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In fact, you’ll be even happier to throw a grenade at that enemy and blow them into bits, as Volition has also packed in the Havok physics engine. This not only ensures that vehicles slide around in a satisfying manner, but that cars, trucks and ambulances explode in a similar fashion; that carelessly struck pedestrians fly backwards with a cheerful crunch, and any objects clipped with a high-speed vehicle react as you’d pretty much expect. To see this at its best, you only need to take on one of the game’s many Mayhem or Insurance Fraud missions. The former are simple, joyous exercises in destruction, where every piece of public property wrecked means bigger points, and you can busy yourself chaining together combos of uprooted lampposts, tossed pedestrians and smoking vehicles. As for the latter, well, taking a dive in front of fast moving traffic in an attempt to get yourself thrown through the window of a late-breaking SUV has never been so much fun.
In fact, the one basic area where Saints Row doesn’t improve that much on GTA is in the one area that you thought it really should: the graphics. Yes, there are some nice lighting effects and plenty of lovely soft shadows, but the streets of Stilwater aren’t as intricately textured and beautifully modelled as you might hope, and neither are they as crowded as you might expect. It’s true that there’s a greater variety of characters walking the streets at any one time, but even these don’t seem whole generations ahead of what we’ve seen before. It’s attractive, and very clean looking in that 360, HD sort of way, but stunning? Probably not. And why all the horrible V-Sync tearing? Surely someone should have picked this up in QA.
But let’s not be unduly harsh. It’s important to make clear that Saints Row is a thoroughly entertaining game. THQ has stayed alarmingly close to the GTA template, but it has also worked hard to make the game fit in with the whole ‘have it your way’ ethos that surrounds the Microsoft console. There’s a lot to like about the way you can create your own hero, then kit him out with new haircuts, tattoos and outfits as the game progresses, and even customise your stolen rides. Saints Row also makes a good fist of gang warfare, with territories to conquer, counter-attacks from rival gangs to defend against, and a real sense of how your gang’s reputation is being felt on the streets. And while I’ve hijacked rigs and outrun cop cars to the sounds of a cheesy eighties rock radio station before, I can’t deny that it’s still fun here. I find it hard to believe that anyone bar the most po-faced GTA-enthusiast could play Saints Row and not have a rolling good time.