Saints Row 1 was an ubiquitous GTA clone. It copied the formula of GTA3, but it expanded on it. Why not let players save any time they want? Done. Why not give players a free-aim targeting system? Done. Why not put a GPS system into the game that gives real-time driving routes to locations? Done. Saints Row fixed a lot of things that most people didn’t even realize were broken in the GTA games. It was more than an imitation of GTA, it was GTA with upgrades.
I was hoping that Rockstar would steal liberally from Saints Row and put a lot of Volition’s innovations into GTAIV. My hope was that each game would up the ante, and that would lead each developer to steal from the other and improve the final product with each release. That did seem to happen, as GTAIV featured quite a lot of features that were in Saints Row, plus it went the extra mile and made Saints Row seem as antiquated as Saints Row made San Andreas feel. So did Saints Row 2 up the ante yet again?
Not really. Saints Row 2 feels like an expansion of the first game more than anything. Volition decided to stick with what worked and not change the formula much. For the most part the game is fine, but it feels like a step backwards after having played GTAIV. One major difference is that Saints Row 2 has nowhere near the production value of GTAIV. Glitches happen frequently (save early and save often!). I’ve gotten into a car before with no way of getting back out, and I’ve had the game completely lock up my Xbox (all on just day one with the game). Cars that are right in front of you will just vanish sometimes. The graphics aren’t anything to write home about either for that matter. The game feels very rough around the edges.
It’s not a bad game though, despite how I make it seem. It’s kind of a shame that it’s so similar to the GTA franchise. On its own, it’s a great game, especially compared to the PS2 era GTA games. Compared to GTAIV, though, it feels a bit like a relic. When on foot, there’s no way to take cover, other than just hitting the button to duck and hoping you won’t get hit. When driving, the cars can all stop on a dime or take 90 degree corners as though there’s no momentum. It takes some getting used to.
Saints Row 2 isn’t without merit. Where GTAIV focused on realism, Saints Row 2 relishes in being over the top. It can be cathartic to do a mission where you have unlimited rockets and only one goal: cause as much damage as possible. Dying is virtually without penalty, as you won’t lose any weapons or ammo you’ve acquired. Any cars you own will always reappear in your garage if they are blown up or abandoned. Your health will always regenerate on its own (as long as you’re not currently taking damage). In short, you can be as reckless and immoral as you want and not have to worry about consequences. Even if you fail during missions, you’ll often respawn from a checkpoint (rather than being forced to restart the mission you’re on).
The point of Saints Row 2 is clear: don’t worry, be happy. It’s almost too easy for being that way, but it doesn’t really matter. While you might feel guilty hitting a pedestrian in GTAIV, you don’t really feel bad for killing people in this game. It’s insane, unrealistic, and as crazy as can be. For anyone who is in the mood for the crazier antics of sandbox games of days gone by, Saints Row 2 does a good job of emulating the feel-good vibe of that era.