Saints Row Demo Review

The Saints Row demo was definitely worth the 1 Gig download.

And I’m definitely going to buy the game. It’s a lot of fun, the physics are fun to play with (even if the sandpit is a bit limited, space-and-feature-wise in the demo).

I’ll give it an 8 out of 10 so I can bitch about little things that annoyed me.

First up – graphical niggle: the windows on the elevated train you sometimes see in the distance aren’t fogged like the surrounding environment – they’re pitch-black in places.

The framerate drops in places; GTA:SA was also horrendous that way, but graphics are generally better in SR. So it’s nothing major; it didn’t seem to spoil any part of the game.

My big rant: The vehicle controls just don’t seem quite right. I played Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and San Andreas on keyboard, and it worked. But there’s an unfortunate choice of controls here:

  • Using buttons (yes, buttons!) A and X for accelerate and brake/reverse (the default), or
  • Battlefield 2-style left-stick only for everything

The advantage of the BF2 model is that it frees up your right thumb for the view/shoot controls, which are active while driving: You can in theory shoot anywhere around your car at any moment. The problem is that you just can’t aim and accelerate or brake at the same time – you just don’t have enough thumbs. Does this mean I’m meant to be using one of those godawful right-hand-down control styles with my forefinger on the right stick and my little finger for the shoulder button and trigger? No thanks!

So, if the button layout isn’t quite right, perhaps the Left Stick driving control will work better?

As it turns out, most of the vehicle control problems I have with Battlefield 2 stem from this overloading of the left stick. It’s very hard to judge where you need to be steering on a short-travel analog stick when you also need to control the up/down-iness of the stick too. Which is a pity, because it frees up your aiming and shooting thumb. So I’m probably going to try to learn left-stick better.

What would I really like? I’d like left-stick aim, triggers for brake and accelerate, button handbrake (PGR3 style) and click the right stick to shoot (or perhaps even the right shoulder button). Yes, just when in the car. Yes, I know it’s inconsistent. That’s what I’d really like. Hey Volition, how about it?

The voice acting is very good – Keith David’s in particular. His encouragement of you being an “unstoppable mothafucka” while you’re taking down rival gangs in the demo’s final mission is amusing. There’s an all-star cast in the full game.

So, again – fun game, the demo’s got a good 1/2 hour of gameplay in it (maybe a bit more if you experiment), and it’s about a gig to download (free, natch) from XBox Live Marketplace.