One area of GTA 4 that didn't go down well with long-time fans is the driving model. Rockstar ditched the arcade style handling of previous games in favour of a more realistic, heavier driving model. Saints Row feels a lot like older GTAs, with cars able to corner at high speeds and powerslide like you're a stunt car driver. This won't be for everyone, but it fits well within the world Volition has created. A handy cruise control button even allows you to move your thumb from the accelerator and onto the right analogue stick - ideal for drive by shootings.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that Saints Row 2 is in fact a better game than GTA 4, but slapstick fun can only take a game so far. The plot and storytelling in Saints Row 2 comes nowhere near to the brilliance of Rockstar's game, coming across as rather juvenile in comparison. We're almost certain that this is what Volition wanted to achieve, but that doesn't change the fact that GTA 4 had far more believable characters, a richer storyline and real emotion. Saints Row 2 is arguably the better game to mess about in, but we're unlikely to look back and remember the great moments as we already do with GTA 4.
We don't want to bleat on about GTA 4 versus Saints Row 2, but comparing the two games from a production values point of view is inevitable. GTA 4 took the open world genre to new heights, whereas Saints Row 2 is happy to be serviceable. It's by no means an ugly game, and at times can look rather impressive, but detail in the city is quite minimal, the frame rate is often poor and there are none of the finer details that GTA 4 packed in to strengthen the experience. Streets look barren, characters bland and the city just doesn't feel as alive. Within a few hours with GTA 4 Liberty City felt like home, whereas many of Stilwater's streets blend into one.
We can't really comment on the voice work of the main character with any negativity (we played as a woman with a man's voice), but we can talk about the many NPCs in the game. The key characters are voiced well and fit in with the tone of the game. Lesser characters aren't voiced so well, but you'll probably be too busy dressing your gang as ninjas to notice. The soundtrack, dished out over numerous themed radio stations, is also well put together - our personal favourite being the 80s station. You can't beat going on a murderous rampage to Karma Chameleon.
Saints Row 2's final trick is its multiplayer functionality. The entire game can be played co-operatively with a single friend, either online or via system link. The game adjusts enemy health accordingly, and the whole thing is a lot of fun. Perhaps an even bigger surprise is how much fun the territory controlling multiplayer game Strong Arm is. Two teams of four go against each other across seven maps, completing activities and killing opponents to earn money. This money is then used to buy out the neighbourhood. Less original, but equally fun, is the deathmatch mode Gangsta Brawl - playable solo or as teams of up to six players across another set of maps. We reckon strong sales of Saints Row 2 will see a decent community of players playing the game online, especially Strong Arm.
Should you buy Saints Row 2? It's down to what kind of gamer you are really. We loved it, but if you're someone who takes games very seriously and are looking for a nigh-on carbon copy of GTA 4 this won't be for you. If the idea of childishly laughing every time your character speaks in a completely inappropriate voice sounds fun, or you just want a game that positively encourages you to mess around, we can't recommend Saints Row 2 enough. It's more than a little rough around the edges, but don't let that stop you from playing what is a hugely entertaining, often hilarious action game.