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We can just imagine the brainstorming sessions that went on deep in the bowels of Illinois-based Volition as it pondered the way ahead for the next generation of its games. And it would have boiled down to this: "Erm, how about we do a GTA, but, er, make it better? Stick it online or something?" "Yeah, that sounds good."
And so Saint's Row on 360 was born, with its gats precisely targeted on Rockstar's jewel in the crown and anything else of its ilk out there on the game shelves. But is this all ghetto and no game? And can it compete now those next gen stakes are even higher?
In terms of straight-up comparison, it's not so much a game that's ripped off GTA but more an extended tribute to Rockstar's genius. Robberies, car theft, free-roaming, customisable gangster gear, building a crew, getting stuck into turf battles for control of a city - it's all in there.
In achieving this, Volition has quite clearly gone for areas where San Andreas is weak. Aiming is based on FPS controls - an absolute must and one of the few let-downs in the GTA series. Finally we can shoot exactly where we want, when we want and expect it to hit.
Then there's the super-shiny next generation graphics that mean, while the surface area might not quite match the world of San Andreas, the still-huge city looks the business with loads of distinct neighbourhoods and absolutely tons of buildings to enter.
One area of focus for Saint's Row has been freedom. Yep, in San Andreas you could do anything, go anywhere, but the story, ultimately, followed a pre-ordained linear path. Don't get us wrong, it was superb. But, well, you remember when you had to do those stupid, fiddly, remote-controlled plane games? Exactly.
Saint's Row has looked to advance the model. Yep, you can roam free, but the story isn't quite the cinematic and necessarily linear structure of San Andreas; it's a lot more organic. Here, those random crime sprees and violent rampages have an impact on your progress, increasing you and your gang's notoriety.
There are 30ish standard missions, in the traditional mould. But you can take over neighbourhoods in any order you want, and landscape domination is the game's ultimate aim. Yes, like CJ you need to rise to the top, but you'll do so with far more emphasis on growing your gang and using a team of elite members to complete a goal.
With all these tweaks to the near perfect San Andreas model, Saint's Row could certainly be 360's answer to GTA.
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