Quick review - Saints Row II

When people see Saints Row 2 they'll instantly think of Grand Theft Auto IV. It's inevitable. It moves similarly, the scenes have the same saturated lighting and there are several parallels that can be drawn between the gameplay of the two. Heck, the text is even color coded in a similar way for mission objectives. But, be warned, Saints Row 2 is most certainly not GTA.

Thankfully this is one imitator that turns out to be much more than a straight carbon copy. In fact, Saints Row 2 takes GTA's gameplay, turns it on its side and sends it rolling down a mountain filled with land mines, roving monster trucks and ninjas. Lots and lots of ninjas.

What does that translate to in terms of quality? A crazy good time. Or at least, what would have been a crazy good time if not for the game's poor coding on PC. For whatever reason the PC version absolutely chugs. Even on my Intel Core2Quad 2.4 GHz with 2GB RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX, and a Vista 32 operating system, the game ran between twenty and seven frames per second and had a host of other performance issues. In other words, it was nauseating and almost unplayable. The core gameplay is the same, but the general performance basically kills the experience.

Saints 2 picks up a few years after the events of the first. Your character has been in a prison hospital stuck in a coma since he (or she) was blown off of a yacht, thus badly burning his (or her) exterior. Luckily, that happens to open the door to the robust character customization. You can select from three female accents and three male accents as well as the usual huge array of physical traits. Plus, later in the game you'll earn new personalities, taunts, costumes and fighting styles. It's hilarious to strap the hot dog suit or the Borat bathing suit on your character and then watch some of the more dramatic cutscenes.

Of course, once you're done creating your evil concoction, it's time to bust out of prison, free your long-time running mate Johnny Gat and then build the Saints back into the prominent gang that they once were. That means reclaiming your old stomping grounds and getting a few lieutenants to govern your peons.

The beginning of Saints Row 2 is actually a bit more engaging than your typical open world game. There's not much of a tutorial and you aren't doing menial tasks like taking someone's girlfriend to eat and then back to her house. Instead, you're breaking out of prison, hopping on the back of a gunboat and going to town on some pursuing copters and police boats. Good times.

After you complete the first few tasks, the game really opens up. There's no unlocking of islands or other boroughs. Instead, the whole city of Stilwater is available to you from the get-go. And with that freedom comes a plethora of activities and diversions to try out. There's the all-new Trail Blazer and Septic Avenger or you can try out the analog stick-based sex mini-game. They're all just as fun and outrageous as the next.

It's in that ridiculous nature that Saints Row 2 would have really found its niche. Driving down the highway on a flaming ATV, exploding cars to extend your timer or throwing your limp body into oncoming traffic to rack up a medical bill are things that you just don't see in other videogames. Sadly in SR2 on PC these sequences are terribly marred by performance issues. SR2's activities are more outlandish than in the first game, but they're also more varied. There's still the more mundane racing and helicopter assault, but having the option of going outside the box is great.