DISCLAIMER: If anyone moves this thread to the Sports and Games thread, I will reach my hands through your monitor and choke you to death. Video games are legitimate art forms.
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In 2006, publisher THQ and developer Volition released the first free-roaming crime game for seventh-generation consoles. Saints Row, an exclusive Xbox 360 title, is what would happen if the Grand Theft Auto III series were released on the 360 or PS3. It retained a cartoonish look and comic book ragdoll physics, but at the same time, had sharper textures and more detailed environments.
At heart, Saints Row was widely criticized for being a GTA copycat. Let's face it, you run in a free city where you're free to kill civilians and steal their cars and do missions for characters. Saints Row, unlike other GTA rip-offs that weren't so great, knows what made GTA great -- compelling storytelling, writing, and humor.
But where Saints Row innovated was a character creation system, where you customize your own characters and make the decision of how he should look by using an elaborate series of sliders representing a certain appearance. Saints Row also featured a number of imaginative side missions never before featured in a GTA game. Saints Row served as a diet GTA until Grand Theft Auto IV would release.
After GTA IV had passed by and gone, Saints Row 2 enters. And now, aside from the basic idea, Saints Row 2 is everything GTA IV is not. If GTA IV was a realistic, gritty, and grounded portrayal of gang life (sometimes frustratingly so), Saints Row 2 is a zany, off-the-wall, and over-the-top alternative with no interest in touching ground other than what is limited by the game engine and video hardware. Saints Row 2 makes absolutely no attempt at being in the realm of physical possibility, but no doubt succeeds in the gameplay department. There is so much to do in the game's world.
The differences between GTA IV and Saints Row 2 can be summed up like this: GTA IV is like a five-star steak that looks exquisite but doesn't really taste like anything more than your average steak. Saints Row 2 is a greasy fast-food cheeseburger that doesn't necessarily look appetizing and is certainly not good for you, but it just tastes so good. The pretense of GTA IV is nowhere to be found in Saints Row 2.
Saints Row 2 starts where the first Saints Row left off. If players of the first game recall, the main character was left for dead on an exploding boat, his fate uncertain until this second game, where the same character wakes up from a five-year coma in a prison hospital.
But through the wonders of reconstructive surgery, which serves as the game's character customizer, you will be as good as new. In addition, through the wonders of sexual realignment surgery, Saints Row 2 allows you to choose whether or not you want to keep your balls. That's right, where the first Saints Row only allowed you to create a male character, you can now create a female character.
(As a depraved pervert, I chose to be a female with blue hair and blue lipstick to satisfy my fetishes.)
The character customization tool is far more elaborate than the first game, and that's understating. You can spend hours creating your character -- you can create the guy/girl of your dreams or a deformed freak, and everything in between.
After you're done creating your character, your mission to escape prison and rebuild your fallen gang in the fictional city of Stilwater (loosely modeled after Chicago and Detroit).
The city has expanded since the first game. You now go up against three more rival gangs as well as the Ultor Corporation, a mysterious organization largely responsible for the city's extreme revamp.
While the game does have compelling and fun story missions, there is an impressive amount of entertaining side missions to play in the game -- all the same side missions from the first game and more. New ones include "Fuzz," an activity where you wear a police uniform and, with a cameraman nearby, are able to enact a Cops-like scenario and arrest criminals. Another is "Crowd Control," where your job is to protect a VIP from crazed fans by taking the fans and throwing them into nearby resources (helicopter propellers, a railroad track, among others). One of my favorites is "Septic Avenger," where the player hops into a septic truck and must devalue city property by spraying human waste on buildings and pedestrians. The activity itself is a bit repetetive, but the idea of spraying feces on others sounds hilarious for the twisted mind, and makes you forget about the repetition...or why, under normal circumstances, a septic truck would have a spray hose on it.
There is much more to do and the game rewards you with extremely satisfying unlockables after completing an activity.
The world of Stilwater is surprisingly interactive. Probably the most interactive world of any game in the genre. The player is able to pick up everyday objects (such as stop signs, news stands, and garbage cans) and use them as weapons against opponents. A player may also grab pedestrians and use them as hostages, able to drag them and throw them off a high building or perhaps just use them as cover, only to later snap their necks.
Saints Row 2 is one of the most fun games to play out there. The game's variety is unmatched by its competitors. It's an imaginative game that lets the player be imaginative, too. It is the kind of free-roaming crime game that I had always hoped for.
What keeps the game from being perfect is mostly in the graphics department. While the game certainly does not depend on good graphics for its kicks, there are certain parts in the game world that are a little watered down and sometimes downright ugly. They actually seem inferior to the first Saints Row, although this could have been done to make more room for an enormous world with tons of things to interact with.
The game is also glitchy in a number of ways. Characters get stuck in objects, vehicles and pedestrians appear out of nowhere, and the controls are unresponsive at times. The game also suffers from a lackluster AI from both parties and enemies.
However, Saints Row 2 is one of the few games out there that is exceptionally fun to play and even addictive. The amount of places to explore and things to do are plentiful. So while GTA IV may be eons ahead of Saints Row 2 in the technical department, Saints Row 2 has the fun factor that compels you to play the game again.
Now you know where I've been all this time...
(I was also in Las Vegas since Saturday.)