From the setting to the gameplay, Saints Row 2 borrows quite a bit from Grand Theft Auto - but it’s not “just another” clone. In fact, on the Xbox, the Saints Row series is probably the best-received of the many open-world carjacking crime-spree games attempting to copy GTA’s successful formula, and Saints Row 2 maintains that reputation with its fast action and goofy humor. Too bad its rough-around-the-edges quality - thanks in part to a slipshod console port - make it a distant second place.
The game begins with a bang when your character awakens from a two-year coma and immediately sets off to re-establish the Saints gang as the city’s dominant criminal organization, fighting three rival gangs and a corporate sleazebag. PC-only gamers might feel a bit out of sorts at first, since the original Saints Row never made it to the PC, and some plot threads and returning characters pick up right where the first game left off. The plot isn’t very complex, though, so there’s no problem figuring out who you should point your gun at.
Right from the start, SR2 lets you get creative with the comical character customization options. You can go for the standard gangster look, or perhaps you could try an obese cross-dressing clown. Me? I made Mr. Spock - which added some genuinely hilarious moments to the in-engine cutscenes. You can also customize your gang members’ looks as pimps, bodyguards, or ninjas (among others). However, the city itself has less character, and while the stylized art style does its best to cover up the lack of detail, it does so with limited success.
You’d think that the benefit of less-than-cutting-edge graphics would be a smooth frame rate, but in this case you’d be wrong. I couldn’t get the game to reliably run at more than 15 to 20 frames per second while driving around the city on high-end hardware, and bizarrely, it wasn’t significantly better even when set to low detail at 800x600 resolution. Even on high settings cars don’t look great, and AI-controlled vehicles frequently vanish even while you’re looking directly at them. It also doesn’t support common widescreen resolutions like 1680x1050 or 1920x1080. The next most-noticeable port issue is the lack of mouse controls for the menus - not an issue if you plug in a gamepad, but in a game with this much free-aim shooting that’s hard to recommend.
But while it may not look like a million bucks, there are a million and one things to do. Minigames range from causing as much destruction as you can to escorting prostitutes and drug dealers to fight-club brawls to spraying sewage on everything in sight. A few are frustrating (including anything involving those out-of-control helicopters), most are good fun, and a handful are downright addictive - like Insurance Fraud, in which you must throw yourself in front of oncoming traffic. The game makes certain that you seek out the side missions by requiring you to fill a “respect meter” by completing them before you can take a story mission.