Saints Row. GTA: New Orleans? Maybe. (They don't say that, but it is a lot like GTA, and seems to be based on a southern port city.) But it's not quite the same.
The AI is much better. Not for the random people – those people are still morons – but for gang members and cops. Rather than being morons of your color, homies are intelligent and will shoot at cops and rival gang members, especially during missions. You will find that it's a good idea to be accompanied by as many as possible once you get past the entry-level missions: the missions seem to be ramped up in difficulty because of the helpful AI. This is a pleasant change from GTA, where your homies stood around and fired wildly and slowly.
There's no super-armor or near-invincibility, either. Get hit by a rocket or a grenade and you're dead. A couple of shotgun blasts up close? Better be carrying food or drink. (Alcohol will dull your senses, too. Nice touch.)
The graphics are very impressive. Rain stops falling when you drive under a bridge (cf. Oblivion). Headlights have a visible effect on your vision: driving at night without them is not recommended. You can even see the heat coming off the fire in an old trash barrel.
There are bugs, naturally. Sometimes they're the result of the game locking up (which is due in my case to a faulty disc or 360 or both). Sometimes it's just a bug: people suspended in midair or stuck in a staircase, not being able to blow up one of those eight cars because the game insists it's still there, things like that.
The game's biggest problem is with pathfinding. You can be heading south, marking an activity on the map that is southwest of you with roads between here and there, and frequently the pathfinder will suggest that you go north. AI pathfinding can be just as bad - if you release a homie in the wrong spot, said homie may end up blocking the doorway, and unlike in GTA, you can't simply shove past someone to get by.
Another problem is the camera. It doesn't reset very well in the car, even after pressing the shoulder button, and if a wall is right at your back, you're likely to be completely unable to see what's going on, which is a problem if you're in battle. Strangely, the view from directly overhead, which is so unhelpful when you're surrounded by enemies, is not available here.
There are a lot of little problems with the missions and activities. The biggest one is that there is a "trick" to many of them. Unlike most of the GTA missions, where finishing the task or mission was what mattered (like the one where you're supposed to parachute onto the roof of the mansion; even if you don't make it, as long as you get up to the roof, you're fine), there's a specific way you have to complete some of them. If you don't do it that way, you have no chance.
The Hitman and Chop Shop activities are a nice improvement on the GTA activities. When you have a car or person in your HUD display, if that car or person is in your vicinity, it'll appear on your radar and your map. Much better than trying to remember what kind of car X was again. (Note that that person is a type of person, not one specific person. It's really weird to see two of them on your radar at once.)
Territories are similar to GTA, except that you take them over by completing missions - you can't just pick a territory and try to move in. Also as in GTA, the previous landlords will fight back. The good news: they only try once, right after you complete a mission. The bad news: you have to stay within the territory. Literally. Doesn't matter if you are on a major road right next to the block with the enemy, shooting at them as they shoot at you. If you're not "in" the territory, it doesn't count. Stupid, especially if the enemy lieutenants are on a part of the block that is accessible only from the adjoining territory.
The music selection is pretty weak. Bonus points for giving us classical tracks (if you don't like Beethoven's Ninth, I have nothing more to say to you). Negative points for taking the vast majority of tracks from the last few years. No classic hip-hop? Boo. No classic rock? Boo.
A number of achievements are secret, like one that has to do with running. Nice touches. Unfortunately, a few involve online play, so solo players will need some help to get them all. (Co-op mode? Very nice.) Some of the secret ones are ones you'll eventually hit if you keep playing. Others are ones that you'd pretty much have to learn from a website.
They're not spaced out very well, either. From the story line, you get one for the first mission, one for the second, and then none until you completely wipe out one of the gangs.
Overall, Saints Row is a darn good cover band. They add enough of their own touches so that it's not simply GTA: Saints Row, but borrow enough concepts that a GTA veteran can step in and be familiar with his or her surroundings. The nagging things about the game prevent it from getting a perfect score, but it's definitely worth your time to pick this game up and wear the purple.
Update: A one-point deduction for a really stupid ending (in terms of game play, not the story line). Really, really stupid. (I thought about deducting another point for the way in which you have to finish some of the missions ... or for something else ... but I'll be charitable for now. Let's just say that I may be looking for walkthroughs.)
zlionsfan's score: 6 Saints out of 10.