Everyone wants a piece of me. Mind you, in the last couple of hours I've been doing my utmost to piss everyone off. I started the day with a daring one-man raid on a courtroom, which ended when I shot a Judge Judy-style harpy in the face with a shotgun. By mid-morning, I was spraying an entire neighbourhood with human excrement from a hijacked sewage truck in the hope of dropping the property values (and I drowned some cops in liquid faeces for good measure).
Then I went on a drive-by spree to stir things up with a rival gang, whose taste for green clothing offends my sense of fashion. By teatime I'd discovered the joys of racking up impressive or excruciating kills. And somewhere along the way I smacked tramps around with a baseball bat, and found a nice new crib for my gang (tastefully decked out as pimps and hos). It's been a busy day.
So now everyone wants a piece of me. Unfortunately, I'm probably not that hard to find. Not for me the inconspicuous Slavic looks of Niko Bellic; I'm an aging, saggy, 30-stone Asian guy (with enormous moobs) who minces through the streets with a supermodel's catwalk sashay. To top off the look, I'm also a transvestite - wearing a really dodgy wig, a short denim skirt, and about half a pound of badly applied slap. I speak with a thick cockney accent and when I defeat my foes, I celebrate by squatting over their stupid dead faces and teabagging them.
What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that Saints Row 2 has really, really good character-customisation. Thanks to some well-designed and powerful tools, if you can imagine it you can probably do it - and do it quite well.
The conventional restrictions of character-customisation are lifted. Gender is no longer a selection, but a slider, allowing you to tweak a character's build to look more effeminate or more masculine (push the slider one way and you get wider shoulders, a flatter chest, narrower hips and a more pronounced crotch bulge). Facial features, skin tone and so on are equally easy to tweak for diverse effects.
The devil's in the detail. If you bulk up your character, he doesn't just get bigger - his muscle tone becomes more pronounced. Making him fatter doesn't just swell the model - fat is distributed realistically, with flesh bulging and folding as it would on a real person. The age slider is arguably the most impressive - you don't just develop wrinkles on your facial textures, skin actually sags and discolours as you age.
The effort Volition has put into the customisation is evident from the outset. There are six voices to choose from (three male, three female), each with a radically different accent, and every single one of those voices is fully voice-acted in each of the game's cut-scenes.
Character-creation sets the stage for the rest of the game. It's fun, varied and flexible, allowing you to run riot and do whatever you want. Nothing is set in stone; plastic surgeries around the city will change anything you like. Once you set your '80s action hero, ridiculously pneumatic femme fatale or fat, sweating tranny loose on the metropolis of Stilwater, you'll soon discover that the rest of the game's values are broadly the same. Run riot. Do what you like. Have fun.
The first Saints Row could be described as a somewhat shameless (albeit surprisingly well-made) GTA III rip-off. Gorged on San Andreas and with GTA IV over the horizon, plenty of people ignored it for that reason. Saints Row 2, however, veers off in a different direction to Rockstar North's latest effort. Where GTA IV was determined to be as gritty as a mouthful of gravel, casting you as a small-time immigrant who's ordered around by an assortment of bigger fish, Saints Row 2 is criminal candy-floss.
The game begins a few years after the events of the first Saints Row, with your character waking up from a coma and rapidly escaping from the high-security prison he's being held in. It's by no means essential or even important to have played the first game, since everything is explained fairly well anyway, and the massive discrepancy in your appearance is played totally for laughs; returning characters keep wondering out loud if you've done something with your hair.