Sinners Welcome! The Saints Row Retrospective, Part 2: Saints Row

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Saints Row Retrospective Introduction here, Saints Row 2 hereSaints Row The Third here.

We’re moving forward with our Saints Row Retrospective project, finally getting into real games. Who needs that foo-foo introduction crap anyway? This is where it’s really at! Here’s where we get into the meat of it, where we really find out what Saints Row is all about!

So here we are, talking about Saints Row, the first game in the Saints Row series. Go figure. Saints Row establishes a lot of what the following games pick up on and run with. And by “establishes” I mean “rips off from GTA” of course. I give it a lot of guff for that, but really, lots of games were ripping of Grand Theft Auto by the time this came out and Saints Row did it better than one might expect. Its definitely built off of the mechanics and style GTA III started, but the developers really added their own bits to it and made something unique. On-foot combat was made into something useable. The irreverent tone was expanded upon even as most crime games, GTA included, ditched the jokes for the drama masks. The city you were terrorizing had much more for you to do in between missions. Saints Row added enough to the formula that discounting it as just a GTA clone is doing it a disservice. It’d be more accurate to simply call it “mostly a GTA clone.”

Saints Row is a sandbox game where you are responsible for inflicting as much chaos, destruction, and straight up weirdness on the city of Stilwater as possible. Your nameless, customized character, known only as “Playa,” is an enforcer for the Third Street Saints, and as enforcer, your goals are to end gang warfare in Stilwater by murdering each and every member of the other three gangs in the city. Along the way, you’ll commit no small number of major and minor crimes, mostly through missions and non-storyline activities. It’s a sandbox game. Those things are made for messing stuff up. You’ve got pretty typical driving and third-person dual stick shooter controls. They put them together in a way that’s not quite great, but it functions well enough to make thousands of bangers dead. The plot’s fairly straightforward. There’s only a few twists, and they’re mostly towards the end. But you’re not playing for the plot anyways. The game doesn’t expect you to. All it expects you to do is destroy, and it dedicates itself to setting up just what you need for that.

Gameplay

If I had to sum up my thoughts on Saints Row, I’d say it’s a game with a lot of good ideas, but a lot of problems in implementation. Then I’d start talking about something else, because there’s not much point in summing up your thoughts if you’re going to spend thousands of words talking about it anyway. I’d probably change the topic to something along the lines of how very, very good I look. Luckily, this is a blog. I don’t have to “sum up my thoughts” in such short form. Here, I’m under no obligation to keep my thoughts brief. I’m sure you all will be regretting this fact by the time you reach the end.

Anyways, one thing’s pretty consistent throughout Saints Row, and that’s that the game has some pretty solid concepts behind it, but the developers didn’t seem willing or able to go quite far enough to make them work. It’s almost cute. The game’s almost approaching good, but it gets shy and has to hide in the bathroom at the last minute. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. After all, we haven’t really gone through the basic mechanics of the game.

As mentioned above, Saints Row is a blatantly irreverent crime simulator. What really makes it stand out among others in the genre, at least as far as my experience goes, is that it retains the tight driving mechanics of GTAIII while adding very solid dual stick third-person shooter mechanics in a marriage that really works out well. Both driving and on-foot sections feel very good, and you’ll easily become adept at both in your quest to take over Stilwater. Mission types are wildly varied, and there’s plenty of things you’re both encouraged and required to do in between. Stilwater is filled with content, and there’s always something to be working towards. The developers were truly trying to create a playground here, and for the most part, they’ve succeeded. This really feels like a game where your goal should just be to go out and mess around, with the missions and whatever bars you need to increase taking a backseat to that.

There’s a really strong focus on customization with this game. As soon as you choose the “new game” option, you’re dumped in Create-a-Playa mode right off. You get the whole gamut of options with which to change your character’s face. It doesn’t really matter, though. No matter how much you play with the settings, the way the bloom works in this game, all your character’s features will be washed out and you’ll be left with pretty much the same fatty fat fat face no matter how you have them set. You do have options for hair and clothes, but those are surprisingly limited. I’m pretty sure create-a-character modes in old 90s wrestling games had more appearance options than this game delivers on. And you can’t be female, because obviously women don’t play videogames. They have women gangster NPCs, but your main character is always stuck with the dangly bits. And honestly, that’s pretty inexcusable. I can see how create-a-character systems in something like the average Madden NFL World Championship Foosball might not let you be a woman, since women don’t play in the NFL, but in a sandbox action adventure like this? There’s no reason not to. With the customization played up as much as it is, being forced to play a male just feels off.

The storyline of the game is delivered through missions. That’s where you lead the Saints to taking over Stilwater and pushing out the other three gangs keeping the wars going. The missions are so varied, it’s hard to generalize what goes on in there. Some may have you shoot out buildings on foot. Others have you escorting precious cargo. Still others have you enjoy some vehicular combat. The missions can get frustrating, and may be oddly designed, but they do mix things up fairly often, and that keeps them feeling fresh. For the most part, the missions are the best designed parts in the game. That’s where the mechanics and challenges seem to ‘click’ together the best, and where they seem to have put the most effort into the presentation. The quality of the missions does fall fast when you’re reaching the endgame, but for the most part, the storyline events are among the most fun I had with the game.

