GTA IV vs. Saints Row 2: Intro

By Shamus
on Mar 23, 2009
Filed under:
Game Reviews

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:

Graphics

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.

Physics

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.

Ports

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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From the Archives:

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Thunderdome: 2 games enter, 1 game leaves.

  2. RCTrucker7 says:

    To me, GTA4 was much more engrossing and gripping with its story. SR2 though, was just a hell of alot more fun. And for me, there’s a reason they’re called “video games” and not “video stories”. While I appreciate a video game that takes the time to add in a good story, I’ll take the “fun” one over the “storied” one any day. If I really am in need of a good story, I’ll grab a book.

  3. MaxOverdrive says:

    GTA IV was great once i threw 4 more gigs of ram at it (total 6GB) i suppose 4 total would probably cut it as well, This with only a Geforce 8800 with 640mb. Still couldn’t crank the textures up to maximum, but at least it stopped the pagefile from swapping every 5 seconds.

  4. radio_babylon says:

    ill confirm that the PC port of saints row 2 is the worst port ive ever played. i dont play a lot of them, so that isnt saying much, but i WILL say that if someone said theyd give me back the money i spent on SR2 in exchange for a kick in the nuts… id just grit my teeth and tell them to kick away.

    its terrible. slow, buggy, and practically unplayable at points. the mouse/keyboard controls are utterly unworkable. and this is AFTER the patch… which is, it should be mentioned, probably the ONLY patch and support this game will ever receive. before the patch, the game was a 2fps slidshow at the lowest detail and res and no gamepad other than the 360 controller was supported. it should be criminal (seriously) to release game in such a state.

    i cant compare it to gta4 because i dont have it… but i cant imagine how gta4 could be any *worse*.

  5. qrter says:

    i cant compare it to gta4 because i dont have it… but i cant imagine how gta4 could be any *worse*.

    You must’ve missed all the hullabaloo surrounding GTAIV’s PC port when it was released – you could at least get to see SR2 grind down to a 2fps slog, no such wondrous luck for GTAIV!

    See these two articles at the lovely Rock, Paper, Shotgun:

    Grand Theft Autorun
    GTAgate: How was it for you?

    I don’t know if the game has been patched by now, although I do remember Rockstar releasing a patch in december that actually added bugs to the already impressive list.

  6. chabuhi says:

    With regard to explosions – you may be right that they are not Hollywood Action Fireballs, but GTA4 has the market on hair-trigger gas-tanks.

    As evidence, I submit to you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgDsJ-gGrdc

  7. Lazlo says:

    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.

    I’ve never actually played any GTA game, or any of its numerous derivatives, but I wonder… I actually have a steering wheel on my 360 (although no peripheral vision)… Would it be of any actual use in the game at all? Or would it, at best, be something you could drive with and then pause to switch to a dual-shock when you got out of the car?

    I’ve often thought it would be interesting (in a pointless-achievement sense) to try mixing and matching controllers that really are inappropriate… say, play through halo using nothing but a RockBand guitar. Splinter cell with a steering wheel. RockBand with a dual-shock. I suspect that thoughts like that are what fueled the development of the Wii.

  8. A fan says:

    “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”

    No, the typical review attitude is to compare a game with others, compare it’s features with the ones of previous games of the series/other games (the combat sistem of Hero XY5 is just like the one in Hero XY4-because everyone and their mother played it, right?So they know what’s about).Also the reviewers are quick to label a game as a clone.If someone made a game in a certain way all the games that are similar in gameplay with it are clones, wannabes and they “try to copy” the original.Also reviewers have the “OMG this game has been made by that famous group, SHITGAMESARECOOL so this game should be also great” attitude.
    I hate when reviewers say “lol, you’re not real gamer ’cause you’ve never played AnoxiousCrap 2, the return of the anoxious hero”.You know, must badly buying choises I’ve made in gaming are because of people that review them.

