The original Saints Row was a solid action game that benefited from the fact that it was the only GTA-style sandbox game on the market. With its "gangsta" story and non-stop violence, it was easy to draw a direct line from Rockstar Games' popular franchise and this THQ action game. But even though the parallels were blatantly obvious, many critics (myself included) were willing to forgive the game's sameness as a stop gap before GTA IV. Sadly there's really only one way to accurately summarize Saints Row 2: It's a pre-GTA IV game living in a post-GTA IV world.
Saints Row 2 picks up quite a while after the events of the first game. Despite the fact that you were blown to smithereens in a boat bomb, you play as the exact same person you played in the first game. Confused? Well don't be, because within the first few seconds of the game everything is explained. Apparently you were kept alive in a prison hospital. In the years since you were incarcerated you've been in a coma and, for whatever reason, plastic surgeons have had their way with you. This means that the game can get away with allowing you to create a brand new character all while still keeping the continuity alive. As far as I'm concerned they stole this plot device straight out of a daytime Soap Opera, but if it means playing as somebody else then I'm perfectly fine with it.
The cool thing about this game is how much freedom you have to create a custom character. Not only do you get to design the face and body type, but you can also choose their sex, voice and walk. I decided to create an attractive (yet still bad ass) female warrior; mostly because it's about time the fairer sex had a chance to take part in the sandbox fun. No matter what kind of character you decide to go with, you'll be treated to a protagonist with a lot to say, which is a real departure from the first game.
After escaping prison you flee for Stilwater, which has gone through something of a transformation in the past few years. Landmarks from the first game have been turned into tourist traps, there are skyscrapers everywhere and the Saints (the main gang from the first game) has been completely destroyed. It's up to you to make your mark on the city, convince people to join your gang and, most importantly, take back the city for the Saints. In other words, you're doing almost exactly the same thing you did in the first game.
Apparently being in a coma at the Stilwater prison didn't help rehabilitate you, because it doesn't take more than a mission or two before you're back to your old habits. We're talking about getting revenge on people you don't like, killing other gang members, sabotaging people and screwing with the police. The sad truth is that if you jumped into this game four or five missions in you would think that you were playing the first Saints Row, not a brand new story set years later.
Unfortunately this been there/done that feeling doesn't end with the missions. Even the city feels like a left over from the first game ... which is probably because it IS a left over from the first game. That's right; you are still thugging it up the city of Stilwater, the only sandbox game to name their city after a fake band in a Cameron Crowe movie. Although the city is slightly larger this time around (around 30% larger, from what I can tell), it's disappointing that we weren't sent to a completely different city.
The truth is, at first I didn't even notice that I was in Stilwater. It wasn't until a few missions in that I had a weird sense of déjà vu. All of a sudden I knew exactly where to go and how to get there. I knew where all the short cuts were and what I should be avoiding. I knew everything about the city I needed to know to survive, which certainly gave me a leg up when dodging the fuzz and tracking down other gang members. But that's half the problem, because as big and open as Stilwater is, it's never been all that interesting of a location. To me it just felt like another generic sandbox city, devoid of the humor and character that we've seen from Vice City and San Andreas.
Page 1 of 3