Of course, depending on your playstyle, you may actually be spending more time messing around the city in-between missions than you spend progressing the storyline. And the game’s prepared for that, in the form of the various ‘activities’ it offers, generally various crimes for you to do. In fact, these activities are required. Missions require respect, and you earn respect by doing activities. Apparently committing insurance fraud makes people fear you more as a street thug. The amount of respect required is really low, and I always had well more than enough just playing through the way I felt was natural. If you really hate the side activities, though, I can see how it’d get annoying that the game requires you to keep going back to them. Playing the activities just once in a while should give you more than enough respect that it never becomes an issue. Activities also earn you money, and the occasional unlockable upgrade, although the upgrades are fairly minor and most don’t really have that much impact on gameplay. The quality of the upgrades are kind of a mixed bag. Some of them are really fun, like insurance fraud and escort service. Others, I have no idea why they thought it’d be a good idea to include them, like hijacking. If you’ve played the later games in the series, you may know the activities to get pretty wild, such as racing through the streets on a quad while on fire. The first game is more reserved in that regard, with insurance fraud, where you’re tasked with flinging yourself into traffic in a celebration of ragdoll physics, and mayhem, where you get unlimited ammo to blow up as much stuff as possible, being the only ones noticeably chaotic. And of course, I don’t think I can mention activities without talking about the ‘hitman’ content. I’m just too offended by the way they’re implemented to stay quiet about it. These activities have you go to certain locations and hunt down a specific NPC that will spawn randomly there. The problems with this activity are two-fold. First, they will tell you where to go to find the NPC. Usually, what they tell you is an absolute lie. The game flat-out requires you to look it up online to find out where the NPC will really show up. Second, the rate at which the NPC will spawn is abysmally low. Back when I was trying to get 100% completion on the game, I waited on some NPCs for close to an hour before they actually showed up. The hitman activities are straight-up abusive.

Beyond the scripted missions and planned activities, there’s a bunch of freeform stuff to do in Stilwater as well. CDs and tagging locations are hidden all throughout the city. Finding CDs puts new music in your radio, and throwing up your gang’s tag gives you more endurance because… paint fumes? Also, if you’ve ever dreamed about holding people hostage or stealing from random stores, you can totally do that here. Don’t know why that would be your dream, but whatever, I don’t judge. And, of course, there’s always the option to drive around just killing whoever until the cops finally become too much for you. That’s been a sandbox game staple since the first GTA hit the scene, and Saints Row definitely doesn’t disappoint.

Driving feels good in this game. The car controls are definitely where the focus seems to have been. After a bit of time learning the ropes, you’ll be speeding through tight spots, slipping past your enemies, and pulling off 360 kickflips into vehicular pirouettes with ease. Generally, the running around and shooting controls are solid, too. It’s not until the next game that the on-foot sections truly become great, but in the first Saints Row, they’re still perfectly serviceable. You move well, aiming is a little tricky but you’ll get the hang of it, and weapons are… well, about what you’d expect from a video game. The controls for driving and on-foot fighting are, on their own, laid out pretty well. Then somebody had the idea to put the two together, and let you shoot people while driving. And everyone thought it was an excellent idea, but didn’t care to think about the execution, and just smooshed the two control schemes together in some sort of Frankenstein’s Monster abomination of good sense. Acceleration is handled with the A button. Aiming is done with the right control stick. If you’re not seeing the problem take a look at the Xbox 360 controller’s layout:

You may notice that the A button and the right control stick are on the same side of the controller. Meaning they’re both used with the same thumb. Apparently, THQ was planning to package an extra thumb prosthetic in with the game, but that plan never seems to have panned out. As is, you can either aim or drive at once. If you’re keeping pace with your enemies, you can’t point your gun at them. If you take care to properly aim, they’re going to outrun you. I guess you could use your nose to handle the right stick, but that’s not nearly as accurate. Also, it looks ridiculous, which is fine when you’re playing alone but causes problems when someone sees you and keeps bringing it up every time you mention how beautiful you are. Those jerks.

The game does seem to have a bit of an issue with resource management. Your job, in most of the missions, is to kill all the peoples. That requires ammo. Ammo can be obtained for free at your home, for the price of other bullets by killing enemies and picking up their guns, or by buying them from the gun shops scattered throughout Stilwater. Problem is, each type of ammo can only be used in one specific gun. So if you kill an enemy who’s using the weakest shotgun, you won’t be able to use those shells if you’re using anything other than that gun. The ammo that’s available in your home is only available for the weakest pistol, any explosives you’ve unlocked, and the weapons that are unlocked by finishing up the hitman activities, which, I remind you, take hours and actively lie to you! Enemies almost always use the weakest weapons, and usually take more bullets to kill than you’ll pick up from their dropped guns. So your only real option if you’re using anything other than the lowest common denominator is to buy your weapons from stores. And they cost a BOMB! The gun I use throughout most of the game, the .44 Shepherd, costs $1200 for 12 bullets. I usually shoot at everything that moves. Enemies, pedestrians, the family cat, everything gets a bullet or 8. So the average mission sees me go through 50-100 bullets. So I’m usually spending more on firepower than I’m actually earning in the mission! That leaves me spending way more time going through activities to earn money than I am on missions. I enjoy the activities, but still, it’d be a lot nicer to play them under my own volition than because the economics of the game required me to do so.

 Plot/Characters

I said in the intro post that the world in the first Saints Row plays everything relatively straight. After replaying the game, I find that’s not entirely true. The game is goofy all over the place. The stores, the talk radio, the people who give you activities, they’re all as irreverent as you know from the Saints Row reputation. The one place that off-the-wall wildness is kept away from is the main storyline, however. The characters may crack jokes once in a while, but that’s all the levity you’re going to get. The storyline and missions themselves are completely serious. You’re not going to swordfight your way across a series of burning ships and your not going to be breaking into military bases by cosplaying like you do in later games in the series; the Saints Row plotline is much more down-to-earth. That said, it does seem like the developers put more importance in the plot this game than they have in the other two. Mind you, they’re not exactly crafting a grand epic here, but they’ve decided this simple little gang drama is within their means, and they’re committed to seeing it through. What does that story entail? I’m glad you asked.

