Review: Saints Row 2 (360)

GTA IV is quite obviously the go-to example that right-wing pundits and religious groups point to when they need an example of a morally corrupt game. You can shoot cops, you can hire prostitutes, you can steal cars, etc. You know what you can't do? You can't chainsaw old ladies in half, play missions that require you to brutally murder people for littering, get rewarded for setting people on fire by driving through a college campus on a flaming ATV, drive a sewage truck around town spraying everything down with feces, cartoonishly toss people off skyscrapers, or murder zombies. You can do all of this again and again in Saints Row 2, and it's one of the funniest games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. Don't get me's not funny in the way Arrested Development or classic Simpsons episodes are. There's nothing clever to be found here. Rather, it's "I'm going to grab this woman on roller skates and throw her face-first into a speeding train" funny. It's immature, it's crass, and it's immoral, sure...but it's all incredibly fun.

Rockstar's title had some of these thrills too, but it had to be dragged down by that pesky "artistic merit" thing. It offered some social commentary, a well-developed protagonist, and a somewhat decent story. Saints Row 2 does not. It's completely juvenile and doesn't have a shred of delusion about what it is. It's a GTA clone that encourages you to do all of the crazy shit you wish you could in GTA. It's probably good for the industry that those right-wing pundits haven't discovered this game, because it could make for a pretty damning montage on a Fox News story.


The real star of the game is the sheer variety of activities and diversions you can partake in at any time. While GTA IV had you taking women out on dates, Saints Row has you impersonating cops, working as a bodyguard for celebrities, committing insurance fraud by throwing yourself in front of moving vehicles, and going to retirement communities with an infinite supply of grenades and rockets. All of these various activities are infinitely more entertaining than the distractions found in GTA (half-baked bowling, darts, and pool).

Saints Row 2 does have a story, but it's merely a framework and an excuse for all of this other stuff to be possible. You escape prison, recruit some gang members, take over some neighborhoods, blah blah blah. You'll forget all about the story the moment you see an old man with an oxygen tank and realize you have a chainsaw in your inventory.

All of the dialogue is extremely cliche and there isn't a single character with the slightest amount of depth. Your gang members will say things like "We GOT to get a stripper pole up in dis bitch" when you get a new headquarters, and I believe one of them even coins the term "horse pussy" at one point. If you're 13 years old, this game is the Holy Grail.

Despite all the immaturity, violence, and poop humor present in Saints Row 2, there's a surprisingly competent game engine underneath it all. Since it eschews realism in favor of fun, something as simple as driving around the city is far more enjoyable in this than in the realistic vehicles of GTA IV's Liberty City. Gunplay and combat are solid, and glitches are present but fairly rare.

Making things all the more fun is the fact that all of this can be experienced cooperatively over Xbox Live. Every mission, every diversion, and every activity can be shared with a friend or stranger. It was a blast speeding down the highway in a van as my girlfriend tossed dozens of grenades haphazardly out the window at passing cars. You can get into some ridiculous situations in this game, and it's made all the more funny if someone else is in the game world with you to experience it.

I'm not going to say this game is better than GTA IV. There was obviously a lot more work that went into Rockstar's game, and it shows in the superb direction and voice acting, level of polish, and realistic world. However, I will say that Saints Row 2 is a hell of a lot more fun than GTA IV. Whereas the latter took itself seriously and had rules and meaning, the former does not. It's the id run wild, allowing you to lose your mind in a sandbox environment and have a blast while doing it. You won't see any gaming industry experts defending this title on national news, as there's nothing to defend. This game is probably the most purely and unapologetically immoral game I've ever played. However, it's also far more entertaining because of how blatantly and gleefully it throws aside any pretension of realism or a moral code.

Graphics: 8.5

Sound: 8.0

First Play: 9.5

Replay Value: 9.5

Gameplay: 9.5

Overall: 9.3


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