Saints Row is unashamadley derivitave of the Grand Theft Auto series, and makes no excuses for being a carbon copy of the aforementioned phenomenon. Suffice it to say, theres only so much one can do with a genre monopolised (and for good reason) by the ubiquitous mayhem of GTA; despite this, Saint's Row manages to surpass being a mere imitatorby delivering a polished, diverse alternative.
The setting of Saint's Row is a rather stereotypical urban crimeland milieu, a city dubbed 'Stilwater' (based loosely on Detroit and Chicago). The protagonist, a silent gangster whom the player can fit out and customize with all manner of physical attributes and accoutrements, is a new recruit to the 'Third Street Saints.' What follows is a pretty garden-variety 'take back the streets' kinda deal, with the player undertaking a variety of missions and tasks in order to conquer rival syndicates and accrue resources. The cutscenes, voice acting and production values are all up to scratch, though don't expect too much of this Grand Theft Lite.
The level of polish, care of the bonus activities and copious levels of content, contribute to a very solid game. The licenced soundtrack delivered via 12 radio stations (the similarities just keep on coming) is passable, if a little played out due to its startling resemblance to you-know-who's audio palete. There is certainly no lack of carnage and capering to partake in, and this is a definite plus. The respect system encourages players to head off the beaten track and explore the veritable plethora of options available.
The combat does away with the crutch of auto-aiming, instead forcing traditional shooter controls, and thus requiring more skill of the gamer. The weapons are fairly stock-standard and a smidgen underwhelming, with your bludgeoning-friendly melee types up to SMG's and assault rifles in plentitude. The driving is up to snuff, and the spectrum of vehicles you'll be comandeering is varied enough to keep things exciting.
One major issue is the frame-rate; on a next-gen console, you'd expect that the developers could achieve a solid, sustainable and smooth experience - instead, you're faced with choppiness whenever any more than a few foes or vehicles appear on-screen.
Overall, Saint's Row is a competent imitator that takes the GTA formula to a more rounded, polished plateau - to be enjoyed as an homage to its sources rather than an innovative masterpiece.