But is such a game even playable anymore to someone who has recently leapt between skyscrapers shooting fireballs out of their hands in Saints Row 4? If you're a PC owner, then the answer is likely to be... no. Well not without a bit of work anyway, as this got a famously terrible port that can run in fast forward if you're playing it on a Windows 7 machine with a CPU clock speed different to the Xbox 360's processor. Windows 8 users are apparently safe from this, in a rare case of a new operating system actually FIXING an old game. That is a pretty amazing bug all on its own, but the game apparently also has problems with prefetching memory that can cause frame rate issues even on powerful PCs. It definitely seems like either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 version may be a better choice for this one, because damn.
Fortunately I've been assured that the fast forward issue is a fixable problem, thanks to IdolNinja's Saints Row 2 Powertools Mod, so I'm hopeful it'll hammer this into a more acceptable shape for me.
(Click the images to view them at twice the resolution.)
Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV. I'm also a little surprised at how powerful this character editor is, with some features that even the later games don't have. I mean it even has a Male-Female slider, which is amazing considering that the first game doesn't even let you play as a woman.
Right now my character is just waking up from a coma after being caught in a massive explosion at the end of Saints Row the First, so I figured they'd use the reconstructive surgery as an explanation to why I get to edit my face. But nope.
Max Payne fans.
Along with my character's body I also get to tweak their mind, or at least their voice actor and walk cycle. There's three male and three female voices, and if this's anything like the other two games I've played, then each is going to have slightly different dialogue and a whole lot to say during the story, (which hasn't gotten any less impressive to me by the way).
I don't know much about the plot of Saints Row 1, but it seems that I'd already risen to become leader of the Third Street Saints before getting blown up. Though during the years I've spent lying in prison in a coma the gang has fallen apart and I'm basically the last Saint left, aside from this Saint wannabe in the purple hat who wants to help me break out.
The game has a regenerating health bar as well, but it wouldn't call it a cover shooter, as I've got so much health that I can hang around right out in the open, taking the time to carefully line up my shots. To be fair though I chose to take the tutorial route when the option came up, so it's possible that I'm just fighting ultra-easy training enemies right now.
ONE SEMI-EXCITING PRISON ESCAPE TURRET SEQUENCE LATER.
This time I'm in the city of Stilwater, the same setting as the first game, but expanded and rebuilt by the Ultor corporation in the meantime (the evil company from Volition's Red Faction series, weirdly). The city is entirely new to me though so I have no idea where I am or what I'm doing right now. But if I know Saints Row, in a few seconds someone's going to tell me to go buy a gun or a change of clothes to show me how the shops work.
Speaking of GTA, I realise that the Saints Row franchise in general is basically a spiritual successor (or total rip off) of the PlayStation 2 GTA games, but in this one I'm feeling it way more than in the others. SR3 and 4 go way over the top, but this seems fairly down to earth by comparison. Literally.
Alright then, my next objective is to go to strip club and get drunk. Seriously.
My character's not without a heart though, so he decided to teach the guy a valuable life lesson about hassling gang leaders that he'll remember every time he glances at his new eye-patch in the mirror.
Also, oh shit... Johnny Gat's going to be executed for the crime of being a mass murdering psychopath? But he was awesome in Saints Row 3! I need to race to the courtroom and stop his... uh, appeal.
It seems that the guy I bottled is part of a gang, and pissing him off has gotten his friends after me. I don't really feel like hanging around here too much longer though, as melee combat isn't really the game's strong point, so I'll wave this around for a bit then make a run for the car park. I'm suddenly starting to miss my Saints Row 4 super powers.
It's a shame all this rain isn't making the road any shinier, as the shimmering semi-reflective streets are part of the reason that the sequels look so great. It's funny because it never even rains in Saints Row IV; the only weather effect is a bit of fire coming down when you fight a warden.
This on the other hand has a full day/night cycle and some proper storms it seems. Not that it makes any difference to the car's handling; this thing is halfway to being a go-kart with how easy it is to drive.
That's Daniel Dae Kim of Hawaii Five-0, Lost and Angel fame playing Gat by the way, and he's great in the role of a charming psychopath. He doesn't show up much in the other Saints Row games I've played for... reasons, but I'm hoping I'll get to see more of him this time around.
I decided to go with my Xbox 360 controller this time and even though I'm pretty rusty using the thing for third person shooting, I'm finding that isn't a problem. These enemies mostly just stand still and wait for me to slowly fine tune my crosshair until it's sitting right over their head, and their aim is so terrible I wouldn't feel overly threatened even without my friend here waiting to take a bullet for me.
You know, it says a lot about the game that I can't find a way to let my hostage go without killing him.
BUT THEN, NEAR THE END OF A THRILLING ILLEGAL STREET RACE.
The later games have the decency to put up some proper racing game arrows to block off the wrong turns when I have a destination set on my map, whether I'm racing or not. In this though I have to keep one eye on the mini-map most of the time, and that's just a pain.
SOME TIME LATER.
I'm doing this to lower the local property values by the way, so it all makes rational sense. Maybe one day I'll be able to drive people away with my reputation alone, but for now I've got to do it manually. Oh shit, I just realised that I'm on a beach! The later Saints Row games are entirely beachless, as far as I recall. There's no septic trucks either for that matter.
