Saints Row 2 is a Grand Theft Auto clone in the truest sense of the word. It plays not so much like a rival franchise as a mix tape of established GTA gameplay.
The typical review attitude is to [attempt to] view each game on its own merits, to [theoretically] judge a game on its ability to provide amusement and diversion without leaning too much on other titles as a benchmark. This is, of course, impossible. And it’s also boring. So let’s take two games and pit them directly against each other in a competitive dual review / cockfight.
A lot of what I say will overlap with points Yahtzee made in his Saints Row 2 review. Yes, I know. You don’t need to tell me how I’m just “ripping him off” or whatever it is you accuse reviewers of when two of them come to the same irritating opinion.
In the rest of the posts in this series I’ll examine the guts of each game and analyze how their mechanics lead to fun or frustration. But first, let me go through the usual laundry list of stupid features of marginal importance:
Saints Row 2 has nice graphics, inasmuch as I care about that sort of thing. It’s a few steps ahead of GTA: San Andreas, with visuals dragged into the current-gen arena with little fuss.
By contrast, GTA IV seems to have graphics magically imported from the PS4 or Xbox 720. The attention to detail is astounding. Rockstar has discovered what George Lucas realized thirty years ago: A little bit of entropy is better than a million dollars woth of special effects at making something look believable. The world of GTA IV is dirty, scuffed, dented, scratched, cluttered, and wrinkled.
Of course, if the game does its job you’ll stop noticing the graphics once you’re drawn into the world, but the graphics are an admirable showcase of technology and coding prowess.
In GTA IV it is possible to drive a car around the city without smashing it to pieces. It’s still not going to handle like a real-world car, but this is as close as you can hope to get without a steering wheel and peripheral vision. The explosions have been dialed back from “action movie” fireballs to “vaguely resembling reality” explosions. Often cars will crash and flip over, and then not explode. Amazing. I wonder how they did that.
Saints Row 2 continues in the GTA tradition of adopting the physics of Road Runner cartoons. It’s possible to punch a car until it explodes. Cars start, stop, and turn on a dime, but still end up being unwieldy land rockets like in the GTA titles of yore.
The PC adaptations of both games are (reportedly) awful, buggy, stuttering, sluggish beasts. I can’t say which is worse, but finding out would not make for a worthwhile study. Both games represent an attempt to take revenge on the PC pirates who take games without paying money by taking the money of the non-pirates without giving them a game. Perhaps some players have enjoyed these games with their Crysis-certified machines, but I have not heard from those people.
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