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Saints Row 2 picks up the story with you lying battered and bruised in a prison hospital bed. However, your quest for violent revenge soon has you back on the streets and working on a plan to reassert yourself as the top dog in Stilwater city. This is open-world sandbox style game-play which offers you a great deal of freedom; you can even customize your character and gang. For the most part this is pure chaotic violence without any real depth, but the multiplayer offers some interesting options especially the co-op mode. If the port to PC wasn’t so badly done then this would be worth a look.
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There’s no way I’ll get through this review without mentioning GTA IV so lets just get it out of the way now. Saints Row 2 is inferior in every way and there is no denying it is a knock off. However there are a couple of features that would be welcome additions to the GTA series. The ability to customize your character, choosing your race, gender, physical look and fashion is a nice touch and you can even get plastic surgery during the game if you change your mind. There is also an excellent co-op mode which would be great in GTA but we’ll take a closer look at that later.
The game opens with you breaking out of prison, tipping you straight into the violent blood soaked action. The focus here is on pure crass fun and so the physics are deliberately whacky, making it easy to cause carnage on an epic scale. The main mission story is forgettable but there are loads of side mission options and some of them are really fun. The story challenges you to take down three gangs and there are an awful lot of missions which tell you to go to a location and kill everyone; but there is enough content here to provide some variation and you can always take a side quest and spend some time killing zombies or spraying houses with sewage. A welcome addition to the single player game is checkpoints which save you from having to replay an entire mission if you die near the end.
The AI is sub standard at times - friendly AI have terrible path finding skills and enemy AI sometimes forget to fight and just stand there. There are also problems with frame rate, pop-up and collision detection which scream 'lazy port'. The fact it is easier to play the game with a controller than a keyboard and mouse tells you all you need to know about the console focus of this title.
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Visually the game is quite attractive. Characters are well modelled and animated, environments are a little sparse but they do the job and the violent action is quite engaging. It is far from the most graphically impressive game in the genre but it looks fairly good. There are a few technical problems which spoil the look of the game, such as chronic pop-up as buildings loom suddenly into view or fading cars that disappear into thin air. The environments aren’t really busy enough to excuse this and if you turn the detail level up to high on the models you’ll struggle to run the game at all.
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This is where the game impresses with a co-operative mode which allows you to play through the game with a friend. There’s no split screen - you have to use system link or play across the web - but the beauty is you can both do what you want independently of each other which allows you to formulate whatever plans you want. The only drawback is that one of you getting the attention of the cops means that they go after both of you. It is also a pretty laggy experience to play online but the idea is solid and this mode adds a lot to the game.
There are also a number of options for multiplayer from the ridiculously chaotic Gangsta Brawl (deathmatch) to the more enjoyable Strong Arm which sees two teams of four compete for territory.
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The minimum system requirements are a 2GHz dual core processor, 1GB RAM, 15GB hard drive space and a 128MB 3D video card with Shader Model 3 support and a DirectX 9c compatible sound card. Realistically you can forget about playing the game on that system and the developers are having a laugh suggesting it is possible. Even on a system twice as good as that you are going to get frame rate issues and the performance is nothing short of terrible when compared to the console release.
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This is aiming to be an open ended adult fun park which allows you to do pretty much whatever you want in terms of immature violent action. If you want an involved story line or realism then you won’t find it here. Saints Row 2 is certainly action packed and it has an almost cartoon feel as you zip about destroying the city. It is mildly diverting and enjoyable in places but ultimately shallow and dumb. It is also one of the worst PC ports ever and that is reason enough to avoid it.