"Offer valid while supplies last or until I say so. If you have have a problem oh well then tough shit! One coupon per customer, gangsta, thug or any other lowlife. Not valid with any other offer, combo, or discount. You should be lucky you got this!"In the later games I was able to buy character upgrades like this with cash, but it seems this time I've got to earn them. Though annoyingly it doesn't tell me what rewards I'm going to get, so it's a mystery what I'll have to do to improve my stamina recharge or reduce damage etc. Personally I prefer the later system, where I can choose whatever upgrade I want, and do whatever I feel like to earn it.
A FEW BULLETS LATER.
Okay then, now we have a simple goal: we're going to take over the entire city and wipe out any rival gang in our way, one area at a time.
Hang on, that glowing cylinder over on the left isn't a mission start point, it's a garage! Forget the missions, I'm going to pimp my ride.
This looks roughly as powerful as the car modding in the later games, although I can't gradually improve my car's engine torque and frame etc. In this it's either stock or improved and those are my only choices.
In fact, forget the cars! If this is a true Saints Row game I should be able to just go straight to the airport right now and take a helicopter.
ONE LONG DRIVE SOUTH LATER.
Step 1: Park a car in its way so that it can't take off.
Okay what the fuck was that? You just couldn't wait to use the airstrip, so you figured you'd just fly right through me? But it's fine, it's fine, no damage done. I can kill the pilot, reverse his plane back out of my ass, then try this again.
Well fuck it, I'm going to try to take off anyway. Let's see how far I can fly this thing with only the one wing.
I can get a regular income coming in from the property I own and neighbourhoods I've taken over during missions, but unlike the other games I can't transfer the cash into my account remotely using my phone. I think it's awesome that the game's moved beyond the GTA3 games by letting me save anywhere I want instead of making me drive back to my house after every mission... but then it makes me drive back to collect my stash of cash instead! And I do need the money, because ammo is ridiculous expensive in this.
Alright what else is in here? I can change my clothes, pick my weapons, upgrade my crib and watch previous cutscenes on TV. Weirdly my character is wearing my current outfit in the cutscenes, so I can watch myself wake up from a coma in prison wearing a pimp hat.
Well I'm running low on respect so I've gotta go do some more activities to unlock new missions. It little bit of a pain in the ass, but honestly I prefer it to how Saints Row: The Third handles things, where it felt like half the time the story missions were just activities in disguise.
prostitute uprising... using a chainsaw for bonus points'?
Plus it's always funny when I'm filming a reality TV series disguised as a Stilwater cop, trying to make them look bad on camera, when a real cop comes over to help out and starts curb stomping suspects as well. One even climbed into my car with me to tag along as I set off to solve a domestic dispute with a flamethrower.
I'll tell you one thing for sure: they were definitely paying attention more attention to me than to the oncoming traffic. Many pimps lost their lives this day.
Unlike GTA3 though, the good missions have plenty of checkpoints, so I don't have to drive back up to the mission start point and retry the whole thing from scratch whenever I fuck up, and I have fucked up a fair number of times. It's not a tough game (on medium difficulty), but it's more than capable of kicking my ass if I'm careless, especially as cars full of enemy goons tend to spawn in behind me.
Though to be honest I haven't used a single healing item all game (I don't even know the button for it), so that should tell you how often I get into real trouble.
In Stilwater there's there a beach, a university, a pirate galleon, (fake) Greek ruins, chinatown, a trailer park, plus all the factories and skyscrapers you could want! It feels like a bigger city with wider streets and I can already navigate my way around it just by being told which area to go to. In two games I still haven't learned my way around Steelport.
On the downside though, there's more variety of shops as well, meaning that it's difficult to get a good impression of what's actually for sale, and figuring out where I saw a certain piece of clothing is a real pain. Plus two of the more interesting clothes shops are hidden underground in a nightmarish shopping mall which takes forever to get around.
BUT THEN, MUCH MUCH LATER.
I have had to restart this fucking level like a dozen times so far just because I kept accidentally grabbing them over and over again, until I decided that they would have to die. It's the only way. Thank fuck they changed the grab button to something else in the later games, because this really is ridiculous.
EVEN LATER STILL.
Saints Row 2 really does feel to me like the missing link between something like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Saints Row: The Third: over the top but still connected to some exaggerated satirical version of reality. It's a little less refined than SR3 (and the PC port is pretty broken by comparison), but it makes up for that with the sheer amount of content and attention to detail it has. SR3 and SR4 have some incredible missions for sure, but I think this might be the more consistently enjoyable game because it doesn't shove activities in place of story missions or have tedious mech levels etc.
One of the first things that jumps to mind when I think of the Saints Row games is the characters, and this is the game that brings the main crew together. They're not quite the people I'm familiar with yet, but they still managed to make me smile on occasion. The Boss in particular is in full bastard mode this time, as much a villain as anyone else in the game; definitely not a puckish rogue. Coming from Saints Row IV it was definitely nice to see my guy actually lead the Saints, instead of basically being Kinzie's field operative, and what I was up in missions to generally felt more satisfying on a story level than hacking glowy things for an arbitrary amount of time because of 'just go with it'.
So to my surprise and my delight, I can now officially inform you that playing Saints Row IV first doesn't ruin Saints Row 2, and the game actually has plenty of reasons to recommend it, especially if you're in the mood to play as the villain.