Saints Row (video game)
North American cover art
|Designer(s)||Christopher A. Stockman
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 was 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 was 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. It is the first game in the Saints Row series.
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 after Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore. 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 control of the other gangs.
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 Batimore, 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 retaliation 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.
Saints Row takes place in Stilwater, an island city controlled by three distinct criminal syndicates: the Vice Kings, a largely African American gang that primarily earns revenue from strip clubs and record labels, Los Carnales, a drug cartel that dominates the narcotics trade, and the Westside Rollerz, who have established a lucrative underground racing club.
The player character, an unnamed everyman, witnesses a street fight between the three gangs, getting injured after being caught in the crossfire. After the fight, the sole survivor (a Kings thug) attempts to kill the player, but he is rescued by Troy Bradshaw, a member of the newly-formed 3rd Street Saints. Julius Little, the Saints' leader, allows the player to undergo a series of tests to earn initiation into the group. He then instructs his top lieutenants, Johnny Gat, Dexter "Dex" Jackson, and Lin, to break the other gangs' control over Stilwater.
Working with Gat, the player attacks Kings-owned operations throughout the city with the help of Aisha, Johnny's girlfriend and a popular R&B singer signed to one of their labels. In response, enforcer Anthony Green captures Gat and takes him to his apartment to be executed. The player manages to track down Green and kill him, but Johnny suffers a leg wound that takes him out of action. Warren Williams, the Kings' underboss, encourages founder Benjamin King to take harsher action against the Saints. When King refuses, Williams organizes a mutiny and orders his death. Owing to their old friendship, Julius sends the player to escort him to safety. Williams is subsequently assassinated by Kings associate Tanya Winters, who takes his place. Seeking revenge, King, the player, and a recovering Gat launch an attack on the gang's headquarters, ending with King throwing Winters through a window. Now free of his past, King formally retires and leaves his territories to Julius.
The Saints then turn their attention to the Carnales, who are planning a major expansion into the city. The player, assisted by Dex and Troy, destroys most of the gang's production labs and shipments, and eventually fights off a retaliatory attack led by Carnelas lieutenant Victor Rodriguez, killing him. After Carnales leader Hector Lopez dies in a sniper attack while attending a meeting, his younger brother Angelo prepares to flee overseas, out of the reach of the Saints. Julius cuts a deal with Manuel Orejuela, the Carnales' chief supplier, agreeing to kill Angelo in exchange for taking over his interests. Dex orders an attack on the Lopez family mansion, but Angelo manages to escape and heads for his private jet. Just as the plane begins to take off, the player destroys it with a rocket, putting an end to the Carnales.
Lin, who has been posing as a top member of the Rollerz, contacts the player with information about where to attack the gang's facilities, disrupting their ability to set up races. William Sharp, a private attorney who manages the gang's activities, deduces Lin's true identity and has her and the player captured and put in the trunk of a sinking car. Unable to save Lin, the player intercepts Sharp and kills him in a car chase. Sharp's nephew, gangster Joseph Price, declares war on the entire Saints Row district. With Julius driving, the player destroys the Rollerz convoy intended to lead the attack, buying the gang enough time to find Price and kill him in another chase.
With Stilwater now under the full control of the Saints, Julius rewards the player by naming him as his chief lieutenant. Shortly thereafter, however, Richard Monroe, the corrupt Stilwater police commissioner, arrests Julius and threatens to have him killed unless the Saints murder Mayor Marshall Winslow, allowing Alderman Richard Hughes, Monroe's patron, to win the upcoming mayoral election. Correctly guessing that Monroe has no intention of upholding his side of the bargain, the Saints ambush Monroe's motorcade and kill him, freeing Julius.
Hughes, now the mayor, invites the player to meet with him on his private yacht. With the Saints held responsible for Winslow's death, Hughes plans to destroy them and raze Saints Row so he can sell it to private developers. Troy, who had been planted by Monroe to infiltrate the Saints, meets with the police while Julius watches. Hughes then orders his bodyguards to kill the player, but a bomb suddenly explodes on the yacht's main deck, seemingly killing everyone onboard and ending the game.
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 and were added in Saints Row 2.
The soundtrack of Saints Row includes over 130 musical tracks covering the classical, easy listening, drum and bass/breakbeat, metal, reggae, rock, R&B 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 and a co-op mission
- Exclusive Unkut Pack - players get access to Unkut-themed outfits and tattoos
Critical reaction to Saints Row was generally 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".
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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