At its heart Saints Row 2 is a good game, hampered by several lousy porting and technical issues.
Saints Row 2 is the sequel to the original Saints Row, and continues to take place in the city of Stilwater. The original never received a PC version, so it was a little bizarre that the follow-up was thought to warrant one. However, the Stilwater of Saints Row 2 is bigger, and very different. Five years have past since the end of the first game, where the player-character known as The Boss was put into a coma when a yacht exploded. The Ultor Corporation has expanded from a mere clothing store selling sunglasses into a giant multinational conglomerate, and has redeveloped the entire Saints Row district into a corporate paradise. Much of the rest of the city has also changed and expanded, due to a large earthquake that occurred a while ago. In fact, Ultor is taking over in many ways, from funding the police force to sponsoring the radio stations. Playing again as The Boss (a male/female character who can look however you like), you awake from your coma in the Stilwater Penitentiary, only to be quickly making a daring escape from jail. The rest of the game is dedicated to restoring the 3rd Street Saints gang to their former glory, through taking back the city district by district. The plot is alright: it never seems particularly important or engaging, and is mainly used as a vehicle for propelling the action. Its sudden ending is very unsatisfying, but getting there is mainly great fun.
Gameplay is a mix of what you would usually expect from an open world GTA-style game. You can carjack a large variety of vehicles across the city, listen to humorous radio stations, and most of the missions involve a mixture of driving and shooting. In shooting especially, the game excels. Aiming is easy and very responsive, and the shooting generally just feels really satisfying. The ragdoll physics on enemies mean they react when hit by bullets in the arm or leg, and it never feels unnatural. Quickly regenerating health makes an appearance, which means for the most part the game is quite easy, unless there are literally tonnes of enemies attacking you at any point. Navigating around Stilwater is pretty simple, thanks to the map's GPS system, which will display a line indicating which direction you should take. You can also unlock GPS shortcuts through backyards and private drives, which can cut down of journey times. Driving handles quite well if a bit light at times, where you might over-steer into a corner and accidentally spin out. This is slightly infuriating during high-speed chases, where you steer for a particular gap and miss it by miles. There is also a large variety of secondary missions, where there is much fun to be had. For example, Insurance Fraud makes you get into horrific traffic accidents, whilst another type might have you driving a sanitation truck, shooting raw sewage over the houses. These all work well and are rewarding in their own right.
Artistically, Stilwater is quite exceptional in that there are very few repetitious buildings or content recycled. Most buildings have unique and funny store signs identifying them, and each district in the city has its own feel. Graphically however, it is difficult for this to come across at times. The poor quality of the PC port means that drawn distances are not very impressive, and when far away everything looks like grey and brown smudges. I also several times thought that my monitor was acting strangely, because you play the whole game through what appears to be a heat haze or gauze, laid over the top of the screen, which can obscure your field of vision. In fact, the bad quality of the PC port is where most of the problems in Saints Row 2 arise. Bad frame-rates and inconsistent performance mean that you will be performing many actions a second before the game actually registers them, which can mean the difference between life and death in many instances. This is particularly noticeable when driving very fast, where the game will slow down significantly in order to load new textures or road vehicles. Locations inside buildings do not suffer from these problems however, since the area generated is much smaller. There is always a noticeable drop in frame-rate when leaving buildings, and vice-versa.
The sounds of Saints Row 2 are impressive. The radio stations are all interesting to listen to, even if their individual playlists are quite short. The mix of modern songs and classic tracks works well, and sets the tone for the game appropriately. Sound effects and ambient noises all work well, with no noticeable issues. Voice acting is actually pretty convincing, with a host of funny or likable characters to guide you along the way. The only problem with the characters really is that the main character of The Boss, however you play, is utterly dislikeable in almost every regard. He has no friends, and basically will do anything for personal power and glory, even if he has to kill good people. I suppose this is the right mindset for a criminal warlord, but when compared to the genuinely likable Niko Bellic from GTA IV, it comes across as superficial and rather tasteless. Then again, at times it feels like Saints Row 2 almost loves being tasteless, so this may be the whole point.
Overall, be in no doubt that Saints Row 2 is fun, and consequence free fun at that. It basically revels in going wild, with no particular regard for anything that might happen as a result. Once you finish, there is little to invite you back again, but the escape is good enough. This is rather refreshing, since with so many games treading the path of moral fortitude, it is nice to see a title which thinks rather differently. Whilst the PC porting issues severely hamper the ability to enjoy this psychotic madness, enough of the original spark remains to make it worthwhile.