Innovative, but a little buggy
You start off creating your own character and you can pretty much modify every part of your character. This allows for recreation of famous people and that is exactly what happened during the first couple of weeks: On many gaming forums, people were trying to recreate famous persons, only to let them wreak havoc in Stillwater.
Once you are done with your character, a short cut scene starts with your own character in it. A gun fight starts featuring all four gangs from the game, with the Third Street Saints coming forward as the 'winners'. They give you a chance to join them and from there the story takes off.
The story line firstly follows the Saints fight against each of the three gangs that terrorize Stillwater, a sleepy fictional city that is clearly based on the east coast US cities like Chicago and Detroit. The three gangs all control
roughly one third of the city's 43 neighborhoods, that you can capture through activities and the missions that the Saints have ready for you. One thing that Saints Row managed to improve upon is navigation. When you got a mission target, a GPS shows you the fastest route on the map, making navigating way easier and less annoying. Another thing is that, when you fail a mission, you no longer have to drive all the way back to the mission start. One press of a button is enough to start the mission again.
The game features various activities that let you do things like freeing/stealing hookers from their pimps and committing insurance fraud, which is pretty much one of the funniest things I have ever seen in Video Games. The goal of this mini game is through yourself in front of traffic and trying to make sure you fly as far as possible, causing lots of damage.
The weapons are pretty much your standard arsenal of games, although I must say that this arsenal is rather extensive. One of the weapons that really deserves mentioning is the RPG, that can cause massive explosions that very impressive for such an early-gen game. This really makes you want to just randomly start shooting cars, just to say the nice explosion!
Cars also deserve mentioning, mainly because there are so many of them and almost all of them can be pimped! The customization here again is pretty much limitless, making it very rewarding just driving over to the local Rim Jobs to add that extra spoiler on your car. There are also several car dealers in the game that sell all kinds of cars, from your standard SUV's to Ferrari like race monsters.
The sound has been done pretty well too, but I think the radio stations definitely are worth mentioning here. There are so many different styles of music being played on the radio, that there is always one station playing what you like. The game even features music made specifically for the game, featuring a character that comes back in the single player. Also, the easy listening radio goes very well with the Insurance Fraud mini game.
The main downside of the game is the notable amount of bugs and although most of them are just purely visual, they kind of take away from the experience. The framerate definitely is not stable at all, especially with explosions on screen.
One of the things GTA was missing was the multiplayer and developer Volition managed to make good use of this void. There are seven modes in the game from which Protect tha Pimp and Blinged out Ride are most notable, because they manage to innovate in the multiplayer genre. Several co-op missions have been added, which allow the player to get online with a friend and really work together to get to their goal. Another thing that was added was a Gang-system which allows player to get into Clan-like groups to compete in different multiplayer modes.
This really sounds too good to be true and there is one major flaw to the multiplayer: Lag. At the moment of the game's release, the game was almost unplayable because of the lag, pretty much scaring away a lot of the players.
In short: If you like action, violence or sandboxgames, Saints Row is definetly for you! The graphics managed to keep up, even today. The bugs can be quite annoying but I really think you can still enjoy the game. (If this did not convince you, there is always a demo waiting for you on Xbox Live Marketplace.)