Saints Row 2

Thug Life

Saints Row 2 is hip urban culture designed by a committee of the unhip.
Author: J.D. Cohen
Published: October 24, 2008
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The original Saints Row was an opportunistic release that took advantage of the delayed entry of Grand Theft Auto into the current generation of consoles. Originally slated for release on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Saints Row only made it to Microsoft's platform. It was a flawed game, but it was fun, and it made enough changes to the standard formula to remain interesting. One might think that given the recent and overwhelmingly successful release of Grand Theft Auto IV that Saints Row 2 would lack a reason to exist, but it may be worth a look.

Saints Row 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV have different priorities. Grand Theft Auto IV primarily aims to deliver a smart and effective interactive crime drama set in a believable world. Saints Row 2 doesn't give a shit about all that. Saints Row 2 is stupid and proud of it. The comedy elicits more groans than laughs, and the narrative is disjointed. The world of Saints Row 2 is built on outdated stereotypes. GTA IV's Niko Bellic feels like a real person, and the protagonist in Saints Row 2 is, well, that depends on the player.

By far, the greatest strength of Saints Row 2 lies in its customization options. This pervasive customizability extends to multiple facets of the game, including the look and sound of the protagonist, the vehicles, the protagonist's gang and the various "cribs" acquired throughout the adventure. The character customization is particularly compelling. Saints Row 2 allows the creation of an avatar occupying any points imaginable along the spectra of ethnicity, gender and fitness. Facial features can be tweaked to grotesque extremes. Even the character's animations can be picked, along with one of six voices. The voice is somewhat significant, because the protagonist is far less silent than in the first game.

Visually, Saints Row 2 is inconsistent. Generally speaking, it functionally depicts physical mayhem in an open world, which is no mean feat. The vehicular damage is satisfying, and much of the world can be smashed or otherwise disturbed without visiting overly dire consequences upon the game's graphical performance. Unfortunately, the world of Saints Row 2 suffers from an overarching sense of blandness. The city itself lacks personality. The various neighborhoods don't particularly stand out as having unique identities. Outdoor scenes are laden with a dreadful post-processing effect that mutes the contrast, giving everything a dreary look. This effect conspires with muddy bloom lighting to render the environment indistinct and soupy.

The character animation is good, though vehicles do not fare so well. Cars sometimes move choppily, giving the appearance that the physics simulation is running at a noticeably lower framerate than the graphics. This is never bad enough to make the game more difficult, but it is disconcerting. All open world games suffer from illusion-breaking moments caused by entities appearing and disappearing in front of the player. Saints Row 2 does a pretty poor job of hiding the impermanence of objects. If you see a car coming down the street that you want to jack, don't look away from it, because it is likely to wink out of existence the moment the camera is no longer on it.
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