Saint's Row - 360 - Preview
Volition, the folks behind the revolutionary PS2 launch title Red Faction, and THQ are gearing up to release their entry to the free-form crime-based action-adventure genre. However, to call Saint’s Row a GTA clone would be a huge mistake. If anything, this upcoming 360 title is set to dethrone Rockstar’s flagship franchise and should be a phenomenal launch as revolutionary as any quest that Carl Johnson, Tommy Vercetti or the nameless chap in Grand Theft Auto 3 could even dream of. I recently had some hands-on time with Saint’s Row, and the results were nothing short of astonishing. While still in early stages (final XBox 360 hardware was just released to developers about a week ago), Saint’s Row is already shaping up to be an amazing game that should be one of the 360’s premier titles, and certainly one of the best of the genre.
Saint’s Row plays a lot like the GTA games, in terms of gameplay concepts. You tour through a full city (modeled loosely after several different cities, including Chicago), somewhere between San Andreas and Vice City in terms of size and scope. You have the choice of hoofing it on foot, or commandeering one of many different vehicles. While the mission structure is still a bit under wraps, the game will have a free-roaming non-linear feel to it, allowing you to adhere to the main quest, take on side missions like street races or just play around within the game’s universe.
However, the ties between Saint’s Row and GTA become pretty nominal after this. The game utilizes aiming controls similar to a third-person action game or an FPS. You move with the left thumbstick and look/aim with the right. The game makes impressive use of the Havok 3.0 physics engine as well as rag-doll effects for bodies. In somewhat of a sick twist (albeit a very cool looking one) you can hit pedestrians in a car and have them land on the hood of your car, flying off as soon as you hit the breaks. This effect also extends to your character, which will tumble down the road in true rag-doll style when hit by a speeding car.
However, perhaps the coolest use of the physics engine (and certainly my favorite part of the game so far) is the explosions. By lobbing a grenade (or you can use the alternate fire option to roll a grenade instead) at a group of people or under a car, you can really start some chaos. Cars will explode dozens of feet into the air, sending debris like tires, bumpers, and hoods soaring through the atmosphere. Bits can even come flying at your character, knocking you over and causing some damage if you are careless. The effect is much cooler to witness than words can do justice, and once you see it you’ll know what I mean.
Aside from that, the game also has a nice “homies” feature that lets you call up a buddy to help you complete your missions, or just cause some bedlam about town. You can even have them drive while you ride shotgun to fire upon some rivals.
The game also boasts an impressive level of customization, allowing you to pimp your vehicles with new paint jobs, decals, and things like spinner rims as you progress through the game. You can also change your character’s clothing, giving him things like new hats, jackets, pants, and even underwear to give him just the right style.
Graphically, the game is amazing, even without that final oh-so-important layer of polish. The build that I saw was running on an HDTV and looked amazing. The character models looked ultra-detailed and rivaled anything seen on the Doom 3 engine, and the vehicles were realistic and meticulous. The environments are also deep, and are composed of both indoor and outdoor areas. While the lighting effects weren’t were they will be in a few months, the whole look was great and showed a lot of potential for what the game (as well as the XBox 360 as a console) could do.
While the sound elements weren’t complete by any means, Saint’s Row has a lot going for it. The voice acting includes work by famous actors like David Carradine and Michael Clark Duncan, and the soundtrack will have ten different radio stations and more than one hundred songs. If that’s not enough, you’ll even be able to hook up an MP3 player to your 360’s USB port and upload your own playlist into the game.
Even in this early stage, Saint’s Row is a force to be reckoned with and should be the game to finally give the GTA series a run for its money. Plus, the inclusion of online multiplayer support for up to 12 players, Saint’s Row will have XBox 360 gamers asking, “Grand Theft what?” when it hits early next year.