At its best, Saints Row is funny, imaginative and gleefully entertaining. At its worst, it's lazy, generic and a technical mess. If it struck a consistent balance between the two, you could forgive its shortcomings, but the bad all too often outweighs the good.
For every moment of pure joy - and it has its fair share - there are hours of repetitive mini-games and lacklustre combat to endure.
You play as the nameless leader of the Saints, a street gang who have become a global phenomenon. They have armies of fans, tacky merchandise, movie deals, and their own branded energy drink, 'Saints Flow'. The game takes frequent swipes at contemporary culture, and although it doesn't have the sardonic bite of Grand Theft Auto's lethal satire, it's still pretty clever in places.
Many regard Saints Row as the 'anti-GTA', and it really is. While Rockstar left the chaos and jetpacks behind to tell an adult story in a sophisticated, believable world, Saints Row has gone in the opposite direction. It has none of the class, style or production values of Rockstar's game, but it is, arguably, more dedicated to providing shameless entertainment.
There are very few limitations. You can fly any plane and leap off any building. You have infinite parachutes, and can warp instantly to the shore if you get stranded in the water. You don't even have to drag someone out of their car to steal it; you just inexplicably jump straight through the windshield into the driver's seat. If it's an immersive, cinematic 'experience' you seek, look elsewhere. This is, in the purest sense, a game - and unashamedly so.
The appearance and personality of the Saints' leader is completely up to you, thanks to a brilliantly powerful character editor. You can make him or her look genuinely cool, or a complete abomination. The latter is often the most amusing, as your creation appears in cut-scenes, which are all rendered in-game.
If you get bored of your look, or even your sex, visit a plastic surgeon in the city and change it. If you want a new outfit, there are shops full of every type of fashion imaginable, as well as ludicrous costumes (we spent the final hours of the game dressed as a pirate).
This gives you a great feeling of ownership: your character will be completely different to anyone else's, and you can upload them to be rated, and downloaded, by other players.
Mid-game sex changes might sound ridiculous, but that's Saints Row's buzzword. This is a game where you can call up Burt Reynolds during a firefight and he'll come and lend a hand (and a shotgun). It's a game where you run around a wrestling ring with a chainsaw, slicing up masked luchadores while 'You're the Best' from The Karate Kid plays. It's a game where you flee from the gun-toting owners of an S&M club on a gimp-pulled chariot.
Volition's sense of humour is, of course, completely infantile. You won't be slapping your knee and howling with laughter; just grinning at the absurdity of it all, and letting out the odd audible snigger. What makes it so endearing is that it knows it's crass and tasteless - yet, you can't help but admire their dedication to stupidity.
The open world structure is instantly familiar, and unchanged from previous games. This time, however, you're in a brand new city: Steelport. The downtown area is visually impressive, with gargantuan skyscrapers and blazing neon lights, but the surrounding suburbs are unimaginative and bland.
It doesn't have the irresistible allure of Batman's Arkham City or Assassin's Creed's Constantinople, but its vertical scale does, at least, make it the perfect playground for the game's bulging hangar of air vehicles.