Saint's Row hands-on

Are you sick and tired of Grand Theft Auto-derivative games? Wait, let's rephrase that: Are you sick of reading about GTA-derivative games? If so, we're wasting each other's time here. But you're urged to keep your mind open, because Saint's Row might just change your mind about the free-roaming drive-and-gun genre.

The most striking aspect of the game, of course, is the graphics. Saint's Row wasn't just put on Xbox 360 so that its publisher, THQ, could charge an extra $10 at retail. While the characters retain a partially cartoony look, the vehicles and environments are stunningly realistic. The streets of Stilwater, the game's city, look just like the real-life areas you drive through while avoiding eye contact with anyone in the vicinity. If we can't make our video-game ghettos as pretty as possible, then the terrorists win.

Of course, Saint's Row features a lot of carnage, all of which is portrayed with the right amount of eye candy. Exploding vehicles are especially spiffy, if not slightly blinding. Consistently smooth animation accompanies all the action, while the realistic physics create such delightful scenarios as a run-over fire hydrant ending up riding shotgun in your convertible as you complete a mission.

Background on said carnage: You've just witnessed gang violence firsthand. Members of the three biggest cliques in the city engage in a ruckus right under your nose. Before your bystander behind is turned into Swiss cheese, you're saved by a saint - a 3rd Street Saint, to be precise.