Critical Reception: THQ's/Volition's Saints Row

This week's 'Critical Reception' column examines how online review outlets rated the THQ-published, Volition-developed Saints Row for the Xbox 360, a free-roaming action title billed as the next evolutionary step for Grand Theft Auto-styled
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines how online review outlets rated the THQ-published, Volition-developed Saints Row for the Xbox 360, a free-roaming action title billed as the next evolutionary step for Grand Theft Auto-styled games. Currently weighing in at an average score ranking of 86% at, Saints Row has a lot to live up to after receiving months of previews, features, and cover stories from the gaming press. Many lofty promises were made, the phrase "GTA killer" was tossed around with reckless abandon, and a number of outlets claimed that the title, when released, would be the best reason for gamers to own an Xbox 360. GamePro's Sid Shuman seems to agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly in his review, rating the game a 4.75 out of 5 in Fun Factor, and even going so far as to call Saints Row, "Unquestionably, irrefutably better [than the latest Grand Theft Auto games] in nearly every possible way." In particular, Shuman cites the game's multiplayer aspect as a significant advantage over the largely single-player Grand Theft Auto series. "Saints Row's Xbox Live presentation is a colossal step in the right direction for the genre," says Sid, "with its live-action lobby, imaginative game modes, and an MMO-inspired element that allows you to amass and spend the money you win online." As far as gameplay is concerned, Shuman summarizes, "Saints Row is a smooth ride, with fast, fluid driving mechanics and superior gunplay -- definitely a remarkable improvement over San Andreas." Douglass C. Perry of IGN provides a different take, scoring the title an 8.5 out of 10, but also emphasizing that Saints Row is more imitator than innovator. Perry describes Saints Row as, "both a ballsy, brave, fun game while simultaneously being guilty of the heaviest degree of copy cat-ism, me-too derivation, and just-plain over-doing it." Perry admits that "The core missions, side missions, the controls and flow of the game, the graphics and sound, they're all solid and smartly designed," and that Saints Row, "feels and plays better than most, if not all, of the other GTA clones." However, Perry disagrees with GamePro's suggestion that Saints Row improves on the GTA formula in nearly every way. "Is it better than Rockstar's benchmark?" Perry asks. "On the whole -- Not a chance. But in very specific areas? Yes, absolutely." Similar comments are echoed in Adam Pavlacka's review at Yahoo Games. "Heavily inspired by Rockstar's headlining franchise, it's true that Saints Row borrows concepts liberally," Pavlacka says, "but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution." Pavlacka continues: "Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, the developers over at Volition have simply taken a good hard look at the competition, tweaked what works, and ditched what doesn't. The end result is a small evolution of the genre, but one that provides hours of entertainment." Fans of the Grand Theft Auto series will likely be drawn to Saints Row, given its amount of surrounding hype, combined with the fact that the title is the first of its type to appear on the Xbox 360. In many such cases, high expectations can lead to disappointment, as many titles inevitably fail to live up to standards set by previous releases in their respective genres. Judging by overall critical opinion, however, gamers can expect to find a solid -- if not entirely original -- gameplay experience in Saints Row.

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