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The Games Of Christmas: December 14th

As we reach the pivotal 7/12ths point of the seasonally festive advent-o-calendar, our fingers perhaps beginning to develop the first sign of blisters from prising open cardboard doors to reveal gaming goodies behind, our stamina remains strong. But equally our minds turn to crime. Crimes involving poo and machine guns. But to whatever could that refer? Only obeying the firm instruction of the one true leader of the Autobots can unravel such a mystery.

Saints Row 2!

John: No, it is a 2009 game. In fact, it wasn't released for PC until January 30th on European soil due to reasons beyond our understanding. And what a way to start the year it was. Saints Row 2 is absolutely bloody splendid.

Comparisons with GTA IV are as inevitable as rain on Christmas day, but there's a reason why. It's a whopping great unabashed bare-faced brazened copy of the GTA games. It's not just a bit like them. It IS them, but then scribbled on by an ADD-afflicted child menace, doodling pictures of trucks spraying shit on buildings and blowing up old ladies.

This means you lose Rockstar's maturity, deft storytelling, and depth of characterisation. You also lose the significance of the city, that amazing sense of place that GTA can evoke with its meticulous crafting. What replaces it is Volition's immaturity, daft storytelling, and depth of childish nonsense. And it turns out to be a very reasonable exchange. Saints Row 2 is a playground for idiots and idiocy, far more of a genuine sandbox than the various rivals, and yet packed with three separate main plots.

If you played the first game and are staring in confusion, Saints Row 2 is an Olympic gold medal winning leap ahead of the console-only original. Where that was a genuinely nasty thing, an unpleasant and downright stupid game, the sequel abandons some of the more mindlessly offensive elements. Some. It's still packed with offensive references (women's clothing shops called "On The Rag" for instance), but they're more in the background, as if the game is far less proud of them this time around. I suspect that should there be a Saints Row 3 they'll be all but gone. They discovered a real skill for fantastic cutscenes and decent writing despite themselves, and it would be great to see this embellished in a future game.

It's a proper shame that more care wasn't taken with the PC port. It's pretty insulting really. There's some real problems with sluggish framerates and dodgy driving that should never have been in there, solved by reducing the graphics down to a sub-360 grade, which isn't acceptable. You learn to work around these issues, and it's testament to how much fun the game is to play that these significant issues can be put up with. And the game helps, but making driving a less important aspect than your traditional GTA game. Because, equally untraditionally, the on-foot sections are really good.

I said this when I reviewed it before, but I can't resist repeating myself. This is a game that aims to be what the Daily Mail mistakenly thinks GTA is. It's brutal, gross, astonishingly violent, and there's almost no consequences for your terrible actions. But it does all this with infectious glee. It's not smug or pious about its bad behaviour, it's joyful. It's a very peculiar way to be, but it's one that somehow works.

Alec: One of those games that makes people who haven't played it pull a face when you mention it. That face looks a little something like this:

Which I find odd and frustrating, because when I play Saint's Row 2 I'm generally pulling a face that looks like this:

So right now, as I think of how this game came and went, I'm making a face like this:

Why do people sneer at Saint's Row? Why didn't it manage the success GTA IV did, given how much more of a playground it offered? Yeah, the plot's forgettable gang war nastiness (I'm surprised John was so taken with the cutscenes, to be honest), the humour's beyond crass, the voice acting and dialogue negatively stereotypes every minority group going and the PC port was a technical embarrassment. Less so than GTA IV PC, of course. And I managed to play the thing for hour after hour, so I take the more strident of no-no-nos about it with a large pinch of sodium chloride.

But! It's the brakes-off, logic-out-the-window, zero consequences mayhem we forever pray for in these open world shooting/driving games, and are forever denied. Just Cause 2 is, hopefully, gearing up to do the same thing - just go play, don't worry about rules or punishment or conveniently closed down bridges. Take this world and be massively unpleasant to it. No-one will mind. It's just a cartoon.

My journeys of destruction were incredible run-on things, rarely interrupted by an overwhelming police presence or a high-speed target I couldn't catch up with in time. They just rolled on and on, packed with ludicrous near-death experiences, my grotesque, bespoke avatar an indestructible hulk of slackjawed, overweight transvestite fury:

At one point, I had that... thing wearing a thong. The over-the-shoulder image of... its essentially nude lower half sat astride a motorcycle is something I've had to forever scrub from my mind.

SR2's a game in which I can glance at the screen at any point and be at least 70% likely to burst out laughing. It's so nonchalant about everything that its incidental humour becomes effortless - a far cry from the try-hard writing, but infinitely more important.

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