|Designer(s)||Christopher A. Stockman, Alvan Monje, Sandeep Shekar, Anoop Shekar, Doug Nelson|
|Release date(s)||NA August 29, 2006
Saints Row is a 2006 open world action-adventure video game for the Xbox 360. Developed by Volition, Inc. and published by THQ, Saints Row initially released in North America on August 29, 2006, followed by an Australian release two days later and a European release on September 1, 2006. It met with generally positive critical reception; reviewers noted its similarities with the Grand Theft Auto series, with some feeling that Saints Row improved Grand Theft Auto's open world formula. A PlayStation 3 port of the game was cancelled in 2007, with Volition moving on to full development of the sequel Saints Row 2, which released in 2008. The success of Saints Row and its sequel have since seen the development of Saints Row as a series, including a third and fourth entry.
Like other open world games, Saints Row allows players to freely roam the play space and engage in missions at their leisure. Missions are unlocked by trading in "Respect" points, currency earned by completing mini-games, and are played through three story arcs each with the objective of overthrowing a rival gang. Saints Row is set in the fictional city Stilwater, modeled on Chicago and Detroit. The player character becomes inadvertently involved in a gunfight between the three gangs fighting for control of Stilwater; Los Carnales, the Vice Kings, and the Westside Rollerz. He joins forces with the 3rd Street Saints gang, based out of the Saint's Row district, and works with the Saints to free Stilwater from gang control.
At the beginning of the game, players create their character through a system that allows them to customize his ethnicity, fitness, face and hairstyle. After completing the first mission, players are then given free roam over the game's open world, the fictional city of Stilwater, which is modeled after Detroit and Chicago. The game makes use of third-person view, which allows players to freely rotate the camera around their character. Players can run, jump, swim or utilize cars to navigate the world. They may also access the character customization system again at a plastic surgeon, apply cosmetic changes to their character at clothes stores, tattoo parlors, barbers and jewelers, and tune vehicles at chop shops. A personal garage can be used to store customized vehicles, and vehicles that have been destroyed or lost can be redeemed for a cash fee.
Bar the introductory and epilogue mission sequences, missions in Saints Row are divided between three linear story arcs which can be progressed through simultaneously or one by one, each with the objective of extinguishing a rival gang. Players engage in these missions at their leisure, but a prerequisite to instigate a mission is that they have filled up a bar on their Respect meter to allow them to unlock and play it. Respect is a currency earned by completing activities, which are mini-games that are scattered across the world and have increasing levels of difficulty. Missions and activities also accrue players cash income, which can be spent on goods and services such as weapons and clothes. Should players fail a mission, they may instantly reattempt it without incurring a loss of their Respect points. Cinemas scattered throughout the game world allow players to replay missions an unlimited number of times.
Players use hand-to-hand combat, melee weapons, firearms and explosives to fight rival gangs and the police. A free aiming reticule appears on the screen while players have weapons equipped. Weapons are accessed by a "weapon wheel" inventory system which appears on the screen as players hold down a button. Each of the eight slots on the wheel correspond to different types of weapons, such as submachine guns and pistols. Players may only carry one of each type of weapon at a time. Saints Row makes use of regenerative health, but this process can be accelerated by eating fast food items.
A "wanted level" system governs the response by opposing forces to players' aggressive actions. In the head-up display, surrounding the minimap, are two bars; the topmost bar represents rival gangs and the bottommost bar represents the police. As players incite opposing forces, the corresponding bar fills up. Each bar filled is represented by the provoked enemy's logo, be it a star to represent the police or a "gang sign" to represent an enemy gang. One bar of notoriety will result in non-lethal retalliation however two, three, four or five bars of notoriety will result in a gradually increased lethal response. Notoriety depletes over time, but enemies will continue to be aggressive towards players until the meter recedes. Players may remove their notoriety instantly by utilizing drive-through confessional booths, visiting plastic surgeons,  or inputting cheat codes. If arrested by the police, players will reappear outside a police station with a small bounty collected from their earnings.
Player progression through the game directly affects the presence of their friendly gang, the 3rd Street Saints. The game world is subdivided between districts, such as the Red Light or Downtown districts, each comprising several neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is controlled by a rival gang, but as players complete missions the 3rd Street Saints will take over neighborhoods, causing street members of the gang to spawn there. The pause menu displays a large map of the game world, which allows players to view a graphical representation of the streetscape, and a color filter over each of the neighborhoods represents the gang whom control that neighborhood. Saints Row features an in-game GPS navigation device, which allows players to set waypoints with a directional line indicating the quickest route to the marked destination. Players may enlist allied forces, referred to as homies, to aid in combat. Street members of the 3rd Street Saints may be summoned, or players may call up unique homies on their in-game mobile phones. Players can further utilize their mobile phone to contact services such as taxicabs, or to input cheat codes.
