Saints Row 2

   21/10/2008 at 18:05       Joe Bennett       7 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
Saints Row 2 is the most bug-ridden, poorly developed game I've played since Hidden and Dangerous on the PC. Managing to surpass even Driv3r in the 'I can't believe this has passed play-testing' stakes, Volition's latest title is technically a shambles.

During my first three hours of Saints Row 2 I experienced enough tearing to make AATG's own Stevas spontaneously combust, pop-up aplenty, cars disappearing in front of me, pedestrians vanishing then reappearing a few feet away, cars falling from the air, pedestrians getting stuck in walls, my friendly AI character not being able to navigate around an open car door, pedestrians walking in mid-air, traffic completely ignoring road works and just ploughing straight through the workmen, only for the workmen and the road works to teleport back to their original position as soon as I turned my back, and, more importantly, seven game ending crashes on the third story mission.

Volition really should be ashamed for releasing such a bug-ridden mess. I've played preview builds that are more stable than this finished product. There really is no excuse for it. Quite a few defenders of the game have even had the gall to use 'lower production values' and 'lack of budget' as an excuse for these bugs. That though, is complete twaddle. Developers with much smaller budgets than Volition manage to produce games without even one tenth of the number of bugs that Saints Row 2 throws at you.

No, there are no excuses whatsoever for the bugs, especially the game ending crashes. And after three hours with the game, the list of negatives had spilled on to a second sheet of A4 and it was heading for a 5/10. But then I had a volte-face. Suddenly, and almost reluctantly, I realised that I was having a lot of fun. I wanted to hate Saints Row 2. I wanted to ensure that Volition learnt from its mistakes and didn't dare to release such an unfinished mess of a game ever again. But I couldn't. I'd fallen in love with Saints Row 2. It was going to be a messy love affair, one where it would constantly disappoint me, cheat on me with my best friend and have a mouth that my mother would hate, but boy was it going to be messy up-all-night fun.

Undeniably, in terms of build quality, Saints Row 2 is a terrible game and one that really needs to be taken out the back and shot. But there I was up until 1am every morning for the past five days, cramming in just one more mission before sliding quietly into bed and saying to my wife "no really, it's only eleven-thirty, go back to sleep".

Grand Saints Theft Row Auto 2.IV

I'm not going to be one of those deluded people that try to convince you that Saints Row 2 isn't anything like Grand Theft Auto IV, because it undeniably is. It's got the gang culture, the driving, the shooting, the mobile phone, the side quests and pretty much everything else that the GTA series currently has to offer. In some respects it's the horrible bastard child of GTA, yet in other areas it can be so much better than Rockstar's goliath. One journalist recently went on record to say "it's actually as far removed from Grand Theft Auto IV as you can get". Except it's not really is it? That would be Rainbow Islands. No, Saints Row 2 isn't as far removed from Grand Theft Auto 4 as you can get, it just does the same things slightly differently. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on the enjoyment you got out of GTA IV.

I think it's fair to say that in the majority of cases, if you absolutely loved GTA IV, and thought it fully deserved a 10/10, then Saints Row 2 is likely to disappoint. The story is abysmal in comparison (actually it's abysmal even without the comparison), the production values aren't anywhere close to being in the same league and, whereas GTA IV had consistently high levels of dialogue and memorable quips, the dialogue in Saints Row 2 comes across as forced, confused (sometimes taking itself seriously, other times clearly going down the parody route) and generally mostly goes over your head as you're sat waiting for the next mission to start, not really sure or bothered about what they're blathering on about.

One of my favourite parts of the GTA series is the radio. There have been many times when I've burst out laughing at one of the adverts or at the quips that some of the DJs have come out with. But Saints Row 2's radio, while stocked with a sizeable and varied selection of tracks, just doesn't hit the same heights. There's no DJ chat and the adverts often miss the mark in terms of humour. One of my favourite pastimes in GTA is to park up in whatever car I am in and listen to the radio, but I never had that urge while playing Saints Row 2.

