While immitation might be a form of flattery, Saint’s Row is akin to a giant blow job. “Inspiration” and “influence” are words that are too kind when used to describe this grand theft design committed by Volition and THQ.
It’s too bad. There’s some decent ideas (improvements) there and the engine is certainly capable and the production values are admirable, but no matter what the game does right it can not escape the shadow of Grand Theft Auto. It is like looking at a print of a Rothko painting. Sure, it looks like the real thing and it might be just as beautiful, but it doesn’t compare to seeing the original. There’s a presence that some paintings have that prints can’t copy.
Saint’s Row is like that. A clone without the soul.
If you were to judge a game solely on controls and physics and textures and light maps and polygon counts and f-bombs and gameplay, and if you were to judge it as an island, independent of all that came before it, then you would judge it accordingly. If not, then you’d say that “Saint’s Row sucks“.
Addendum: one major problem with Saint’s Row is that it copied Grand Theft Auto a little too well, bringing along many of GTA‘s bugs and quirks. Cars and people appear and disappear randomly. Parked cars vanish. Road bridges don’t stream in properly and you drive on thin air. Buildings appear sometimes late and sometimes very late. Cop and gang member AI is stupid. And the game freezes (taking with it an hour’s worth of missions and car and weapon acquisitions ARG).
You’d think that a “next-gen GTA” would fix some of these load and AI issues, but I guess this title was more interested in doing what was done rather than fixing it.
ALSO: the rotary menu for weapon selection sucks. It’s good in theory, because you don’t have to hit “L1” or “R1” a half dozen times to switch weapons, but the side effect is that it is impossible to properly change weapons while on the move (which is useful when you need to dodge bullets!)