the excellent Keith David.

The missions of Saint's Row range in variety – gathering prostitutes from other pimps to bring to another one, taking out rival gang members, heading to the local hideout to take down a crime boss, etc. Beyond the missions, since the game is built as a giant urban sandbox, you can make your own fun in the game. If you want to jump on the hood of a car and go surfing, you can do it. If you want to mug people off the street for money, you can do it. If you want to practice running from the police, you can do it. If you want to take pipe bombs and watch the lovely explosions…well you get the idea.

And speaking of explosions, Saint's Row features some gorgeous explosive effects; go to the local gun store, load up on pipe bombs, then find the nearest car and let the good times roll, or more accurately blow up into the air and come crashing down to the street. The explosion itself is a sight to see itself, but the really nice touch is watching the car rip apart and watching debris as it flies by; if you stay too close to the carnage, there is a good chance a hunk of debris or a flying tire just might head your way and knock you down (trust me…I know). When several cars explode side by side, and you slowly walk away, only to have the whole chassis fall from the sky just inches away from you, then you know you've found a pretty special game.

Though for the preview only a small portion of the city is open for exploration, the world feels very alive as you watch things unfold naturally. If you aren't jacking a car, there is a good chance someone else is doing it instead. People will be buying weapons right beside you, customers will be trying to score taxis, and police will walk the beat. A lot of the realism comes from the dialogue, which is absolutely hilarious; much of it can't be said here should a younger gamer come strolling by, but rest assured if you aren't laughing out loud, then your funny bone must be broken.

There is a lot to be excited about for Saint's Row, and thankfully the wait to rule the streets isn't too much further away. So buy you a platinum grill and practice your gang signs, cause the Xbox 360 is about to get gangsta.