Saint's Row hands-on

Low on the gang hierarchy, this crew wants to return to prominence and needs your help. After being jumped into the Saints, all of Stilwater is available to you. Don't expect to get far, however, as the other gangs have strength in numbers. Getting missions is a matter of earning respect. To do this, engage in lecherous activity ranging from pimping to trafficking drugs. Did we mention this is an M-rated game? While tasks are par for the GTA course, we did witness a few interesting ones during our demo. One mission has your character being driven to an airport in an attempt to pull a drive-by on a plane. Another involves a 40-something housewife "desperate" to expand her bank account by dealing in illegal substances.

As the missions are somewhat predictable, so is the gameplay of Saint's Row. Mow down people who look at you funny with firearms, or take them out with that two-ton bullet known as a speeding car. Saint's Row does away with auto targeting, instead going with a reticule fixed to the camera. It may be a little bit tougher to take out that thug, but it requires a lot more skill than just locking onto someone.

Marking a first for this genre, Saint's Row will feature online multiplayer. Create a clan-like "gang" of your homies and partake of several match types. Gangsta Brawl is your typical deathmatch; Bling Ride challenges you to customize your car with cash both found and won for smashing up other competitors' vehicles; and Protect The Pimp is self-explanatory, with six hitmen all going after the same target and someone forced to keep him safe.

Yes, Saint's Row is a lot like Grand Theft Auto, True Crime, Driver and the like. However, it's a lot like them in addition to featuring next-generation graphics and a lengthy online multiplayer component. Those have to count for something, right? We'll see when the game releases in late August.