  9. Gandaug says:

    I have GTAIV for the PC thanks to my wife at Christmas. It was a nice gesture on her part. She didn’t realize the two days of agony I would suffer after installing trying to get the thing to run. I finally got it to run and start playing. Immediately after leaving Niko’s apartment for the first time the game promptly crashes to desktop. I told my wife I need to get a 360 controller to properly play the game. I now just need to hold off on actually getting one so I don’t have to attempt the game again. I can’t speak for SR2 but GTAIV has the worst case of consolitis I’ve ever seen.

  10. Barron says:

    I have a Crysis certified machine, but I’m too busy with Crysis to play GTA. Seriously though, I did play GTA 3 and Vice City and the vehicles drove me crazy. If 4 fixed the vehicles, maybe it’ll be worth a look. If I can find it on sale. Or a demo. And Crysis was tons of fun, even on my old PC, 3.5 years old, with 2GB ram and a 7800GT (NOT Crysis certified)

    edit: @ Gandaug: Or not. I can’t even finish Overlord because it feels too much like a lazy console port. Oh well. Back to Dwarf Fortress

  11. Colonel Slate says:

    I have a beast of a machine, dual SLI with G8800 Ultras, blah blah blah, it could probably, and will probably eat me or someone else.

    Anyway, GTA4 and Saints Row 2 both perform like a car without a steering wheel and tires.

    That is to say, I spent 100 dollars on these two products to get a disc and a game manual in a little box

  12. Sesoron says:

    Hm. For some reason, the formatting of this post led me to believe that it would be a self-contained and therefore conclusive (at least in regards to Shamus’s argument) piece, though the abrupt stop following “Ports” suggests otherwise. Was I crazy to expect a “Part 1” in the title?

  13. Sesoron says:

    Above comment retracted, as it seems I was hallucinating earlier. *wink*

  14. Zel says:

    Well, I played GTA4, SR2 and Crysis (medium/high settings) on the computer. And I enjoyed them, even though I don’t own a top-of-the-line PC (it probably cost me around 300€ to build a year ago).

    GTA4’s performance was poor, but once tuned up with the help of a tutorial found at Rockstar forums, looked pretty good. I’d say X360 quality with twice the view distance. FPS varied between 10 and 30, but the game remained admirably playable even during the heaviest scenes (bank heist). Controls worked well, although the cellphone interface required too many inputs to choose something.

    SR2 looked like GTA: San Andreas, except it ran at 20fps (SA with the high-res texture pack is at a rock-solid 60fps, and looks better). Controls worked good on foot, but vehicles were impossible to drive correctly due to a constant stuttering (bad implementation of transparent area loading I guess). I tried with a gamepad, but only the X360’s is supported.

    Each featured their own little “addition” (Rockstar Social Club for GTA4, Steam for SR2) that I didn’t want installed on my computer, but there are workarounds for both so it’s okay.

    Still, each game provided a good 30 hours of entertainment. I preferred GTA4, because Niko Bellic is a likable character, whereas SR2’s character are stupid and cruel criminals.

  15. Yar Kramer says:

    I have a laptop which can barely play Left 4 Dead at a framerate which barely approaches frames per second rather the other way around during panic events, so I guess I’ll have to hold out on both. (And, for that matter, most of the new “awesome releases” out there, pending the realization by publishers and developers that they should try to make games for, say, 50% of PCs out there, rather than just the ones which can technologically compete with the Playstation 3.)

  16. Namfoodle says:

    @ Lazlo:

    Great idea! I need you to set yourself up to play a game of Halo with a Guitar Hero controller, then film it and post it to YouTube. Then come back here and let us know when you’re done.

    I’ll wait.

    Seriously, if you pulled that off, you would probably be Leeroy Jenkins famous.

    Next project: Left4Dead with Rock Band instruments.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ive checked out GTA at a friends house,and decided to leave it at that.For a game that relies so much on realism,it is inexcusable to have all the serbian characters sound like they were from ukraine.Was it really that hard to find a few actual serbs/bosnias/croatians/montenegrians to do the voice acting?