Oh yeah, just a warning, I’m going full hog for spoilers here. If you’re planning on going through this game yourself… well, you’d have just bought the game already. It’s been like, six years. Anyways, use your own discretion, whether to read the following plot summary or not.

You

Of course the game starts with you, what else would there be here? You customize your character, but get no name. It’s revealed in Saints Row The Third that you just don’t tell people your name, but in this game, it never comes up. You’re usually just referred to as “Playa” because the game’s clever like that. You’re a silent protagonist. Mostly. Usually games do that to let the character better serve as an avatar for the player. Kind of a blank slate for you to insert your own characterization onto. This game starts out like that, but ruins it by giving you four lines towards the end of the game. Through those four lines, you learn your character likes women’s fashion, hates being run over by trucks, enjoys fine dining like Freckle Bitch’s fast food, and is kind of a deadpan snarker. Everything else is up to you to decide.

The game is set in 2006 in Stilwater, a highly populated industrial town on an island. You’re just walking down the street, minding your own business in spite of various hooker’s best attempts when all of a sudden, guys from these three gangs in town show up and start fighting. Most of them kill each other, and the last guy raises his gun at you saying you were “in the wrong place at the wrong time” or something like that, in spite of the fact that this was a crowded street and he doesn’t seem to be doing too much about anyone else on there. Then he shoots you and the game’s over.

No, wait, actually, you get saved by Leonardo DiCaprio and Captain Anderson. They invite you to fulfill every middle-schooler’s dream and bully the bullies with their new gang, the Third Street Saints.

The Third Street Saints

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If you’ve played any later games in the series, you’re not going to believe this, but the Saints were originally formed for noble purposes. As of the first Saints Row game, Stilwater has some pretty bad gang problems. As you may have noticed by the fact that these gang problems almost killed you. The Saints were formed to combat this gang warfare by killing all the other gangs and taking over their operations. Right. Maybe “noble purposes” is stretching it a little far. They have their hearts in the right place though; throughout the game, their goals are always to destroy the other gangs. Taking over the drug-running, rackets, and other lesser crimes are always just icing on the cake. They base themselves out of a pretty sweet abandoned church. The Saints, as the newest gang in town, are the smallest dogs in the fight. But they luck out in picking you up early. You’re an absolute beast. Seriously, have you checked yourself out lately? No wonder the other gangs are scared of you. The Saints are easily identifiable by the nice berry purple colors they all wear.

Julius Little

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He’s the leader of the Saints. Meaning mostly he just sits back and let everyone handle the work for himself. Sure, he’ll show up to handle negotiations or when things get really dire, but most of the time he’s sitting back at headquarters, leaving all the work to his lieutenants. Who make you do everything anyway. Jerks.

Julius was one of the original members of the Vice Kings, one of your rival gangs in Stilwater. The Vice Kings were founded to push one of the other gangs out of Stilwater, but ended up becoming just as bad as they were. So Julius is trying once again, with the Saints. He’s constantly calm and level-headed, and he can be pretty ruthless when it comes down to it.

Troy Bradshaw

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You already know this if you’ve played either of the sequels; Troy’s an undercover cop. You don’t find out until the end of this game but it is foreshadowed beautifully. There are hints all over the place, but most of them are so subtle that they won’t stand out unless you’re already looking for them. Seriously. All over the place. Even in the instruction manual.

He doesn’t act very coplike though, he’s usually right there with you, icing white boy gangsters with style. In fact, I think he rides shotgun with you on missions more than anyone else. He’s second-in-command of the gang, and has a very workman-like ethic towards the whole thing. He just likes to get done what needs to be done to get the Saints to take out the other gangs in Stilwater. He seems to manage the Saints’ informants, although it’s never clear whether he gets his info from the boys in blue or the boys in purple.

After your rescue at the hands of the Saints, you’re on your own for the first time. I guess you could just drive around town and explore at that point, but you’re playing Saints Row, not Sunday Driver. So you go to the church, introduce yourself to the gang by punching their faces, and have a tutorial mission where you break-up a three way battle by killing everyone involved, taking control of the Saints Row district. After that, you’re introduced to the rest of the crew. There’s one lieutenant in charge of taking down each gang, and they are:

Dex Jackson

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Dex seems to be a bit younger than most of the rest of the Saints, not quite out of his teens. He’s the game’s resident smart guy, and serves as the gang’s strategist. I hate him and so do you. He seems to have a bit of a thirst for power, and seems to be constantly trying to find a way to slowly put himself in Julius’s position. He leads the charge against The Los Carnales, and also helps out a bit against the Vice Kings. He’s a horrible driver. That part’s not explicitly stated by the game, but if you’ve played it, you know what I mean. One of the hardest missions of the game is made so because you can’t just wrench the wheel from him.

Lin

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Yeah, no last name. There’s a reason for that. You see, they didn’t start introducing last names for characters until Saints Row 2, and Lin, well, we’ll get to that later. Lin is the Saints mole inside the Westside Rollers. She loves cars, and hates most everything else. She does seem to have a soft spot for you, though, to the point where she may be a potential romantic interest. She’s got a short temper, and gets pissed of at almost everybody besides you.

