Saints Row 2 PC Review
When THQ announced a PC version of their free-roaming action game Saints Row 2, no one seemed to be very excited. Gamers have clamored to see PC ports of many console games over the years, including ones that turned out to be horrible. And while SR2 is by no means a horrible game - it's generally pretty good, even if just a little too silly to compete with the likes of its bigger sibling, Grand Theft Auto - this PC port should be avoided.
The whole design philosophy behind Saints Row was to try and knock off GTA but give the players all the things the fans wanted that Rockstar, for whatever reason, didn't give them in their own game. No, there wasn't some major attention to detail or a living, breathing city in quite the way that the larger-selling franchise has delivered hugely immersive cities to play in, but what the developers at Volition worked on was a massive amount of fun things to do. From small conveniences in the first game, like being able to play music from the radio while you're walking and not just in your car to SR2's easy driving and physics that generally don't screw you over quite the way that Euphoria does in GTAIV, Volition has spent years trying to take Rockstar's formula and not only putting their own spin on it, but perfecting the fun factor.
And with so much to do in SR2 - and so little, comparatively, in Rockstar's latest big bad game, it seems Volition succeeded. No, the name is certainly not big enough to make their game the multi-million selling blockbuster, and a hell of a lot of the production values that made GTAIV feel so authentic are simply absent in this offering, but it's generally tolerable enough in this respect to push through. It's worth it to be able to throw yourself in front of vehicles and generate some hilarious ragdoll physics just to make a bit of insurance money. Chasing down suspects with chainsaws or taking on the Pirate vs. Ninja apocalypse single-handedly is all amusing stuff, although you'll quickly find that every time Saints Row 2 tries to get serious in a cutscene you'll get bored. Nope, the story here is about as dull and derivative as you can get in an action game, and it goes on for much longer than you'll really want it to. And that is generally fine, because the developers have given you so many amusing things to do. From reviving people in the street with shock paddles to destroying incoming enemy vehicles with missiles from your attack chopper, what it lacks in production values, it makes up for with a brute-force fun factor.
The sad part, however, is that the PC port is going to wind up unplayable, unenjoyable, and a complete chore for some gamers. The port comes with little in the way of new features to scream about, and with a series of technical missteps, many gamers will be left wondering how they can return this game. To start, the frame rate is horrid. The PC port of GTAIV was pretty iffy on the frame rates and it had its own technical issues, but if you could get it going at a decent speed, then the game really opened itself up to you. SR2, on the other hand, runs at slower speeds and with no graphical upgrades over the console versions, it manages to look about twice as ugly - even if you have a powerful enough PC to turn on antialiasing and all of the special effects. Even more frustrating, though, is the game's support for a relatively low number of fixed screen resolutions that include none at 16:9 aspect ratios. There's a hack out there to set whatever resolution you want and it works well enough, but it's this kind of thing that angers dedicated PC gamers to no end.
Granted, the developers do deserve some credit for maintaining every feature that was available in the console versions, something that isn't a given in quick ports. Both the competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes are here, and both can be played online (using GameSpy middleware) or over a LAN, although I imagine it'll be tough finding enough PC gamers that want to endure Saints Row 2's iffy frame rates. Personally, it only took ten seconds of watching me play for my friends - who enjoy LAN play in plenty of other games - to give up their ideas of playing a GTA-like game cooperatively over a LAN. And that is a pretty interesting premise, especially considering the whole game is playable together with two people, but for many groups of friends, only the most solidly-built games are played together like this. And this is definitely not one of those.
The game isn't without its charms, though, even adding in the physics bugs and strange behavior from the AI. There's something oddly appealing about driving around on an ATV that catches things on fire when it makes contact with them while you've got A-ha's "Take On Me" playing on the 80s station. Building up your massive garage of fancy cars and configuring them, while also pimping out your pad with new stuff, is also mildly entertaining and really does a great job of showing that while GTAIV is a fantastic game, it still could be so much more. Unfortunately, that's what SR2 seems to do best - show us not how good it is, but how much better GTA could be.
This month we'll be seeing PC ports of a few major console games from the last few months. On the list are SR2, Mirror's Edge, and Lord of the Rings: Conquest. Of those 3, I felt like SR2 could have had the most potential for long life on the PC, and it's a shame that it arguably got the worst port of the three. The game engine used simply does not belong on the PC, and while the game itself has a kind of low-budget appeal, that winds up squandered with PC gamers by giving them way too much to dislike about it. I maintain that Saints Row 2 is still a damn fun game and really not bad on a super-fast PC, but it's not going to be worth the effort for most.