Stilwater is a huge, crime-filled city that is controlled by 4 major gangs; Vice Kings, an African-American gang that controls most of Stilwater's various forms of entertainment, Los Carnales, a Mexican gang that deals with arms and drug trafficking, and the Westside Rollerz, which specialize within the underground racing scene in Stilwater. The smallest gang is the 3rd Street Saints, which seeks peace on the streets clear of drugs.
At the start, the player is walking down the street when he notices a shootout. Though he attempts to maintain distance, he witnesses a fight amongst the Kings, Los Carnales and the Rollerz. Members from one of the gangs attempt to gun him down, but the Saints, led by Julius Little, step in and save him. Julius informs the player that he formed the Saints to bring down the other three gangs with the goal of returning peace to the streets. After proving himself to the Saints, the player is initiated into the gang and asked to assist them in taking over the city. The player, over the course of the game, assists in several missions and stronghold takeovers directed against each rival gang in turn, slowly bringing the entire city under the control of the Saints.
The player joins Johnny Gat, and his girlfriend, popular R&B singer Aisha, in their mission to bring down the Vice Kings, who control most of Stilwater's entertainment. They successfully target several of their interests, but eventually Johnny is captured by the VKs' enforcer Anthony Green. The player then kills Green and saves Johnny. However, Johnny is injured in the process and needs to use a leg brace afterwards. Later, Vice Kings second-in-command Warren Williams stages a mutiny and leads a coup against the leader Benjamin King, and King is forced to flee. On Julius' orders, the player saves King and attacks Williams, who is later killed by the Kings' prostitution manager Tanya Winters. The player and Gat, with King as their ally, attack the gang's headquarters where King kills Winters. King then departs from Stilwater since the Vice Kings are destroyed, on good terms.
The player and Saints member Dexter Jackson begin working against Los Carnales gang, who deal in arms and drugs. Several LC drug labs are hit and the player eventually assassinates their leader, Hector Lopez. Hector's younger brother Angelo takes charge and orders an attack on the Saints hideout, but they are unsuccessful, and the player kills the Carnales' enforcer Victor Rodriguez. Eventually, the Saints work out a deal with the Carnales liaison Manuel Orijuela, who gives up Angelo's location. The player and Dex attack it and Angelo is forced to flee by plane, which the player destroys, killing Angelo and terminating Los Carnales for good.
Saints member Lin disguises herself as a member of the street racing Westside Rollerz, and gives the player tips from within the gang. The two of them sabotage several of the Rollerz interests, but eventually Lin is found out and ratted by Donnie, Lin's love interest. She is shot and stuffed into her car trunk with the player by Rollerz financer William Sharp, who then pushes the car into the water. Lin sacrifices herself so that the player can escape and kill Sharp in a car chase. Eventually, Sharp's nephew and Rollerz leader Joseph Price attempt an attack on the Saints hideout but fail, resulting in the player killing Price in a car chase.
The player receives a call from Julius, who tells the player that he is the new second-in-command. However, he implies that he is about to be arrested by corrupt cops, who were waiting for the gang wars to end before they made their move against the Saints. At this point, other members of the Saints turn to the player for their orders.
To avenge Julius, the Saints begin attacking Stilwater's mayor and chief of police in order to free Julius from prison. Once this is complete, the player is invited to the private yacht of Alderman Richard Hughes, the only other candidate for mayor in the upcoming election. Hughes thanks the player for eradicating his political rival for him, and states that he is planning to use his mayoral power to destroy the Saints. The player responded to Hughes' ultimatum, and a bomb can be heard beeping and the yacht explodes, killing Hughes and his men, and seemingly killing the player.
The following actors appear in Saints Row:
- Keith David as Julius Little
- Daniel Dae Kim as Johnny Gat
- Michael Rapaport as Troy Bradshaw
- Jeffery Allen Qaiyum as Dex Jackson
- Tia Carrere as Lin
- Sy Smith as Aisha
- Michael Clarke Duncan as Benjamin King
- Mila Kunis as Tanya Winters
- Ogie Banks as Warren Williams
- Terrence C. Carson as Anthony Green
- Joaquim de Almeida as Hector Lopez
- Freddy Rodriguez as Angelo Lopez
- Philip Anthony-Rodriguez as Victor Rodriguez
- Andrea Zafra as Luz Avalos
- Carlos Ferro as Manuel Orejuela
- Greg Sims as Joseph Price
- David Carradine as William Sharp
- Andrew Kishino as Donnie
- Clancy Brown as Alderman Hughes
- Chris Williams as Marshall Winslow
The design philosophy behind Saints Row's arcing mission structure was to provide players with more freedom in how they interact with the open world. By developing three story arcs, the team wanted to provide a nonlinear approach by allowing players to progress through the story at their leisure. Adhering to such a design philosophy created a challenge for the team, as they had to balance the open-ended nature of the mission structure with a story progression that felt natural and player-engaging. "Stories, by definition, are fairly linear, so the two goals conflicted with each other", design director Christopher Stockman opined.