Johnny Gat

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Johnny Gat is a man with a wide variety of interests. He loves murder, and killing, and causing death, and homicide, and manslaughter, etc. He’s the lighthearted, joking psychopath that is the perfect embodiment for the tone of the game. He has all the best line, all the best moments, and if you know any character from the Saints Row series, it’s Johnny Gat. Here, he makes the plans against the Vice Kings, although his plans whenever Dex isn’t involved can mostly be summed up as “Find him, Kill him.”

At this point, the story breaks up into three independent plotlines, one for each gang. You play through each at your own pace.

The Los Carnales

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Yes, I know it’s not proper to call them “the Los Carnales” but it pisses Dex off so I’m keeping it that way. Stupid Dex. The Los Carnales were the first gang to form in Stilwater, so really, you can blame them for the whole gang war. A gang of fiery Hispanics, they’re probably the most violent of the three gangs. One of the gangs values restraint and practical action, another won’t act until they’re sure it gets results, the Los Carnales will kill you just for looking at them funny. Their gang color is red.

The Los Carnales fund themselves through their smuggling operations. They typically deal in illegal drugs and guns. They’ve got ties to Colombian druglords that keep them swimming in whatever narcotic equivalent Saints Row wants to use. For the first half of your campaign against them, you’re focused on loosening their position by breaking apart their gun and drug operations.

The VIPs in the Los Carnales are:

Hector Lopez

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Ooh, just look at that guy! He’s freakin’ scary! You wouldn’t know that he goes down like a… oops, speaking a little too early. At the game’s start, Hector’s the leader of the Los Carnales, and the son of the gang’s founder. Apparently that stuff is passed hereditarily, and screw you spellcheck, that is too a word.

He seems to be pretty tight-fisted with his gang, keeping things under control at all times. He’s also pretty vicious; retaliating drastically to any slight. He’s got that goatee, too. That’s how you know he’s really bad.

Angelo Lopez

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Hector’s younger brother. He wears his pants almost up to his nipples! What a nerd! He’s what you’d expect, being Hector’s younger brother, he’s pretty much Hector Light, with half the calories and most of the taste. Fiery but not as fiery, strong but not as strong, scary but… oh wait, no he’s not. All your combat with him ends with him running away. Granted, it’s been previously established that you’re a beast, but still! Nothing ever seems to go his way this game. He gets pushed around by his brother, cornered by the Saints, and can never seem to kill anybody he points a gun at.

Victor Rodriguez

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Victor plays the same row for the Los Carnales as you do for the Saints; he’s their enforcer and an absolute monster. Known as “Tanque,”he’s famous for being able to walk away from nearly anything. Bullets, explosions, trainwrecks, you even watch him take a shot to the gut at point blank range without slowing down. You’re warned early on that no matter how tough you think you are, you’re not to take him on without backup. As you may expect, you get your opportunity to put his legendary endurance to the test.

He’s voiced by Danny Trejo. I know, I know, many of you are probably getting flashbacks to Trejo’s horrible voice acting as Raul in Fallout: New Vegas. He does a lot better here. Probably because Victor only speaks Spanish. So I guess Trejo could be screwing everything up, and I’d have no way of knowing. Still, it sounds much better to my ears.

Luz Avalos

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Luz is Angelo’s trophy girlfriend. She almost doesn’t matter throughout the course of the game, only providing a source of tension between Angelo and their Colombian contact and screwing things up for Angelo at the last minute. Otherwise, she’s kind of worthless.

Manuel Orejuela

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Yes, he looks exactly like the sort of guy who just hit his midlife crisis and spends all his time hanging out in the back of dance clubs trying to get the girls to talk to him. He’s not technically part of the Los Carnales; he’s the representative from the Colombian drug cartel that supplies them. He seems to spend most of his time trying to get in Luz’s pants and to get Hector to be more bloodthirsty, because apparently that’s good for business. He’s got no real commitment to the Carnales, he just seems to go where the money and women are.

As mentioned above, Dex is heading up the efforts against the Los Carnales. The plan is to take them out by hitting them where it hurts them most: in the pocketbook. Specifically, you lead off the campaign by blowing up a bunch of their drug labs, seemingly dedicated to producing meth because apparently the Carnales don’t just stick to the classy drugs. Afterwards, you also hijack one of their drug shipments, making it pretty clear that for all of Julius’s talk of cleaning up Saints Row, he’s not above doing the same kind of dirty work as those he’s trying to take the city from.

Somehow, the Los Carnales know that it’s the Saints causing them trouble, even though if you play the game anything like I do, there’s nobody left alive within an 8-mile radius to be witness to the fact. Anyways, the Los Carnales strike back against the row. Angelo and Victor are leading the charge at the beginning, but they decide to go get a burger before you show up. Seriously. So with about ten pounds of bullets no longer weighing you down, you regain control of your neighborhood and continue with Dex’s schemes. Using the truck you stole earlier in getting their drug shipments, you into one of their drug labs and kill everybody in a mission that in no way resembles the one where you did exactly the same thing in GTAIII.

Well, Hector had been denying to Manuel and the Colombians how much of a thorn the Saints were being, but now he has no way of keeping things quiet. Manuel shows a bit of discomfort with the Los Carnales, but a meeting between Hector and the Colombians is set up anyway. Because you’re you and the whole point of your existence in Stilwater is to screw things up, Dex sends you to the meeting with a sniper rifle to end Hector, with the idea being that the Carnales are going to assume they got screwed over by the Colombians. As it turns out, Hector’s a complete wuss. There’s no boss fight here, just take out his bodyguards and one shot will finish him. He doesn’t even fight back himself, he just waits by his car for everything to be over.

