Saints Row was a very successful game for THQ. How successful you ask? Well, before Assassin’s Creed, Saints Row was the biggest selling third party Xbox 360 game. That’s a pretty good feat and the folks at Volition are coming out with the sequel here soon. THQ was kind enough to let me get my hands on the almost finished product on the Xbox 360 and take it for a spin. I was able to start from the beginning and had my hands on the build for a good few hours. There weren’t any restrictions and I was able to do whatever I want.
The sequel sees you you wake up from a coma after the explosion on the yacht that was thought to have killed you only put you out of commission for five years. Things have changed a lot in Stilwater as the 3rd Street Saints that you joined in the first game have fallen apart. After busting out of prison, you travel back to Stilwater in order to get some revenge on those that tried to take you out reforming the 3rd Street Saints.
Let’s start with the character. Saints Row 2 features an all new character creation feature with a ton of new options and a greater control on how you want your character to look. The sequel lets you choose from both a male or female base model to start with so those that wanted to play a female protagonist in the first game can now do so in the second.
Options available are vast and I mean vast. You can adjust the character to very minute details like how the eyelids are shaped both upper and lower individually, the eyeball depth, the depth of the back of the neck, and so forth. I could talk for a good few pages on what you can do to adjust your characters appearance but Volition’s character creation feature is really top notch. You can also change your fighting style, taunts, and voices as well to complete your avatar. I had to remember that I only had a limited time with the game but you could easily be lost for hours in creating a look for your character. For my game I took a suggestion from the THQ rep and created a nice little rendition of the Heath Ledger Joker from The Dark Knight with a British accent and an insane look when he’s standing around. He actually sounded like Mel Gibson and I was thrown off a few times when he would talk during the cut scene. Either way your created character will appear as is in all cut scenes.
So starting out you have to bust out of the prison and here is where you can either go through a tutorial to teach you how to play or a take a different route where you get into the main game faster. The tutorial does a nice job at giving you the little ins and outs of how to control your character and interact with the environment. After you bust out of prison, you’ll get back to your old stomping grounds, Stilwater.
Stilwater has undergone a dramatic change since the first game. The developers have really done a great job redoing the city from the ground up. In the story, the Ultor Corporation is responsible for the major changes that have gone on around town and that let the developers go on to develop new sites, areas, and update old settings. As far as size goes, you can expect it to be bigger than the original giving you more room to explore. Right from the beginning, you can go anywhere on the map. You won’t be limited so if you want to travel all the way to the opposite side of Stilwater, go right ahead. No there won’t be random road blocks or police chasing after you should you decide to explore certain parts of Stilwater and having the ability to wander around uninhibited is a great touch. The city is pretty much opened to you and all the locations are marked but with question marks until you drive by them. Unlike Grand That Auto IV, there is a great deal of locations to visit in Saint’s Row 2 giving the player a nice variety of things to do in every area of the game.
Driving around Stilwater, Volition has done a great job at offering up great graphics with little or no pop-in. Every transition of environments and incoming objects were smooth and didn’t suffer from the sudden appearance that’s evident in Grand Theft Auto IV. I did see an occasional texture pop but it was pretty rare. Stilwater does look pretty nice and Volition’s attention to detail in the open world can be seen when driving around. The building’s architecture differs in various areas with some great sites like the University and Arena. The textures are also very detailed as well adding to the creation of a visually appealing city.
While the amount of cars on the road isn’t that many, the variety is there. Traffic does get a little bit heavier at times but never to the point of being heavily congested. One thing that Grand Theft Auto IV suffered from was the car you were driving usually populated the roads. I was happy to see a lot more different cars driving around than the one I was currently in. Some of the cars do have some independent objects that break off when crashed into. I was driving around and rear ended an RV with a bike and spare tire on the back. To my surprise the bike and the tire fell off the car and tumbled in different directions while the RV continued driving. It’s a small but pretty cool little feature that might not add to the gameplay but its good eye candy.
The car models offer some good distinct looks and different driving abilities. I found the cars to be easier to drive than those of Grand Theft Auto IV for the most part. Even the motorcycles felt a little easier to control. I was able to pick up the game quickly and drive without any paroblems, even power sliding with precision in certain cars. One vehicle that really shows off the different handling ability is the tow truck. Without anything behind it’s not too bad but once you’re dragging another car it becomes a very touchy vehicle to turn in jackknifing at the drop of a hat. While the one mission I used the truck had me towing a car away, I was surprised that I was able to drop the tow and pick up another car instead. In my case, it was a cop car following me that unlucky got hitched to my hook. I bet that was a big surprise to him when I started to drag him around.
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