Saints Row on Facebook: Beating Mafia Wars at a different game

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Saints Row Facebook
When I noticed that Saints Row, the Grand Theft Auto-inspired gang busters game for consoles, was on Facebook, assumptions ran wild. Though, the one rang most loudly was, "Here comes another Mafia Wars." THQ and Punch Entertainment threw us a curve ball with Saints Row: Total Control on Facebook. Admittedly, it looks strikingly similar to Crime City, but what's more surprising the developer didn't play it safe and copy the most popular mobster social game out there. And it makes for a refreshing and mildly fun experience, even if the graphics look like something out of a late '90s flash game.

Let's just address the elephant in the room right away: This game does not look good. The artwork lacks detail much less style and the animations are far from smooth. In fact, there is little motion in this social edition of Saints Row to begin with. Worse off, the music becomes a bother minutes after logging in. Shoddy graphics and animations? Check. Annoying sounds and music? Check. That leaves one hopefully redeeming quality: gameplay.

Saints Row map
Redemption is yours, THQ and Punch Entertainment. Players assume the role of a gang leader in the miscellaneous city of Stilwater. It's your role to dominate neighborhoods by force and assert your ... badassery? Look, I can't say I understand gang mentality, but I can say that, somehow, this game is fun. Perhaps it's the fact that clicking on drive-by shooters to shoot them dead is mindlessly enjoyable. Tuning down your mind is something you'll probably need to do to draw some enjoyment from Saints Row, which can be difficult at times.

Back to the clicking. The majority of your actions boil down to either Thugs, another word for Energy, or weapons. Thugs are spent doing nearly every task and replenish over time, but weapons are required to attack and take over increasingly tougher territories on the isometrically displayed map. Of course, taking down wandering enemy gang members and taking over buildings awards you coins, yet spends Thugs. In other words, Saints Row embodies the eternal balance of risk versus reward--the more you do, the more you spend--of nearly every social game in existence.

Shooting things rules
Players will eventually need to protect and maintain the neighborhoods they control and can hire friends to do it for them. This is the only social feature that's immediately noticeable. There doesn't seem to be any persistent competition between gangs of friends like in Mafia Wars, which is a severe oversight. Shouldn't a game about gangs embody and facilitate gang mentality? Regardless of whether you agree with gang mentality much less understand it, it's safe to assume that this is a feeling players want to experience vicariously when playing a gang game.

Frankly, Saints Row has plenty of shortcomings. While it's certainly differentiated itself from the industry leaders, it misses the point of gang games: competition. Sure, there's a sense of camaraderie in helping friends out. But where are the cutthroat rivalry and ruthless attempts at domination amongst players? Not to mention the presumably unintentional hilarity of your thugs aimlessly shooting at things, which counts as "taking over the neighborhood." There's no reason that a flash game in 2011 shouldn't look better than the first Grand Theft Auto. Despite all this, it'd be lying if I said that aimlessly shooting down passers by and slowly watching the neighborhood map turn purple wasn't fun.

Click here to play Saints Row: Total Control on Facebook>

Have you played Saints Row on Facebook? What do you think of this game's approach to the mobster sub genre? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.
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