Anyways, after Hector’s completely anticlimactic death, Victor’s lurking around, listening to the cops gossip about the shootout. Apparently, that convinces him it was definitely the Saints who did it. Angelo, the new leader of the Los Carnales, sends Victor to get revenge. You and Dex go to meet with Manuel at a nudie bar to try and get the Saints to be the Colombians’ newest cocaine wholesaler, but Victor spends all his time hanging out in strip club parking lots, and he ends up chasing you back to the Row.

Some time later at the 3rd Street Saints’ headquarters, Julius is chewing Dex out for trying to meet with the Colombians without him when he’s interrupted by the Los Carnales, lead by Victor, storming the row. Quite rude of them. You, Julius, Dex, and Troy work on improving their manners while Victor… just kind of drives around. Considering how much people were scared of him, he doesn’t exactly do much. Eventually, you blow up his truck, and Victor proves that however bulletproof he may or may not be, he still burns like a mere mortal.

Julius and the other movers and shakers in the Saints met with Manuel and work out an agreement. The cocaine distribution deal will belong to the Saints if they can get back the drugs that were seized when you killed Hector. So, you do so, because blowing a hole into the side of a police station is a completely reasonable and logical way to convince somebody you’re ready to handle their business. Upon getting the drugs back to Manuel, Angelo, seemingly the only person in the Los Carnales who fell for Dex’s misdirection and believes it was the Colombians that killed Hector, bursts in opens fire and hits nobody, then runs away like a sissy. This is why nobody likes Angelo.

You and Dex head back to Angelo’s place and shoot up a bunch of bangers. Angelo runs away again, and you and Dex hop in a car to keep on him. After spreading mayhem through half of Stilwater, more of which is caused by Dex’s horrible driving than anything you do, Angelo escapes by Dukes of Hazzarding over an open drawbridge, a jump Dex isn’t willing to make even though it is like the easiest thing!

Some time later, Dex finds out that Angelo and all the other Carnales left alive are running away AGAIN, this time by plane in an attempt to survive and rebuild elsewhere. That won’t do, of course, so you head down to the airport, where everyone is still waiting for Luz to finish packing up all her shoes because WOMEN, AM I RIGHT?! As you arrive, they decide to take off anyway, leaving her behind. Dex, of course, takes this as an opportunity to drive all the way around the airport, through the explosive checkpoints the Los Carnales have set up, rather than maybe heading straight to the tarmac and maybe sparing you a lot of frustration. In any case, plane, rocket launcher, you can probably figure out the rest. Luz shows up just in time to see the fireworks, making her the last surviving member of the Los Carnales in Stilwater.

Vice Kings

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The Vice Kings, as their name implies, get their money from exploiting various vices, primarily gambling and prostitution. They also run Kingdom Come Records, an almost-legitimate music production company. Under the leadership of Benjamin King, they make a very stark contrast to the Los Carnales. While the Carnales are quick to violence, the Kings are very reserved, preferring instead to have the cops on their payroll go after the rival gangs for them.

The Kings were formed to fight back against the Los Carnales, but never relinquished power after they started pushing the Carnales back. Julius originally came from the Vice Kings, and formed the Saints essentially as the Vice Kings 2.0, trying to put an end to the gang wars. The Vice Kings color is a nice sunny yellow.

Benjamin King

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Voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan and probably partially based on Suge Knight, Benjamin King has built the Vice Kings up over decades to what they are today. King is a very connected man, with the police force in his pockets and plenty of political weight to throw around. He’s not quick to anger, but is a heck of a fighter when he has to be. He seems to be trying to move the Vice Kings closer and closer to legitimacy, although Kingdom Come Records seems to have plenty of… shady practices behind them.

Warren Williams

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Warren is King’s second-in-command, and manages the Vice King’s gambling operations and the music scene. He’s hungry for blood and power, and has to be constantly restrained by Benjamin King. He doesn’t care much for the legal side of the King’s operations, and seems desperate to prove himself as a gangster.

Anthony Green

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Tony Green is the result of a genetic experiment in the late seventies to see if it is possible to create a man with absolutely no personality. They succeeded. He serves as the enforcer for the Vice Kings.

Tanya Winters

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Tanya manages the Vice Kings’ prostitutes. She’s officially Green’s girlfriend, but she’s also carrying on with Warren on the side. Like Warren, she doesn’t seem to care much for the legit side of the Vice King’s operations, and she has a lust for power herself. She’s probably the sliest of the group, already taking action on her own without Benjamin King’s approval. She’s voiced by Mila Kunis.

The Vice Kings storyline starts off a little differently than the two other gangs, in that it’s the Kings actually making the first move. Tanya’s needing some more ladies for her brothel, so she has her men kidnap some. One of those women is the sister of Aisha, Johnny Gat’s girlfriend and R&B singer signed with Kingdom Come. Gat, because he’s the perfect boyfriend, decides to just kind of hang around the church while you go out and rescue the kidnapped women.

Next mission, you get to meet Aisha yourself. Turns out, Kingdom Come Records isn’t the happiest place in the world to work for! Who knew?! Aisha wants out of her contract, but the Kings don’t let people go easy. So obviously the solution is to fake her death. It’s what Elvis and 2pac did, so why not. Of course, Johnny Gat is planning this effort, and with Gat being Gat, you fake Aisha’s death by car bombing the whole Kingdom Come office building.

