Saints Row 2
When Going to a job interview, you want to look your best. At the very least you'll wash, wear a decent suit, put a brush through your hair, and answer questions with a degree of honesty. If this review were an interview, Saints Row 2 is the misunderstood genius that turned up in ripped, stained jeans, a hoodie with "arses" written on it, and stinking of piss. In other words, no matter how much brilliance is hiding behind it, the presentation is so off-putting it's impossible to ignore. THQ and Volition should, frankly, be ashamed of themselves. They've covered up a great game with lazy interfaces, a shocking amount of bugs, a lack of understanding of PC users, gaming, and seemed to have even failed to carry out basic testing.
Volition admitted before launch that Saints Row2woM not be bug-free -but, unbelievably, they've managed to create brand-new bugs, during the porting process. These range from the annoying (texture pop-in and tearing) to the frustrating (textures disappearing below you) to the shocking (warping outside of cars at random and crashes that wipe out save games). If they're not bringing your experience to a screeching halt, they're casually yanking at your trousers to divert your attention from a well-written and voice-acted story and gameplay that elates far more regularly than GTA4.
The game begins around two years after the original, with our hero or heroine waking up in the infirmary of the State Prison, with the bandages just about to be removed - easily switching into a remarkably flexible character editor (see 'Private Protagonist', overleaf). This is where the first frustrations of trying to use a keyboard and mouse arise, as you attempt to navigate menus that are slow, clunky and awkwardly translated between an Xbox 360 controller and the keyboard. The top options are navigated by pressing CTRL and Shift, but separate parts of the interface require the arrow keys. However, unlike Mercenaries 2, Dead Space and other console ports, when you give up and plug in a 360 controller, you'll find that none of the buttons onscreen change - thus you'll spend time prodding buttons in an attempt to see which correspond to what command.
Once you manage to push past some of these problems - which, sadly, is never 100% possible - you'll find Saints Row2 to be a remarkably deep game. While on the surface it's very much a lo-fi GTA4, it quickly blossoms into its rougher brother: a mishmash of Miami Vice, The Wire and Starsky & Hutch. The story follows the Saints as they take Stilwater back from the Sons of Samedi, The Ronin and The Brotherhood, as well as the shadowy Ultor Corporation. It's constantly sassy, crude and unbelievably violent, but never feels forced. From the first few minutes of the game, the tone is set that this is a ridiculous, unrealistic rampage full of swearing, sex, explosions and death. That's what makes the whole of Stilwater so loveable.
While GTA4's sarcastic commercials and mild humour felt a little overdone in the world of Liberty City, Stilwater and Saints Row 2 embrace nonsense wholesale. You'll bring down the average cost of living in an area by spraying it with shit tear around the city on a motorbike knocking cars aside before shooting a load of sword-carrying thugs, and you'll protect celebrities by throwing I their fans off buildings. It's a thoroughly bizarre world, and one you can't help but I enjoy once you're in the thick of it.
Control-wise, when you're not navigating menus, you'll find the game works reasonably well on a keyboard and mouse. It's significantly easier to gun down enemies both on foot and from a tar using the familiar WASD/mouse combination than our 360 brethren have had it Volition succeeded in making the game much more fluid than GTA4, with weapons having a satisfying power, and cars having the weight, speed, and ability to turn on a sixpence that you'd expect 'from a game that wants you tearing pound corners with liberal application of the hand brake. Notably, they've ignored the third-person shooter genre's appropritation of Gears of War's cover system, which is incredibly jarring if you're corning to this game from GTA4. This doesn't horribly affect combat, as it's much more action-packed and hyperbolic, but you may find yourself trying to press up against a wall more times than you'd like in the heat of a gunfight.
In general, Saints Row 2 is like a Dali painting of GTA4. So much of the latter was spent driving around, taking in the experience, while most of Saints Row 2 is spent creating your own bizarre adventures. For example, while playing the slightly tweaked Mayhem mode, you're armed with unlimited amounts of grenades and shotgun ammo. You get bonuses for blowing up particular vehicles, fences, park benches... anything that combusts - and the engine allows for a ridiculous amount of destruction onscreen. In one Mayhem extravaganza, I loaded a car with C4, pissed off as many cops as possible, and then charged them before bailing out and exploding eight cop cars.
It's the hundreds of little hilarious moments like these that make Saints Row 2 enjoyable - and Volition have really succeeded in capitalising on the destructive, manic urges of a generation of people who bought city sandbox games purely to hurt their fellow man.
But it's by that same token that Saints Row 2 on the PC frustrates to the point of unbelievable anger. On a relatively pricey PC, the game rarely jumped above 15 frames-per-second at the highest settings. Dropping them down to medium made the game look a bit shit. This is a game that doesn't look anywhere near as slick, cool or dramatic es Assassin's Creed, GTA4, or even Brothers In Arms, and it's utterly inexcusable how badly it runs at times. Whether it's unoptimised, fixable with a patch, or just flat-out badly coded I can't say, but it isn't fair on anyone to ship games in a condition where they jerk, hitch and look worse than their console equivalents on a system above the recommended requirements. This is worse than Crysis, which was at least playable and goodlooking at the lower settings. Taking Saints AW 2 down a notch is like stepping back in time.
It gets worse when you see the condition the game is in. I'm not willing to rely on the promises of a developer here - there are some shocking bugs. In my first two hours of the game, at a seemingly random point, it crashed to the desktop. I loaded it back up to find I was over an hour back in time - apparently it hadn't decided to autosave after the two missions I'd done, and I had to replay some unenjoyable slogs.
When I eventually battled back past those points, I finally got into a groove - enjoying spraying sewerage all over a house - when I opened up the menu to check my map. Only half the menu loaded, and the game seemingly alt-tabbed out. It wouldn't let me back in, and on reloading, I was once again half-an-hour back.
This followed having to navigate past several in-mission bugs: warping through cars, pedestrians somehow pulling me several metres across a park, and at one point my car errantly flying upwards from hitting nothing.
These are not problems that I had in the hours I sank into the Xbox 360 version. They are ones that have been created by porting it to the PC, and it's not fair on you, dear reader, to have to deal with them. While GTA4 had problems, Saints Row 2 is, at times, a sorry mess - and I cannot and will not promise that there'll be a patch. It's one thing for a game to be lazily ported to the PC (see Mercenaries 2), but to see it done with all the precision of a toddler trying to make Baked Alaska is plain insulting.
It's also deeply depressing, because I love what Saints Row 2 should be - the manic, speedy counterpart to GTA4's drama and industry clout. It should be smooth, it should be fun, it should be a playable, silly, riotously enjoyable open-world adventure. Instead it's a hastily-ported and frustrating slap in the face for PC gamers, and I cannot gather enough venom towards how little respect there is here for the PC platform. Is it piracy that's destroying the industry or sheer laziness? We'll never know, but consider me disgusted at what this port has done to Saints Row 2.
Taking over the neighbourhood
Stilwater is littered with different activities, side-missions and even jobs (such as taxi driving), and almost everything you do rewards you with respect. The more of this you have, the more missions you can play - which seems frustrating until you realise how much fun said side-missions are.
These include Crowd Control, a mode where you protect a celebrity by beating up and throwing their insane fans into objects, Fight Club (beating the shit out of other men), or the utterly fantastic FUZZ missions, where a camera crew follows you as you fight crime dressed as a comedy policeman. You also get respect for killing other gang members, doing drive-bys (literally driving by a rival gang and shooting at them), and performing stunts in cars, Burnout Paradise style, which is most enjoyable while riding one of the many motorbikes.
Download Saints Row 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP