Saints Row 2 is a sandbox action game developed by Volition and published by THQ, in one of the last few titles to be published by THQ prior to its folding as a publisher. As far as ways to go out in the industry go, Saints Row 2 is a brilliant way to end. While it suffers from a rushed and honestly kind of trashy PC port, its a brilliant game on the whole regardless, especially since a controller overcomes the worse of the port problems.
You can easily lose yourself in Saints Row 2's sprawling sandbox
The city of Stilwater is huge. Not Just Cause 2 huge, admittedly, but unlike Just Cause 2 that largely felt shallow and kind of copy-paste in that same sort of way that piles of rubble seemed dumped at random across Fallout 3's wastes, Stilwater doesn't have that for me, it seems to brim with personality. There's a variety of colourful storefronts to reinforce the themes. Stores, NPCs you can interact with, "cribs" (your home bases essentially), and activities to engage in are interspersed around the map in a way that not only gives you something to do no matter what part of the city you go to, but also seems natural. It doesn't seem forced or artificial to me, and that was kind of Fallout's main failing. It also has enough of a sense of depth to the world that it doesn't feel like an old western storefront fancying up a smaller and less interesting actual place inside.
The variety of those activities is really what gives the game teeth when it comes to longevity: there are a wide variety of them available, from driving people around town, to hijacking septic trucks to cover places in sewage, to driving around in a fire suit covered in gasoline and on flames. It's wacky, silly fun, and most of the activities do a good job of taking you through town, putting you in new places throughout the game. There's this feeling throughout playing - or indeed at thijs point, replaying Saints Row 2 for purposes of review - that the game always has something new and interesting to you. Where many other sandboxes feel empty and drab, Stilwater is a vibrant and vital place with a ton of stuff to offer.
Keyboard controls in the game are pants
but the controller support is decent if flawed
Here's the bugbear this game has on PC: the port is kind of atrocious. It's functional at best; I had to put on vsync to correct screen tearing, the resolution options are kind of spotty at best, especially for 16:9, there's janky AI that I don't recall seeing on the console like people jumping bridge railings into death drops, and the like. These are minor issues though. There's just one big one, but its a massive one.
The controls, whether you use keyboard and mouse, or a proper controller, are problematic. With keyboard and mouse you are using a digital controller in the keyboard, in a system of driving and in general movement. On foot is passable and mostly alright, but driving is very difficult because of the digital controls. It basically locks a lot of the game away from you, unless you brute force your way through driving sections, which is no fun. You jerk about too much for any sort of precision driving, and many activities rely on it to escape from pursuers. So just use a controller, you might say. Well, I did. I grabbed up my Sixaxis and played with that, and yeah, its much better. It's funny how much that little difference of analog vs digital, or more accurately, native vs non-native controls. Using a joypad has its own issue though: all the prompts remain in keyboard keys, so for example, you'll get "Press (E) to start activity" and I will glance down at my controller and wonder to myself "alright, which one is E?" It's something that you can learn to deal with over time and with experimentation, but its a problem.
The story, while eclipsed sometimes by the sandbox,
is fairly compelling and interesting
The control issues are a road-bump along what is an interesting and strangely-compelling story of the Third Street Saints. I have to admit: I went into Saints Row 2 expecting just a silly sandbox game. I didn't expect much about the story, and while it's difficult to explain what I find so great about the story without wandering into the dread and hostile land of spoilers, I really like it. It keeps a consistent tone, almost as if placing your character as the straight-man to an increasingly crazy tale. (or woman, or in between! - the gender slider is something I love in the game. Such a small thing I enjoy so deeply) It takes you on a finding, silly, but ultimately extremely compelling yarn of the Saints. I enjoyed it.
Only the instability of the game can pull one out of
its immersive and compelling rendition of Stilwater
This is the other main problem of the PC port, unfortunately. There's mods you can get to vastly improve game graphics and stability and I'd recommend them, but as is, it can be fairly sketchy. It doesn't like alt-tabbing, for instance, tends to crash other programs using memory, and in general uses a lot more resources than it should for what it's doing. It seems to mostly be related to some sort of mishandling of memory; I notice that as I play longer and longer, it takes up exponentially more memory, so I suspect (though can't confirm) this is caused by a variety of memory leak, or possibly a mishandling of memory allocation. This would also explain the crash issues and alt-tab issues, as it
The biggest thing that annoyed me is probably one of the lesser things: the game would occasionally glitch in such a way that the Windows cursor also draws on the screen, so you get that white arrow pointing all over your screen. By my own admission, this is a trifling thing, but it irritated greatly. Its also something I know is easy to avoid if you properly utilise DirectInput, so it seems like a certain sloppiness to the port. It seems to me that they just did what they needed to, to make the port function on the PC platform, rather than refining it to work properly on the platform and take full advantage of it. So, if just "it works fine on a computer with a joypad" is enough for you, you'll probably find more than enough to love in Saints Row 2, but if you expect more from a port, you'll probably be frustrated by it, though I wouldn't say that the port is bad enough to detract from your fun too terribly while you play. If nothing else; it was but minor irritations to enjoying an otherwise good game, to me.