Gat, figuring that Tanya is… familiar with most of the higher ups in the Vice Kings, figures that taking her out might well and truly piss off their upper management. So he sends you to her brothel to flush her out. Tanya isn’t there at the time, but you do end up taking the brothel over. Between this and wrecking Kingdom Come Records, you’ve taken out two of their main money-making operations, and the Vice Kings are starting to take notice. Warren wants to start shooting Saints right away, but King overrules him.

Instead, he has the police do it for him. With their wallets bulging, the police start taking in Saints wherever they can be found. In the meantime, the Vice Kings simply try to retake the brothel. Ending their offensive there, you then follow Troy’s lead and find Tanya at an abandoned police station. You and Gat chase her deep within the station, where you’re ambushed by Tony Green. Gat takes a shell to the leg, then turns the fight around on Green, buying you time to escape. For all that the characters claim he’s a badass, Gat hasn’t exactly made a good showing so far. He sends you out to do his work for him, and the first time he has to fight, he gets wounded and captured. Luckily, he gets better later on.

Anyways, you escape. Hounded by the cops, you find sanctuary in the Saints’ church. Warren is pretty pissed that the cops can’t find you in there, even though they probably just watched you walk in, and wants to lead his crew out to end the Saints once and for all. King says no. Forcefully. With a table. With Gat captured and the police hounding the Saints, King doesn’t seem to think there’s a need for him to make a move.

Because you can’t stand to be more than five meters away from Tanya, it seems, Julius has you go out and find her again, this time hijacking her limo and posing as her driver. She unwittingly directs you to where Green is holding Gat. In spite of the fact that you were previously planning on killing her, you simply knock her out before assaulting Green’s condo. Because you’re a gentleman. You get in, kill Tony Green and all his men, rescue Johnny Gat, everyone’s happy.

With the police still causing problems for the Saints on behalf of the Vice Kings, Dex comes up with a plan to break the two apart. One that supposedly doesn’t give Johnny Gat the chance to kill people, but obviously Dex doesn’t pay attention to the way I play the game. Basically, you and Gat, two of the most recognizable members of the Saints, are dressing in Vice Kings colors and causing havoc while absolutely nobody notices who you are. You get the media on your tail, kill some shopkeepers and destroy some statues. This gets the chief of police pissed off at Benjamin King, who gets pissed off at Warren Williams, and so it goes. Dex finds out the details of the police-Kings arrangement, and Johnny Gat comes up with a plan to draw attention to the cops in on that deal, so people start asking questions about it. Yeah! You’re not the only one who can come up with big brainy plans, Dex! Of course, those questions are going to have to be asked postmortem, because Gat’s idea of intention involve rocket launchers. Using these, you break up a couple of handoffs between the Kings and the police, and then, just for the hell of it, car bomb the newly restored Kingdom Come Records once again.

Back at wherever the Vice Kings have their board room, Benjamin King is barely keeping Chief Monroe from just ditching him straight of. King finally gets the chief to calm down, agreeing to talk about their arrangement later, when Warren returns, once again complaining about King not taking the fight to the Saints. Yeah, apparently he doesn’t have anything to do with his time. King has had enough, and kicks Warren out of the gang. The rapper has other ideas, though. With the help of Tanya, Warren brings in a couple of toughs, and announces that he’s in command now. Proving that he’s not at the top of his gang for nothing, King fights off the rest of his former men, and escapes, taking the time to call Julius for help as he gets pinned down in a courtyard.

Of course, Julius sends you to save him, and of course, you do. I swear, you, Gat, and Troy are the only people who ever get anything done in the Saints. Warren can’t leave well enough alone, and… shows up to taunt you and drive away. King is thirsty for blood, so you chase after him and destroy his car, with him in it. Warren, unbeknownst to you and King, is still alive, trapped in the wreckage of his vehicle. Tanya comes up and takes care of that problem. The him-being-alive problem, I mean, not the trapped in the wreckage problem. As the only surviving Vice King the game has bothered to name, that makes her the official leader of the gang.

At the Saints’ church, you, Julius, Gat, and King have a little sitdown. Julius and King are old buddies. King made Julius the man he is today. King wants to get back on top of his gang. Julius offers him the choice of leaving the thug life or getting killed. So I guess the ‘old buddies’ thing isn’t really taken that seriously in those parts. King agrees to walk away, after Tanya’s dead. Starting his campaign against his old crew, King helps you lure Vice Kings into police ambushes, that you were able to set up… somehow. It’s not like you got connections to the police anymore. Well, aside from Troy, but SHHHHHHHHH!! You weren’t supposed to know about that one!!

Apparently, some of the Vice Kings are hesitant to switch their leadership from the mighty, commanding Benjamin King to a conniving opportunistic pimpess because Tanya’s takeover isn’t going so smoothly. King smells blood on the water, and wants to take the opportunity to end Tanya. Unfortunately, you don’t know the security code to her penthouse, and waiting for her to go outside would just be too boring. Luckily, Tanya’s a woman, which OF COURSE means she tells everything to her fashion consultant. She only ever wears one thing, but apparently she needs a fashion consultant. You, Gat, and King shake the consultant down, get into Tanya’s penthouse, and kill all of her bodyguards. The three of you encounter her at a window, leveling your guns at her. Tanya tries to outdraw weapons that are already aimed at her, and gets shot out the window for her troubles.

With that, Benjamin King walks away, true to his word. The Vice Kings have no leadership, and not enough people to keep their gang going.  They’re out.

