Many have asked is Saints Row for the Xbox 360 just another clone of the sandbox icon Grand Theft Auto? The answer is an unequivocal yes, but that answer is just the beginning of the story.
Saints Row is a open environment sandbox game a la GTA, but there are many differences. First of all, Saints Row is about being part of a gang, the Saints, and you are immediately thrown into the gang wars that are tearing up the streets of Stillwater. After saving your life when you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Saints recruit you, initiate you, and throw you into the fire...
This is where the customization elements of this game come into play. Instead being stuck with a fixed character, Saints Row has a deep character creation mode, one that will literally keep you busy for hours. You will revisit customization again and again throughout the game, as you stock up on clothing, food, and of course, weapons.
The missions in Saints Row are extremely varied, and are found all across Stillwater. You can escort "professional ladies," steal cars for chop-shops, commit insurance fraud, get paid to cause violent mayhem, and more, and these are just the SIDE missions. Available across the Stillwater map are also the story missions, which are completely independent of the side missions. You could literally spend days on the side missions, but the story missions are the meat of Saints Row.
The Stillwater Saints gang wear royal purple, which veteran actor Keith David's booming voice will immediately convince you is not a "punk" color as he recruits you. The other gangs the Saints are at war with include the yellow-wearing Vice Kings, the red-colored Carnales, and the blue themed Westside Rollers. The Saints are trying to control their territories and take others, and you are key in doing this. The voice acting is superb throughout the game, and the characters are memorable. The story plays out to its inevitable violent and dark conclusion--- can a gang war story end any other way?--- in such a way that you will be anxiously anticipating Saints Row 2.
Yes, Saints Row is a GTA clone, but it does several things much better. The graphics, while not at all photo-realistic, are next-gen in execution, with varied characters and environments. The cars, which you can car-jack and customize (Think "Pimp My Ride"), are amazing in number and detail, as are the radio stations you'll spend hours scanning through; I found more than a few great songs, but the radio commentary shows are hilarious. The controls are a bit wild and loose, but much better than those of GTA. The weapons range from knives and bats to machine guns and rocket launchers--- you will want to collect them all. As your level of mayhem increases (via stars), so does the police response; you eventually will be pursued by helicopters and even the Feds, and the action gets extremely intense, definitely not for young children.
Did I mention MULTIPLAYER? Yes, Saints Row 1-ups GTA by including a deep online mode. Character customization continues here, and with modes such as death-match and "Protect the Pimp," you'll find yourself hooked quickly. Blowing up someone on Live with a rocket-launched missile is a moment that will have you leaping out of your seat (not to mention having talking some serious smack [Keep it PG-13, please].
Saints Row has managed to raise the bar for the upcoming GTA IV, and has surpassed that game in innovative ways that GTA IV will have to address (and already has with its mysterious online mode being announced). The combat and customization alone will keep you engrossed for many hours, and the game is downright escapism, without the REAL cops out there looking for you....