Saints Row 2 is not a better game than Grand Theft Auto IV. Let’s just get that out of the way now. Its action isn’t too deep, its story is kind of stupid and it’s nowhere near as immersive as the game that its detractors will accuse it of copying. The reality, though, is that Saints Row 2 isn’t trying to be GTA IV at all. In fact, it seems specifically designed for people who hate GTA IV.
Instead of trying to compete with GTA IV’s sophisticated take on the car-crime genre, Saints Row 2 concentrates on packing in as much moronic fun as possible, and on some level we have to respect that. It’s like a magnified throwback to the “old” GTA – the silly, over-the-top orgies of violence that defined the PS2 generation – and every time GTA IV takes something in a “mature” direction, Saints Row 2 takes it the opposite way. Here, then, are a few interesting differences you might notice when the game hits.
More than anything else, GTA IV was defined by its main character, surly-but-sympathetic Balkan mercenary Niko Bellic. He instantly became an icon, although more than a few critics alleged that his rapid shift from pacifist to mass murderer was too inconsistent.
Saints Row 2 doesn’t have that problem, because its star is a nameless ratbag sociopath who never pretends to be good or merciful. In fact, he/she has no visible goals other than to take over all criminal operations in the city of Stilwater, and to do horrible things to anyone who gets in the way. He/she never really develops as a character in any way – except maybe to become angrier and meaner – and his/her supporting cast never feel like much more than unusually entertaining cardboard cutouts.
Above: See, even her/his friends agree
The upshot of the protagonist not having much of an identifiable personality is that you’ll have free rein to customize your sociopath however you see fit, adjusting everything from gender and voice to nostril size and underbite. True, he/she will still act like the same nihilistic asshole no matter what you do, but if you really miss having Niko around, you can just make him – or any other GTA character, for that matter.
Above: The original Niko, and our rough Saints Row 2 replica - all in all, it’s not a terrible likeness
That goes double if you liked Niko, but had a problem with that whole “dignity” thing. See, Saints Row 2 lets you customize a lot more than just the shape of your character’s face:
Above: Yeah just slather it on with a trowel why don’t you
Above: Ha ha, who represents a revolution in character-driven storytelling now, smart guy?
Of course, if copying the likenesses of characters from those ooooooother games doesn’t appeal, you can create all sorts of horrifically unappealing characters. Like this guy, for example:
Above: Probably we should have warned you that you can walk around wearing nothing but a mosaic blur
Did we mention that you can play as a woman? That’s pretty rare for car-crime games, and it hasn’t been done in a GTA since the first game 10 years ago.
Oh, and before anyone starts mumbling about the horrible game that only enables you to create conventionally attractive women, please bear in mind that you also have the option of playing as an obese grandmother with acromegaly and a thick mustache.
Above: Yes, that’s a woman
The interesting thing about your character’s near-total lack of personality is that – while it never felt “right” to go on bloody, mass-murdering rampages as Niko – opening fire on a crowd of civilians feels perfectly in character. We miss having a strong personality to identify with, but having an avatar who’s nothing more or less than a nihilistic asshole is oddly freeing. Especially when going around shooting people in the face carries few, if any consequences. Which leads us neatly to our next point.