The Westside Rollerz

West_side_rollerz-logo-saints-row

The Westside Rollerz are made up of rich kids who’ve watched the Fast and the Furious too many times and still live in the 90’s when saying ‘Westside’ and ending words in ‘z’s was cool.  They’re the car oriented gang, with most of their criminal activity centered around cars and the running of street races.  I’m not sure what else they do.  They don’t seem to be pimping or pushing or any other types of ‘ing’s’.  They’re the smallest gang, and they don’t seem to be that much trouble compared to the Los Carnales or the Vice Kings, but you’re cleaning up the streets and they’re in your way, so they have to go.  Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten the short end of the development stick.  They don’t have as many named characters as the other gangs, and it doesn’t seem to take as long to get through their missions as it does the other two.

The Rollerz all dress like frat boys and fly the color blue. As you might expect from the nature of the group, they seriously love their cars, and most of the missions you do with them are vehicle-oriented one way or another. Meaning there’s a lot of clumsy vehicular combat. *sigh

William Sharp

 250px-SR1_promo_Sharp

Sharp is the one pulling the strings behind the Rollerz. To what end, I don’t know; as you can see, he doesn’t exactly look like the type of guy to be leading a gang of thrill-seeking twenty-somethings. He handles money for the gang, and seems to be involved in planning their heists.

Joseph Price

Joseph

Price is Sharp’s nephew and I think leads the gang on the streets? It’s hard to tell, most of the scenes involving him take place in Sharp’s living room, making it hard to tell what he actually does. He’s in some sort of leadership role, though. He’s hot blooded, but doesn’t seem to be particularly bright, and largely just works on advancing Sharp’s plans.

Donnie

 780301-saints_row_20060814105341202

Donnie’s the Rollerz’ chief mechanic, and not actually involved in the criminal activities of the gang. He is, however, best friends with Price, and that makes him the vulnerability Lin exploits to get information. Lin starts dating him, and tragically, he falls hard for her while it’s clear she doesn’t care one bit about him. Poor guy.

You start off your campaign against the Rollerz by sneaking into their territory to meet with Lin, who is currently being harassed because she owns both a car and a vagina. After continually remarking that she couldn’t have build her car herself, on account of having two X chromosomes, the Rollerz leave, and you have a brief pow-wow with her. Turns out Lin really sucks at infiltration, and she hasn’t found out anything useful except that some high performance vehicles are being delivered today. Because that’s all you have to go on, you hijack the truck shipping them, and deliver the cars to the Saints’ mechanic, whose sole purpose in life is to put bombs on cars. I wonder what he’s going to do with these!

Well, rather than rig them to blow when a button is pushed or after a certain amount of time, the mechanic set the bombs to explode when the cars reach a certain temperature. He’s an artiste, he doesn’t have to make sense. Lin has you enter a street race, thinking that if you’re beating them, they’ll hit the nitrous which will push their engine temperatures up enough to trigger the bomb. Troy has another idea, if you get close enough for him to taunt the drivers, they’ll get pissed off, hit the nitrous, and blow up. Following Troy’s plan, for some reason, your race the other drivers until they all die. So after two missions, you’ve killed a grand total of three or four Rollerz. I’m pretty sure I ice more than that as my character leaves to check his mail every morning.

Lin apparently realizes how slow things are going as well, because she wants you to help her move up in the Rollerz so she can take them down that much faster. To do so, you go directly after Donnie. After you chase him out of his garage, Lin rescues him from the big mean purple monster, and you let them get away.

Apparently, that gives Lin enough extra clout the Donnie immediately introduces her to Price and Sharp. Lin calls you up so you can eavesdrop on the meeting, in which Donnie lets slip that they’re planning to raid a convoy hauling some high-performance car parts. You go out and protect the trucks, thus screwing up their plans. You have reasons for doing this. It may seem that this isn’t going to do anything towards pushing the Rollerz out of Stilwater, but trust me. Reasons.

Seeking to recover the parts you cost the Rollerz, Lin and Donnie come up with a plan to steal and strip cars that already have the parts they need. Of course, Lin calls you up and lets you know, so you can destroy the cars the Rollerz need before they reach them. This being the second time you’ve messed with plans that only Sharp, Price, Donnie and Lin knew about, Sharp immediately figures out the rat in their midst. Hey, I never said Lin was particularly good at subterfuge.

Lin gives you a call, saying the Rollerz are “into something big.” You go to meet her at a pool hall, but as soon as you enter the building, you’re immediately ambushed by a bunch of Rollerz. Fighting through them and heading upstairs, you find Lin bound and unconscious. As you attempt to rescue her, you’re knocked out via baseball bat to the skull.

Lin wakes you up sometime later. The both of you are locked in the trunk of Lin’s car, being driven by Sharp. Sharp pulls up at the riverside, where Donnie is waiting. Explaining that Lin’s been working with the Saints, Sharp shows Donnie the two of you tied up in Lin’s trunk, then shoots you both. As the Rollerz’ leader starts pushing the car into the river, he requests the assistance of Donnie, who instead gets back into his car and heads out of town. Sharp’s apparently got enough strength to push the car himself, and both of your dying bodies join Lin’s car in heading to the bottom of the river.

However, as I’ve previously mentioned, you’re a beast.

Somehow, you break free of the trunk, and reach the surface, alone. Immediately, you hop in a car and chase after Sharp, fighting past hordes of Rollerz to gun him down. In revenge for Lin, you finish off the Rollerz’ leader.

And then, if you know the right phone number, you bring Lin back as a zombie who fights people by ripping off her own arm and using it as a weapon.

In vengeance for the death of his uncle, Price swears to burn Saints Row to the ground. Troy gets the tip that all the Rollerz Price could find are heading for the Row, so you and Julius leave to head them off. With rocket launchers. After taking out most of the Rollerz on the road, Julius starts pulling up to Price, but wrecks his car just in time for Price to make his escape. I know, I know, the CPU drivers in this game really suck, both in cutscene and out.

