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By Diresim
Published: Mar. 11, 2007 11:39 AM

The Xbox 360's hot new action title, Saints Row, has been in the making for a long time. Believe it or not, Volition (of Descent and Red Faction fame), started work on the game prior to Rockstar North's release of GTA: San Andreas on the PS2. Whilst it was originally slated as a launch title for Microsoft's new system last year, the game’s scope hampered its development significantly, and a lengthy delay was necessary. The game finally hit Australian shelves last week, and the more you play it, the more you realize it could have done with a longer delay. It comes loaded with bugs, glitches and performance issues, not to mention a significantly unwelcome helping of multiplayer lag.

It also lends much from Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto franchise. Rockstar were the creators and pioneers of the ‘open world’ genre, and whilst there have been a number of imitators over the years since the release of Grand Theft Auto 3, Saints Row comes the closest to delivering the quality of experience found in that series. Some things it does worse than GTA, some things it does better. Ultimately though, it doesn't really matter. When it comes to sheer, unadulterated fun, this game delivers with aplomb. Prepare to be absorbed, gangsta style.

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In Saints Row, an involved main storyline propels you through thirty-six varied and enjoyable missions as you try to take over the fictional city of Stillwater, street by street. Recruited by the 3rd Street Saints, it’s your job to lead your gang to supremacy in the crime infested city, taking on the Los Carnales, the Westside Rollers, and the Vice Kings in the process. The story is engaging, without knocking your socks off. In a real departure from form for the genre, you can completely customize your character at the start of the game. Using a slider based system similar to EA’s gameface tool, you can make him look like anyone you want, and if you’re unhappy mid-game, you can head to the nearest plastic surgeon. There’s also clothing shops, jewelry stores and tattoo parlours everywhere, so you can pimp out your character any way you choose, and its a very easy and fun to do so.

This heavy emphasis on customization is extremely welcome, as the third person perspective ensures your character is on-screen most of the time. I say “most” of the time because whilst the camera is near perfect when your character is on foot, when driving, it can take a while to pan back around behind you after turns. This is only a minor annoyance though, as you are able to rotate the camera manually, and the otherwise solid control scheme more than makes up for it.

Your character can hold up to seven weapons at any one time (one of each type), and switching weapons is relatively simple. Pressing the B button brings up a radial menu. The chosen weapon can then be selected using the left stick. It’s quick and simple, and by far beats scrolling through a number of weapons to get to the one you want. The only problem is that you can’t change weapons whilst moving, an issue that arises surprisingly un-often. Thank god for all that ammo.

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On top of the main story missions, Saints Row offers up numerous side activities to keep you busy. Unlike some other games in this genre, Volition have made sure that each of these is both fun and rewarding. Whether you're racing tuners, assassinating hitman targets, protecting drug dealers, or unleashing destruction upon innocent bystanders, you're sure to be enjoying yourself. There are about ten or so different types of activities, and each includes tonnes of different missions. In a great touch, as you progress through these activities, you'll unlock various goodies. Completing all hitman missions rewards you with some awesome new guns, snatch (pimping) with a fully fledged pimp outfit and pimp cane (which doubles as a tremendously powerful shotgun), and so on.

With so much stuff to do in the world of Saints Row, you’re going to be spending a lot of time driving cars, and in this department, Volition’s beast gets a big fat tick. There are dozens upon dozens of cars to be found in Stillwater, from Slingshots (Civics) to Attriziones (Lamborghinis) to Le Fleurs (Zondas), and you can throw them all in your personal garages littered about town, ready for action whenever you need them.

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