If, however, you are one of the seemingly growing crop of people that got bored of GTA IV's slow pace, the constant phone calls, the babysitting and at times, frustrating gameplay, and longed for it to go back to the days of pure 'sandboxtainment' (hands of Oxford, that's my word) then Saints Row 2 is likely to appeal. There's hardly ever any time to be bored in Stillwater. There's always a goofy side-mission to complete, a story arc to develop, or a number of other fun activities to participate in (such as base jumping and streaking, both absolutely brilliant fun) that suddenly, the build quality takes a bit of a backseat. It's still there, asking you whether you're there yet, needing to go to the toilet and kicking the back of your seat, but you start to develop the ability to shut it out.

It even has a couple of, albeit minor, touches that start to make you realise just how much Rockstar has lost touch with the gaming scene. For instance generous mid-mission checkpoints that give you the chance to continue rather than having to go back and start it all again, remove all of the frustration that the GTA games have suffered from for years now. No longer are you forced to run around town stocking up on all the supplies you've used, or going on a massive trek across the city just to trigger the mission again. Saints Row 2's checkpoint system means you either go back to the start of the level or back to one of the checkpoints with all of your original equipment intact. It's a minor addition, but it makes a huge amount of difference.

Customisation is another area where Saints Row 2 excels over GTA IV. I don't find character or car customisation as enthralling as some, and in fairness, after creating a rather ridiculous looking ginger-haired afrod freak, I mainly just added items that gave me the most respect points, but for those that find that sort of thing enjoyable, Saints Row 2 does offer a dazzling array of options.

More shizzle than you can shake a stizzle at...or something

There is also a huge amount of Easter eggs and hidden areas tucked away. Your character will sing along to certain songs, there's an unlockable UFO, you can participate in the streaking mini-game and the highly entertaining 'Zombie' mode and many more that I'm sure even after twenty-five hours with the game I am yet to uncover. The trouble is however, twenty-five hours in, I'm starting to fall out of love with it again.

It's not that there's not enough to do, I'm still only 58% complete. It's just that it's all become a little stale. The simplicity of most of the missions does make them become repetitive after a while and the lack of an engaging storyline is something I have found myself longing for. The main character is also a detestable, amoral arse-hole, (as are the majority of your gang) and it's very hard to feel anything for them, even when some are inevitably killed off. But, taking us full circle, undeniably the main reason why my interest has started to wane is due to the constant annoying bugs and glitches.

I've had enough of shadows popping on and off of characters' faces during cut scenes. And while I managed to get rid of the screen tearing by turning v-sync on, that brought along an inconsistent frame rate that during the more hectic levels, doesn't so much dip as go for a bath. I longed for a busier city; one where there were more cars driving around or even heaven forbid, cars parked in multi-storey car parks or alongside the road. I wanted more challenging and realistic AI. I'd become bored with my homies getting caught on open car doors. Worst still, I'd become frustrated at the lack of challenge that the police presented me. In fact evading them is often as simple as starting a mission or driving a car in front of a shop door and walking in, then spending the next few minutes observing the police walking in to the front of my car. Now I know my local police aren't the brightest sparks, but I'm sure even they could fathom out that little puzzle (well, at least a few of them could).

Then I had the Septic Tank activity, where my my AI controlled tanker drove into a concrete post and then continued to back up and keep ramming it, even though there was ample space either side to drive around it. I had no choice but to turn the game off and start again, as there was no option to restart the mission. Then, on my second attempt, my female accomplice liked her "that's one blow job they won't forget" joke so much, that she decided to say it seventeen times in a mission that lasted less than ten minutes. Personally I didn't find it amusing the first time around (it doesn't even work, considering a tanker pumps or sprays manure, and certainly doesn't blow it) so by the seventeenth time, I'd had enough. But what really tipped me over the edge and what finally made me decide that other than returning for a few quick blasts, I'd had enough of Saints Row 2, was experiencing my twelfth game-ending crash. A stat that averages out at approximately one crash for every two hours I've invested in the game. It's hard to really fully lose yourself into an experience when there's a numbing inevitability that a bug is (usually literally) just around the corner.