Price gives you a call and challenges you to a final showdown. When you arrive at the agreed upon place, Price tries to run you down in a semi, but misses. You hop in a car, and he spends the rest of the fight running away while tossing grenades at you. What is it with high ranking gang members and running away like sissies? Fighting past other rollers and Price’s explosives, you destroy his truck, and finally end the Rollerz’ threat.

After you’ve finished off all three gangs, Julius calls you. He’s proud of you for helping them take over the city, believing that the lives you’ve saved by ending the gang wars more than outweighs the lives you’ve taken, and that there will never be a gang war in Stilwater again. He promotes you to his second-in-command… then immediately gets pulled over and arrested.

Not long after that, you get a call from Police Chief Monroe. Now that the Saints are the only game in town, Monroe has some dirty business that needs doing, and you’re going to do it. If you don’t, Julius’s life is forfeit. Throughout the game, you’ve been hearing occasional conversation and radio advertisements about an upcoming election. The incumbent mayor is running for his next term, but Monroe is in the pocket of the mayor’s opponent, Richard Hughes. Following Monroe’s commands, you hijack the mayor’s campaign bus and park it in the path of an oncoming train, killing the mayor and everyone else inside.

As you’re meeting with Gat and Dex, you get another call from Monroe, who tells you he’s not letting Julius go until you’ve done some more work for him. Slightly dissatisfied with being in the police chief’s thrall, Dex realizes that Monroe is going to have to make an appearance in the funeral procession for the late mayor. The three of you, armed with sniper rifles and rocket launchers, park yourselves in the path of the procession, and proceed to destroy every police car traveling down that road. With Monroe assuredly among the casualties, you make your escape.

With both Mayor Winslow and Chief Monroe dead, Richard Hughes, the only mayoral candidate now, invites you to meet him at his yacht during a fundraiser, promising Julius will be present. After meeting him there, he thanks you for your service. By killing the mayor, you’ve handed him the election, and by killing the chief, you’ve essentially taken the blame. Julius is seen looking over the yacht, and Troy is showing his badge, finally revealing himself to be a cop. Hughes details his plans to you, for destroying and rebuilding Saints Row and eliminating the last gang in Stilwater. With his men surrounding you, he declares your life over as you prepare yourself for one last fight…

Then the entire yacht explodes, taking all of you with it.

So what’s this all about? Why did I spend all those words summarizing the game’s story? Is there any sort of central message to this. Well, actually, yeah there is. The story of Saints Row has a pretty consistent theme running throughout. Was this theme put in there deliberately? Probably not. It doesn’t matter, though. A lot of themes and symbolisms are added into works unconsciously and, as we covered in an earlier post, getting the message from a piece of art is far more about what the viewer sees in it than the artist. So what’s this big, probably accidental theme I found in the plot of Saints Row?

The Destruction of Control

Chaos is baked into this game’s genes at a very basic level. It’s what the game is made to do. You’re constantly messing up people’s plans, breaking the rules of order, driving on the sidewalk, destroying everything you can, and constantly having the police try to haul you in for what you’ve done. That’s just standard with the sandbox crime simulator genre this game is part of. Yeah, it may take it a little farther than most, but it’s not just in the gameplay that this becomes apparent.

Notice that of all the authority figures in the game, not a single one of them holds that position at the end. Furthermore, none of the gang’s individual leaders last until the end of their gang’s storyline. Hector dies surprisingly early in the game. Benjamin King falls from grace before the Kings themselves die out. Sharp gets killed a couple of missions before the Rollerz are finally done. Julius spends most of the epilogue in jail, and as Saints Row 2 shows us, he never picks up his flags after getting out. Furthermore, with the exception of you, anyone who rises to take the place of their fallen leader dies without really accomplishing anything. Angelo, Warren, Tanya, and Price all spend their brief careers in leadership fighting futilely against you, making no headway, before you ultimately finish them. Even Richard Hughes, after you slay the leader of the city and the leader of the police, never actually takes office before he dies too. This is a world where leading anything will get you broken down, and taking over something someone else has established will have you destroyed before you can make any sort of progress. Control destroys. That’s what this game projects.

The Final Word

With everything taken into account, how good is the game? Well, not very. As mentioned above, the games got some good ideas, but some serious problems with its execution. It comes up with some ways to be different, but doesn’t seem to want to go far enough from established genre mechanics to pull it off. Everything seems just a little sloppy, too. The graphics aren’t as tight as they should be, the controls are almost but not quite great, glitches are frequent and the game occasionally seems to spawn something that the developers never quite expected in the situation they’re putting you in. Saints Row 2 began development while they were still working on this game, and it seems clear to me that a lot of resources were pulled off of this project to work on the sequel. Even the plot seems to suffer for it. Some plot strings are brought up as sequel hooks yet never expounded on. The ending seems to have been thrown in just to get you wondering if you’ll still be alive in the sequel. With the way the cutscenes and gameplay interact, it appears to me that they were still tinkering with things up to the last minute, even after they’d started recording voice work. As I said, it’s clear a couple of people on the team had some good ideas, and some of those ideas even made it into the final product. However, I don’t think they had the time, resources, and skills to really make a great game out of this. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to award the game a mere 1139 points.

Luckily, the series only goes up from here. Join us in another month or whatever and we’ll cover Saints Row 2, the game that makes this one obsolete in nearly every way.

Saints Row Retrospective Introduction hereSaints Row 2 hereSaints Row The Third here.

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