  18. Dys says:

    I found the GTA4 storyline truly impressive, with only a few minor hiccups where it gave me choice A or choice B and I really wanted to pick Neither.

    It was an awful headache to get working, and having to sign into two different online services to enable play is painfully stupid. You are aware that you need a Live account to make saves? Whoever thought that was a good idea is in need of… re-education.

    Probably the most egregious offence in my opinion was having to use the Rockstar bloody Social Club to launch the game. It’s pointless, useless, annoying and time consuming.

    Once I was into the game, it was enjoyable, but the experience is tainted. Rather like a bar where the cover charge is a punch in the face.

  19. acronix says:

    I think the fact that most PC users had to go to the forums and use a tutorial instead of getting a proper patch shows how badly Rockstar hates their PC customers. Not to mention that to play it decently on mid-graphics you needed to have a computer from a distant future.

  20. mark says:

    GTA’s PC ports have always sucked. GTA1 and 2 were coded for PC though, they ran well even on modest hardware.

  21. Jim says:

    The timing of this is funny (to me). They just released the 3rd PC Patch for GTA IV two days ago, so after owning the game since launch I was finally able to play it with my Gamepad (a mere 4 months later).

    Its always run well for me, though I have a pretty beefy PC, but playing it with WASD wasn’t going to happen. When Yahtzee gave a good review of Saints Row 2 I was about to pick it up, but thankfully I read a few PC-specific reviews of it and backed right off.

    I’m really looking forward to this.

    @mark #20
    I would argue that with the GTA-III era titles (3, VC, SA) the quality of the ports got exponentially better. I know when Vice City released it ran smoother on my PC than 3 did. And that same machine ran San Andreas extremely well (except for one area in Los Santos that always lagged for me).

  22. Nalano says:

    My copy of GTA4 for the PC worked… until I upgraded to Vista Ultimate x64.

    For an OS that purportedly was made for the explicit purpose of streamlining high-end applications (like games), it does a piss-poor job of actually running them without error.

    ‘Course, I dunno whether to blame Microsoft for ridiculous firmware requirements or Rockstar for crappy console ports, but as of right now my copy of GTA4 is not playable.

  23. Funkula says:

    @Lazlo:

    We actually used to play Soul Edge with dance pads. We had trouble getting a hold of a dance pad for the Dreamcast (never officially released in the US) so we were never able to execute the Dance Pad vs. Fishing Controller SoulCalibur Showdown though.

  24. Ian says:

    @ Funkula:

    I’m with you on the fishing rod for Sould Calibur. The ultimate button mashing replacement.

  25. Fred says:

    @Shamus
    “Perhaps some players have enjoyed these games with their Crysis-certified machines, but I have not heard from those people.”

    I have : I played through GTA IV just perfectly, with hardly any bugs surfacing. Even though the DRM scheme is a nightmare (RS Social Club + Steam + Live), it ended up working just fine. Of course, as always, people tend to be MUCH more vocal when a product doesn’t work for them as it should.

    For info, I am using Vista 64 SP1, with a C2D 6600, 8800 GTX and 4GB of RAM.

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  31. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

    Sorry for necro-posting:

    Saints Row 2 on the PC is still worth buying, but you do need to install mods to get it to run without bugs and to reduce crashing, plus it improves the experience. Although the port is really bad, going fast is always choppy, game runs too fast if your CPU speed is too high or low, and the game still crashes a heap because it is a bad port, and it doesn’t have the dlc but it does have a good PC community over at saintsrowmods.com

    Just remember to have Gentlemen of the Row installed, Powertools, Gibbed Resolution (if your screen res is not 1280×720 or 1920x1080p, mines 1366x768p) and a controller is better for driving with. AND ALWAYS SAVE OFTEN to avoid corruption of saves.

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  1. […] it, but it would have required me to accept a painful quality dip. Instead, I linked copiously to Shamus Young’s compare/contrast series on the two games, which I thought did a really admirable job of examining the competing design […]

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