That is, provided that person is male. I wouldn’t usually moan on about this, but Saints Row has one of the most cringingly adolescent approaches to women and sex I’ve come across (now, stop it) in some time. I haven’t seen so many no good hos since I was last in the garden shed, and if the girls aren’t pimping their behinds, they’re busy trying to put a ‘cap’ in yours while wearing ridiculously skimpy clothing. Worse, the game seems more obsessed with double entendres than anything I’ve seen since the golden days of Finbarr Saunders. Some are funny, but a lot get awfully tired after a while, and by the time the Freckle Bitch burger bar advert has appeared for the umpteenth time, complete with groaning sign off about how your hostess would like you to enter her back door after midnight, you start thinking ‘these guys really should get out more.’
And while this sounds like a trivial issue, it’s actually part of the thing that prevents Saints Row from being not just a good game, but one of the great, utterly absorbing, cultural landmark games that Vice City and San Andreas are. Saints Row brandishes its gangsta attitude and schoolboy humour like a sledgehammer, not realising that it’s GTA’s barbed wit and affection for worn clichés and silly period details that makes those games so great. Stilwater is a big, bustling city, but it’s not anywhere near as neatly tied into its cinematic or TV reference points as Vice City or Los Santos. In fact, you get the feeling that it’s not riffing on Florida, Miami Vice and Scarface, or on Vegas, Menace 2 Society and Tupac, but on GTA in general and Liberty City in particular. What’s more, Stilwater certainly can’t match San Andreas state for sheer size or silly things to do.
Sadly, the much-heralded multiplayer action is a little anti-climactic too. Instead of online gang warfare, we just get a fairly lacklustre set of deathmatch-style arenas with dull environments and – at the time of writing – noticeable lag. I’d be surprised if this stayed a Live! favourite for long.
So, when it all comes down to it, Saints Row is solid, fun and – for the most part – beautifully constructed, but rather devoid of inspiration. Again, don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed Saints Row. I’ve chuckled at the game’s explosive mayhem, and even laughed at some of the cheap gags dished out while I’ve driven prostitutes and wealthy johns around in the back of my limo. Yet never once have I grinned that idiot grin like I did when I first went on a Vice City crime spree to the sound of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, or raced for a motorbike with the law in hot pursuit. It’s good enough to play Prince Regent while we’re waiting for GTA to take its 360 throne, but once the king returns, I doubt that Saints Row will be remembered with all that much enthusiasm.
The best GTA clone out there, improving on Rockstar’s classics in some key respects. However, it hasn’t got the wit, scope or invention to be anything more than an enjoyable substitute while we wait for the real thing to return.