I decided to try my luck with the multiplayer, to see if that would rekindle my love for Saints Row 2, but I found playing online co-op even more bug-ridden than usual. There weren't any new bugs, they just happened a lot more frequently and it tested my patience so much that, even though it was a lot more fun (and arguably made some of the previously difficult 'activities' much easier to complete), I just couldn't play it in that state. The other online modes were fairly entertaining, especially Strong Arm, but again suffered from the same glitches and horrendous lag that after an hour, I just couldn't put myself through it anymore.

Less stable than the UK economy

I'm sure coming back to Saints Row 2 after a week's hiatus may help rekindle some of the love. But I know that as soon as I experience another game-ending crash, or any other of the plethora of bugs it constantly throws at the player, my fun will turn into disappointment and I'll be left wondering what could have been if Volition had put more care and attention into the game. Hopefully Volition might patch Saints Row 2 to remove at least some of these bugs (it already has a patch although, even after installing it, I'm not sure what it has fixed), something that would certainly entice me to come back for more. But until then, regrettably, I think I've had my fix.

I had many memorable moments with Saints Row 2, and it's arguably the most fun 7/10 game I've played. But then it's also the most bug-ridden mess of a 7/10 game I've ever played that even now I'm wondering whether to drop it down to a six. But I won't, because when it's behaving, it really is a whole lot of fun to play. But suffice it to say, if you have a low tolerance for any of the bugs mentioned, or just bugs in general, it isn't a game that you should entertain. And for those of you that were left disappointed with GTA IV, and that wanted something more accessible and are prepared to put up with some pretty horrendous bugs, Saints Row 2 comes highly recommended. Volition knows how to develop solid gameplay, it just doesn't know how to develop a solid game.

(More Saints Row 2 review at TestFreaks)
User Comments:

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TheBoy - on 21/10/2008 at 21:04 wrote:
Well that's a shame. I was looking forward to this, but I don't think I could put up with all the bugs and crashes.

kentmonkey - on 21/10/2008 at 21:44 wrote:
Whizzo and Ilmaestro haven't had any game-ending crashes between them, but, otherwise, everyone else I know has suffered them quite a lot. No version appears to be any worse/better than the other, either.


NewYork - on 21/10/2008 at 22:13 wrote:
Can't be bothered with this - I'm still burned out on GTA.

repairmanjack - on 21/10/2008 at 22:29 wrote:
Still no crashes or game breaking bugs in almost twenty hours... Love it.

kentmonkey - on 21/10/2008 at 22:46 wrote:
Friend of mine didn't have any for nearly 20 hours, he had three last night.

Funnily enough, just turned it on quickly to show a mate who's round for the footy the streaking mini-game, it loaded, my guy appeared in his apartment, I took two step forwards and 'ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba....' then silence. Game hung. Two seconds!

It really is a lot of fun (albeit repetitive fun) when it's working though. Would have got an 8, without the bugs.

peej - on 22/10/2008 at 09:52 wrote:
I've not had another once since Sunday but I've been steadily working through most of the main mission stuff with the odd distraction here and there. I'll give Volition their due. Knocking up a game this complex can't be easy - that doesn't excuse the bugs but when you're taking on one of the biggest gaming IPs in the business you've either got to do as polished and as satisfying a job as they do, or you've got to take the opposite approach and just absolutely swamp the gamer with content and hope they don't notice the glitches too much. Volition took the latter approach and when the game's up and running it certainly works because you never get moments when you're listlessly tooling around the city looking for something to do (as with GTA IV at times, despite my claims to the contrary at the time - it's a lot emptier feeling than SR2 is).

billdoor - on 27/10/2008 at 12:36 wrote:
Hopefully a big patch will fix the instabilities just at the time where it goes cheap cheap somewhere :)

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