I’d been wanting to play the second Saints Row for a while now – since I’d heard it compared very favorably to one of my favorite titles, GTA: San Andreas. But then I spotted the first Saints Row (SR1) “for cheap” and decided to pick it up instead. The comparison to San Andreas probably tells you all you need to know about the game, but if not – GTA (and SR1, from what I can tell) is a game where you drive around a realistic city performing various activities – such as driving from Point A-to-Point B, high-speed chases, high-speed escapes, and other variations on stuff you can do while driving. It sounds simple, but it’s an awesome genre of fun gaming. And that brings us back to SR2 – the game I wanted to play because people said it was like a sequel to San Andreas. How would SR1 differ?
Upon starting the game, my first thought was “I have to make my own character? I don’t want to do that!” I always get a little annoyed when I’m presented with a thousand ways to customize my player. I want to play the game and giving me that many choices is effectively a road block. I’m being facetious, by the way – though I did sigh heavily when I realized I’d be tinkering with the look of my character for a while before actually playing. And I was only allotting myself about 45 minutes to play.
Despite wanting to just pick a default and start playing, I ended up taking about 10 minutes to customize an Asian avatar with short, green hair, a long mustache, and devil-spiked eye brows. He has a very slightly muscled build.
And then I dove in. Here are my first five thoughts:
My first thought was in regard to character movement: responsive! Unlike a lot of games that deliver realistic animations – Saints Row delivers accurate motion. In other words, I press forward and then immediately press back – in GTA, my character will transition from a run to a slow-down, then play a turn animation, then transition from stop-to-walk-to-jog-to-run. In SR1, you go from running one direction to immediately running in the other direction with only a quick turn animation between. Arcade-like. Fun. I dig it. I hopped into a car and found it’s much the same – almost exactly, if not exactly, like comparing the driving physics from San Andreas to GTA IV. Again, I dig it.
Second thought was that combat was sloppy. I don’t have a mouse to ensure pin-point precision. I have an analog stick. When I aim my shots, I often jump the targeting reticule past my opponent, then swing it back past him again as I try to aim. Then the opponent moves and I have to start over. That’s why games like GTA employ an auto-target mechanism. Unfortunately, SR1 does not have that. It also does not have cover mode. A thought creeps through my head that combay may become frustrating. We’ll see.
Third thought was that I couldn’t get used to the controls. While driving, it’s (and we’re talking Xbox 360 here) [X] to reverse and break, [A] to accelerate, and [LT] to pull the emergency break. What? Seriously? Why not go with the industry standard? [RT] to accelerate, [LT] to break/reverse, and something like [X] or [B] to pull the emergency break.
(Note: didn’t find out you could grab this exact set-up by selecting a control profile from the options until my next play session; remember, I was only playing for 30 minutes and I wanted to run around a little without worrying about things.)
Fourth thought? Running around punching people in the back of the head is fun. How awful is that? But seriously, rag doll physics make everything better.
Fifth and final thought for this opening post? I dig the graphics. In a lot of ways, it is like San Andreas – but with the power of the Xbox 360 (versus the original Xbox or PS2) behind it, everything is brighter and sharper and cleaner and the frame rate is smoother. A lot of people will say it does not at all compare to GTA IV, but anyone who knows me knows that I’d rather see a dev team focus on the game play and not worry so much about the graphics; keep them clean and don’t worry so much about hyper-realistic fidelity. In that sense, SR1 takes the engine in the direction I’d have rather seen of GTA.