While the game has a few activities you will no doubt recognize from the Grand Theft Auto games (such as tracking down cars and returning them to a chop shop), the developers have gone out of their way to give us some cool variations on the theme. One of the most interesting mini games is Insurance Fraud, where you do everything you can to purposely get hit by cars to rack up money from the driver. The more times you get hit the more money you will get, which actually requires you to device some pretty interesting strategies for deliberately getting into an accident.
There are also activities where you have to protect a drug dealer as they drive around town delivering their product, race other vehicles and even one that involves you getting stuck in the middle of a demolition derby. Perhaps the hardest activity has you acting as a hired hitman going around and trying to kill a specific person with a specific weapon. This is especially difficult because you don't know where they are and when they will be walking (or driving) around town. This requires a lot of patience and several hours of your time.
While Saints Row is a next generation game, it ends up feeling more like Grand Theft Auto III than any of the more recent entries in the series. For one thing, your character barely says anything at all (I counted about three lines of dialog throughout the entire game), he just shakes his head and does what he is told. You are also limited in what kind of vehicles you can drive, as there are no motorcycles, boats, helicopters or airplanes. You are also stuck in a big city with no hope of escaping. One of the best things about San Andreas was the world outside of the three major cities, the forests and deserts and mountains. In Saints Row you won't see anything like that; it's pretty much all pavements, buildings and bridges. That's not to say that Stilwater is boring, but it's nowhere near as interesting as Vice City or San Andreas.
The game's story missions will also feel familiar to anybody who has played a Grand Theft Auto game. There are plenty of missions that have you driving people around, a few where you have to shoot up an entire building, and some that require you to use stealth in order to gain the upper hand. That's not to say that these missions are boring, because they aren't, there are a lot of missions that will have you on the edge of your seat. But at the same time you can't help but feel like you've been here before.
Believe it or not, the game is actually extremely easy to play through. For the most part you will always have enough ammo to get the job done, and even if you don't you can pick up weapons dropped by your fallen enemies. You also won't need to worry about your health very often, if you get shot all you need to do is hang back and wait for your life bar to fill itself up again. If you are impatient then you can chow down on some fast food, which, despite all evidence to the contrary, actually gives you life in this game. And if you need them, you can recruit up to three extra gang members to help you get through a mission. These extra gang members are especially helpful when you're trying to shoot through a lot of enemies, something that ends up happening more frequently towards the end of the game. Don't worry too much about these helpers dying, if they do pass away all you need to do is run up to them and pour a 40 oz beer on them and they will be magically resurrected.
What makes Saints Row so good is how well everything works in the game. There are a lot of little things that don't seem very important, but when you put them all together they end up making all the difference between this and all the lesser Grand Theft Auto clones. For example, when you are being chased it's to your benefit to kill the driver so that the vehicle is dead in the water. You will also find that the driving mechanics in the game are top notch; you will rarely get into trouble because of a car's bad handling. And instead of dealing with an auto aim system, you will actually control the aiming much like you would in a first-person shooter. This holds true for the driving sequences, where you can aim in every direction regardless of what is going on. The action in Saints Row is very well done and even outdoes the mighty Grand Theft Auto in a few instances.
Beyond the interesting aiming system, Saints Row does offer a few small innovations that I hope to see in all future games in the genre. One of the coolest aspects of the game doesn't affect the game play at all; it's the ability to hear what other cars are listening to when you are on foot. It adds a lot of atmosphere to hear a car drive up and have slightly muffled music playing from inside another person's vehicle. Speaking of vehicles, the garage at your hide out can now hold more than one vehicle at a time. In fact, every time you put a vehicle into your garage it is stored for the rest of the game; you can access it at any time, which is actually a pretty good idea as far as I'm concerned.
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