-- Let's get this out of the way: Open-world crime game Saints Row 2 is not close to Grand Theft Auto IV. But that's not a bad thing.
While Rockstar's legendary crime drama travels a more mature route, publisher THQ's hijacked adventure embraces the lunacy these games create, albeit imperfectly.
Games operating in an open-world environment exhibit a loose structure. Players tackle the game however they choose, instead of progressing linearly through a series of levels.
Like the original Saints Row, the sequel is split between the main plot, character-building activities and other diversions. Your character is a jailed and hospitalized member of the 3rd Street Saints, who awakens from a coma to discover his gang has been decimated. Once you escape prison, your quest is to restore the gang to its former glory.
Saints Row 2 is incredibly fun because it revels in the ridiculous behavior of its characters. Don't expect a deep, powerful story like GTA IV. The game's core goal is creating mayhem — sometimes while wearing mime makeup or sporting a hot-dog suit.
Most of the series' creative activities are retained in the sequel. If you need distraction from the game's main arc, go join a local fight club, work as security for a celebrity, or allow cars to slam into you for cash in an insurance fraud scheme.
While these side quests are fantastic, they greatly overshadow unimaginative core missions. Most objectives revolve around gunning down rival gangs and little else. It seems all the ingenuity was saved for the diversions.
Highlighting the adventure is the impressive levels of customization. You can carefully craft facial features, select a wardrobe, style your myriads of condos and trick out a bevy of vehicles. You can even customize your gang to fit your personal style.
The free roaming key to open-world games is also highly entertaining. Take a helicopter into the skies and basejump. Steal a vehicle and hold the passenger hostage until they pay up. Grab every nasty weapon you can think of — from assault rifles to rocket launchers — and simply wreak havoc.
Gang strategies play a big role in Saints Row 2. You can recruit members who you'll later call on to assist you in battles. A welcome addition to the series is co-operative play, allowing real-world players to join you online as your partner in crime.
For the most part, the separation between this adventure and GTA works to Saint Row 2's advantage, but GTA IV is far more polished. Saints Row 2's world looms large but lacks the finite physical detail.
Technically, Saints Row 2 has a few too many glitches. There were times where the game froze, forcing a restart. Instead of environmental elements feeling a part of the world, you'll often notice items slowly pop in. Then there are just plain random bugs. Riding a motorcycle, my character slams into the back of a semi-truck. Inexplicably, I slip through the back door and inside the trailer, unable to escape. My character eventually flies out following a traffic accident.
Saints Row 2 is quite enjoyable, but has rough edges to smooth before reaching the status of a Grand Theft Auto.