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.
Stilwater is a huge, crime-filled city that is controlled by 3 major gangs: the Vice Kings, an African-American gang that controls most of Stilwater's various forms of entertainment; Los Carnales, a Hispanic gang involved in weapons and drug trafficking; and the Westside Rollerz, a predominantly Asian-American gang specializing in the underground racing scene.
The player is walking down a street at night and sees Vice Kings gangsters tagging over Westside Rollerz graffiti. Members of the Rollerz then show up and a fistfight breaks out before members of Los Carnales interfere and things escalate into a full-scale shootout. The player attempts to keep his distance, but is inadvertently injured. The last man standing from the shootout, a Kings member, attempts to kill the player to dispose of any witnesses, but at the last moment, Julius Little and Troy Bradshaw of the 3rd Street Saints, a newly formed gang, step in and save him. Julius informs the player that the Saints seek to relieve Stilwater of its gang control, and, desperate for recruits, offers him a place. After being initiated into the Saints, the player is tasked with assisting its lieutenants in taking control of the city.
The player joins Johnny Gat and his girlfriend, popular R&B singer Aisha, in their mission to bring down the Vice Kings. They successfully target several of their business interests, but things come to a halt when Johnny is captured by Vice Kings' enforcer Anthony Green. The player kills Green and rescues Johnny, but Johnny is crippled after being shot in the leg, being forced to wear a brace. Later, Vice Kings second-in-command Warren Williams stages a mutiny and leads a coup against leader Benjamin King, accusing him of being too soft towards the Saints. Owing to his past friendship with King, Julius orders the player to rescue him. Williams is then killed by Vice Kings' prostitution manager Tanya Winters, who wishes to take control of the gang herself. In the finale, the player, Gat, and King launch an attack on the Vice King's headquarters. When they make it to the top floor, King personally kills Tanya. With the Vice Kings now destroyed, King departs from Stilwater, hoping to start a new life.
In the Carnales mission line, the player teams up with Dexter "Dex" Jackson. They target several Los Carnales drug labs, and later, the player assassinates their leader, Hector Lopez. Hector's younger brother Angelo takes charge and orders an attack on the Saints hideout, but it is unsuccessful, and Victor Rodriguez, the Carnales' enforcer, is killed by the player. Eventually, the Saints work out a deal with Carnales' liaison Manuel Orejuela, who gives up Angelo's location. The player and Dex attack the Lopez mansion and pursue the fleeing Angelo in a car chase, but Angelo drives over a bascule bridge and escapes. Angelo then plans to escape Stilwater by plane, but the player and Dex head to the airport and destroy the plane as it takes off, killing Angelo and terminating the Carnales for good.
With very little known about the Rollerz, Julius has Saints lieutenant Lin infiltrate the gang disguised as a member. She tips the player off about the gang's operations, who then proceeds to disrupt them. After several successful sabotages, Lin is eventually compromised when she meets cunning Rollerz financer, William Sharp. She is kidnapped and unwillingly forced to lure the player into an ambush, where he too is captured. The two are shot and stuffed into the trunk of a car, which is then pushed into the city's canal by Sharp and a heartbroken Donnie, Lin's love interest and Rollerz mechanic. The player manages to escape from the trunk and kill Sharp, but later learns from Julius that Lin succumbed to her injuries and drowned in the canal. Sharp's nephew and Rollerz leader, Joseph Price, launches a full-scale assault on the Saints Row district in revenge for his uncle's death. The attack ultimately fails when the player and Julius attack the Rollerz motorcade heading toward the Row. With the Rollerz all but destroyed, Price personally faces off with the player in a highway car chase, where the player blows up Price's truck, killing him and ending the Rollerz once and for all.
With all three gangs destroyed, the player receives a call from Julius, who congratulates him and promotes him to second-in-command. However, during the call, Julius is arrested by the corrupt Chief of Police Richard Monroe, who was waiting for the gang wars to end before making a move against the Saints, making the player temporarily in charge. To ensure Julius' release, the Saints are forced by Monroe to assassinate Stilwater's mayor, Marshall Winslow to ensure Richard Hughes, who has the corrupt chief in his pocket, is the only candidate for the upcoming election. Monroe does not keep his word and Julius remains imprisoned, so the player, Dex and Gat free Julius by killing Monroe in an ambush.
The player then receives a call from Hughes, inviting him to come to his private yacht. Hughes thanks the player for killing Winslow, but states he is planning to use his mayoral power to destroy the Saints and "salt the earth" with the Saint's Row district. During his monologue, Troy stares at his cop badge, revealing him as an undercover cop, while Julius hastily walks away from the waterfront, checking his watch. Hughes finishes by telling the player that he will be executed by his henchmen, but a bomb then explodes on the yacht, killing Hughes and seemingly killing the player.
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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