My experience with Saints Row 2 is limited as I never played the original game beyond the demo. I was interested to see how the sequel was going to work out as I was fairly impressed with what I saw at theTHQ Sprint event earlier this year. This leads to my first issue with the game in that the game does expect you to have some knowledge of the first game before diving into the sequel. Why Volition didn't include a recap of the previous game before the start of the game is beyond me but I was able to fill in the blanks as the game progressed. The story picks up five years after the original game as you managed to survive the explosion at the end of the last game (spoiler alert?). You awake inside theStilwater prison's medic ward and discover that while you were out of the picture the city is no longer controlled by the Saints and that the city has been cleaned up quite a bit and is now run by a major corporation.
The tone of the game is interesting as Volition is going in a completely different direction than the Grand Theft Auto series. If Grand Theft Auto IV was a Martin Scorsese film then Saints Row 2 is a Kevin Smith/Michael Bay collaboration. There's nothing wrong with that as the game is filled with more adult innuendo and over the top violence than any two other games on the market. There are no real moral quandaries or hard decisions to make in the game as the game allows you to let your id flow without consequences.
The story of the game is told through a series of missions but in order to play the missions in the game you have to earn respect which is be done by taking out rival gang members, pulling off stunts in vehicles, or by completing activities. The activities are where the fun parts of the game are as the designers at Volition have come out with some great ideas for things to do. You can scam insurance agencies by running into traffic, you cande -value property by covering them with raw sewage, you can protect celebrities by throwing their fans into cars and wood chippers and so much more. The sheer variety and hilarity of some of the activities is incredible. There are a few clunkers here and there but the overall quality is very high.
The missions represent the plot of the game as this is where you start working your way through the rival gangs in the game. You can choose to either play them as they turn up or work your way through one gang before starting on the next. Being a single minded fellow I worked my way through one gang before starting on the next just to keep a strong single narrative to the game. I did dabble a few times outside of an individual storyline but for the most part I worked through one gang before starting on the next. The missions are a little more sane than the activities and start out fairly easy ramp up in difficulty as you reach the end of a plot path. Completing missions will give you some respect, cash, as well as control of one of the 45 neighborhoods in the city.
Outside of the missions and activities there are Strongholds and Diversions that you can work with if you want to try something different. As you would expect Strongholds are bases of operations for one of the gangs and taking them out will earn you control of another neighborhood. These aren't necessarily just invading one building and taking out a bunch of goons but sometimes have several levels that you will have to complete. The diversions are fun little things you can do in the game such as running a taxi service, selling drugs, orumm ... servicing the residents of the city. Again there's a good variety of things to do and helps keep the game interesting. Each activity has several different levels that increase in difficulty and rewards as you play through them. You can stop an activity between levels and then return later to finish it.
The game does a decent job of managing all of the things to do by providing you with a map of available missions, activities, strongholds, and cribs. You can then filter them out based on what you're looking for. This works well except that there's no way to move between the different locations on the menu. This isn't a problem except for the missions because there are so few of them and it can be hard to see them when the map is zoomed all the way out.
Once you control a neighborhood you will occasionally have to defend the hood against rival gangs which requires you to pay a visit to remind the interlopers that they aren't welcome in this neck of the woods. The longer you own a hood, the more members of your gang you'll see walking the streets. This comes into play when you're being chased by a rival gang and need some help taking them out as yourhomies have your back (ugh, did I really just say that?). This is nice when you've accidentally side swiped a police cruiser and need someone to take the heat off. As you progress through the game you can also recruit gang members to tag along with you on missions which can be helpful in some of the later, more difficult missions. The AI isn't necessarily the brightest in the word but they do a good job of soaking up bullets in heavy fire fights. You can also revive deadhomies within 30 second by giving them a little nip of a magical 40 ouncer that you keep on your person at all times.
The added followers have the unintended consequence of turning you into a soccer Mom because you get your second meat shield, errhomie you have to be a little more selective in the cars you drive around town. So long two door coupe and hello mini-van as they can be trusted to get themselves from point A to point B without getting lost. You learn to not pick them up until you need them but it was still a bit of a shock to realize I was looking for practical cars instead of sports coupes.
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