Saints Row 2 - hands-on

Saints Row 2 is not pretty, it is not refined, and it is not realistic. "We're going for a very over-the-top feel," commented James Tsai, the game's lead designer, as we chatted with him at THQ's yearly preview event.

The game is very over-the-top, both in gameplay and story, the latter of which has been criticized as an exercise in tired racial stereotypes and naive views of "street life." James disagrees. "It's about having fun. The gangs are very stylized; we're not going for real world gangs. It's like a comic book, like pulp fiction."

We picked up a 360 controller and put James' statement to the test. How fun is Saints Row 2?

Our demo began with character creation. We've already covered the deep level of customization that Saints Row 2offers, but to give you a quick taste, we created an emaciated elderly Hispanic man with breast implants and a green moustache, and we choose "the dumper" as our taunt. You can probably guess what that entails.

The first level in our demo took place within an oddly surreal trailer park. Strange, spider-like junk sculptures with traffic light faces littered the area, and a dragon comprised of rusted car shells had been constructed in a dirt yard for some reason. AI drivers constantly ran into pedestrians, who reacted by flailing their arms and running for a bit before forgetting what they were doing.

Upon noticing that we had been blessed with every weapon and infinite ammo, we immediately switched to the rocket launcher and started detonating obese women who were aimlessly wandering the dirt pathways like roaming buffalo. The cops caught on and we switched to the handgun to try a more practical weapon. Clicking the right analog stick brought us to the new over-the-shoulder aiming view, which worked acceptably. Regardless of where we aimed, however, most of the Reno 911 inspired beat officers went to the ground holding their crotches and grimacing.

We also tried one of the game's new features - human shields. We grabbed a cop Solid Snake style and proceeded to haul his limp body into oncoming gun fire. Then, with the strength of the Incredible Hulk, we tossed him sixty feet into a cohort.