During development, the team turned to earlier open world games to establish principles for innovation, adopting the design philosophy "everything matters". The team wanted to synthesise game mechanics together to make the missions, activities and customization options work in tandem. Stockman felt that previous open world games did not reward players for experimenting with the sandbox enough because story progression was siphoned off from free roam gameplay. From this sentiment, the concept of the activities developed; players in Saints Row would be encouraged into off-mission content because progression through activities would unlock more story missions. The team would conduct review meetings to assess how the activities developed and whether or not refinements would need to be made. Some activities went through larger design changes than others; in an earlier inception of Drug Trafficking, players would have driven around the city providing addicts with narcotics while under the pressure of a time limit. Concurrently, the team were making refinements to defensive sequences in the story missions, which influenced the final revision of the Drug Trafficking activity.
Developing the city Stilwater required scaling back revisions to appropriate for a play space that could be comfortably traversed. During early production the team rendered an elementary model of the city in the engine, and drove around in the model to get a sense of the city's scale. They found the revision too small, so they quadrupled its dimensions, but soon had to scale it back to a more manageable size. Having found an appropriate size, the team began working on the city in detail, adding in transportation networks and buildings. The team made further revisions during this process as necessary, balancing the number of interior models like shops and mission-related buildings in each district so that no one section of the city would feel denser than another. Some districts planned for the city, such as an indoor shopping mall, a train station, and a trailer park, were cut during development.
The soundtrack of Saints Row includes over 130 musical tracks covering the classical, easy listening, electronica, metal, reggae, rock, and hip hop genres. The music is presented by 12 radio stations, and there is an in-game music player accessible through the pause menu. The player purchases songs for the music player at the record store franchise "Scratch That Music" in Stilwater using in-game money.
Several packages of downloadable content (DLC) have been released. The DLCs are as follows:
- Funky Fresh Pack - players get over sixty exclusive clothing and accessory options
- Industrial Map Pack - players get a new map for use in competitive multiplayer modes
- Ho Ho Ho Pack - players get Christmas-themed costumes and hair styles
- Gankster Pack - players get two exclusive vehicles
- Exclusive Unkut Pack - players get access to Unkut-themed outfits and tattoos
As of 2013, those DLCs are no longer available on the Xbox Live network.
Critical reaction to Saints Row was largely positive. Reviewers likened Saints Row to the Grand Theft Auto series; some felt the game improved upon the gameplay of Grand Theft Auto, but others criticized the game's lack of originality. Steven Embling of play.tm wrote that while Saints Row "isn't going to win any awards for originality", the game's graphics and sound design were "impressive" and "highly commendable". Ryan McCaffrey of GamesRadar considered Saints Row a worthy entry into a genre beholden to Grand Theft Auto, praising the game's graphics and use of the Havok engine, but lamenting the Respect system for disrupting story progression. Will Tuttle of GameSpy considered that while not all players would respond positively to the Respect system necessitating mission progression, the Activities "offer some of the game's most memorable sequences". Scott Sharkey of 1UP.com noted that Saints Row removed frustrating elements from previous Grand Theft Auto games, like load times between city sections and combat reliant on auto-aim, but considered its attempts to recreate urban gang culture and satire "so hackneyed that they cast an embarrassing shadow over the whole thing".
The game has received generally positive ratings. Although most critics have noted the striking similarities in gameplay that Saints Row shares with releases from the Grand Theft Auto series, they have also praised the game for the inclusion of new features and its improvement of existing ones from GTA. Saints Row has received ratings of 95/100 from GamePro, 8.75/10 from Game Informer, 80/100 from Official Xbox Magazine, 8.5/10 from IGN, 8.4/10 from GamerNode, and 8.3/10 from GameSpot. GamePro called it "the best reason to own an Xbox 360 this side of Oblivion", while IGN noted, "Hate it if you want to, snicker at its obvious me-too qualities, but don't forget to recognize impressive, kick-ass gameplay as you walk out the door." Saints Row has received an average critic score of 82% on Game Rankings and 81% on Metacritic. It was Australian video game talk show Good Game's, first ever review, with the two reviewers giving the game a 7/10 and 8/10.
Saints Row received awards from GameSpot for "Most Surprisingly Good Game of 2006", as well as Gaming Target for one of 52 Games We will Still Be Playing From 2006 selection. Saints Row sold over 2 million copies, and has since joined the Xbox 360 lineup of "Platinum Hits" games.
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