Battle of the GTA clones

Saints Row
THQ | Xbox 360

The setup: You're a random nobody who gets jumped into the Third Street Saints gang after their leader saves your life. In Saints Row, being asked to join a gang is apparently the equivalent of being summoned to Hogwarts to become an X-Man, and all sorts of cool adventures ensue as you set out to conquer the city of Stillwater from rival gangs.

The rides: A slick assortment of civilian and gang-themed street machines, which you can drag into a garage and customize to your liking.

The violence: Nicely varied, with characters that catch fire, get thrown like ragdolls from explosions and go down quick with a few well-placed shots from your guns. Your personal armory runs the gamut from pistols to submachineguns to RPGs, and a few of the cruder weapons - knives in particular - let you get close-up and gruesome with your victims.

Why it beats GTA: Saints Row's features read like a wish list of things GTA should be doing, but isn't - custom characters, online multiplayer, lots of seamless interiors, fantastic graphics, etc. Also, the side missions are fun and unique - how many other games ask you to commit insurance fraud by pretending to throw yourself in front of cars?

Why it'll never beat GTA: GTA's mood has always been archly satirical, but Saints Row feels like a gangsta-rap video filtered through the mind of a Midwestern frat boy. It hits all the right notes gameplay-wise, but while there's some humor in its slick presentation, it doesn't have GTA 's soul. And really, it wouldn't have killed the developers to throw a few stupid helicopters and boats into their open-world crime game.

Can it survive? Yes. While they might never admit it, many gamers already see Saints Row as Grand Theft Auto IV. But can it still command interest once the real deal comes out? We'll know soon enough.

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