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.
Controlling an area also allows you to buy stores and earn money from them. This creates a secondary revenue stream which you can use to buy more weapons, food (health), and cribs. Volition has gone all out with the crib controls in Saints Row 2 as you can customize every thing from the style of the apartment to the size of the TVs. You can even choose the types of stripper poles you want in your crib. Why is this important? The Cribs (along with the clothes you wear) increase your style ranking. When your style ranking is high enough you get an added respect bonus for completing missions and activities.
The big selling point of Saints Row 2 is the drop-in/drop-out co-op play which is extremely well executed. You just fire up the game, select co-op, and then the game shows you which of your friends are playing the game and are available. You send and invite to them and once they accept you are immediately added to their game as long as they aren't in the middle of a mission or activity. If they are in the middle of something you have to wait until they are done before the game will let you join. Once you're in though you can do everything in the single player campaign and having a buddy along for the ride is a lot of fun. John and I played through significant parts of the storyline and through several of the activities together and it worked flawlessly. There were times where John and I just drove around the city taunting and shooting people, laughing hysterically while we did it which means either the game is a lot of fun or John and I are easily amused...you pick.
The co-op system doesn't seem to allow way point sharing as John and I would try to set markers for each other but couldn't see them on the map. It was a little frustrating to tell John to go to the waypoint and then have hime wonder where it was. The game also ratchets up the difficulty quite a bit when you have a second player in a game so make sure you've got someone good playing with you as you'll need the extra help (I'll be nice but the game did really overestimate John's skill level).
Another exemplary part of Saints Row 2 is the character creator. While the ability to completely customize characters down to the height of their eyes before has appeared in other games, Saints Row 2 takes it a step further by allowing you to customize how they walk, talk, taunt, and their default facial expression. Knowing that Saints Row 2 was a completely amoral game I wanted to take a tame corporate mascot and use them to re-claimStilwater as kind of a twist on the "Stay Puft Mashmallow" man. I ended up picking a Columbus corporate icon and creatied a coked out version of Wendy from the Wendy's burger chain. Coming up with a gaunt, well trafficked facade was easy enough but what really put it over the top was the "Insane" facial expression and pimp walk. I was able to complete the look by adding a "tramp stamp" at one of the tattoo parlors in the game but unfortunately one that said "Ronald was here" wasn't available in the game.
The PS3 version does include a few motion control goodies as you can use the SIXAXIS motion control to pilot boats and helicopters. They aren't bad but I turned them off after trying them out for the first time. It's not that they are bad uses of the system but the control felt a little tighter with thethumbsticks . It is odd that they didn't incorporate the SIXAXIS controls for when you have to shake a paint can in the game in the spray painting portion of the game but I'm glad that Volition was smart enough to give people the option to turn the motion control off. Volition also didn't see fit to add Trophy support to the game so those of you looking for them are going to have to look else where.
Graphically the game is not much of an improvement over the previous game. They weren't bad bad but don't go in expecting high end graphics. The game does run really well for the most part as I only experienced a few slowdowns. That said the graphics for the city are very well done and each part of down has it's own distinct look and feel. You know when you're in a low class part of Stilwater or when you're in the University area as you just have to look at the people, the buildings, and the cars in the area. I'm not sure who's runs the Stilwater Home Owner's Association but they are doing a bang up job.
The audio in the game is rock solid as not only do the firefights sound good but Volition didn't skimp on the voice actors as there are several B name actors on the voice over roster. I actually thought twice before putting the character played by Neil Patrick Harris down. The musical sound track is also very solid with enough variety to keep everyone happy. I would have loved to have the option to create my own playlist from MP3's on my PS3 hard drive but I did find enough likable tunes in the game to keep me happy.
Saints Row 2 is a solid game that I had a lot o fun playing. It's not perfect by any means and the over the top violence and language sometimes takes away from the game. It's almost like they are trying too hard at points in the game. There's a lot to like in the game and the game is an easy recommendation if you have a buddy to play with or if you're looking for a sandbox game with an edge.
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Another solid outing for Volition as they've cranked out a game that is a lot of fun to play. The co-op features and character creator are great features but the game could use another level of graphical polish.