In the first year of the Xbox 360 life, a true competitor to GTA had appeared. The game was Saints Row and the developer, Volition, looked to take the sandbox style game genre to a whole new level. They did so with next gen graphics, tons of content, and a giant playground. For years, it was considered the best of the genre but everyone knew that it would have to stand up against GTA4. GTA4 ended up blowing the game out of the water and Volition tries to up the ante with Saints Row 2.
For those new to the same series, Saints Row 2 takes place in the city of Stilwater. A large city with a variety of locales each filled with gun-totting gang member. The sequels takes place a few years after the event so the originally and includes the same lead character, sort of. For the first time I can remember, you technically play the same character in both games but both characters fully customizable. So in a way, it's almost like a TV show that has jumped the shark and added a new actor to regular role and no one noticed the difference. I mean not only can the character be a different race; the character can be a female as well. In any case, this is pretty cool in that the storyline picks up without a hitch rather than having to break in a whole new character.
Like the original, Saints Row 2 is about getting your gang, the 3rd Row Saints, to the top of the mountain among the gangs once again. To do this, you will have to complete missions that have you take down other gangs through killings, robbery, and other destructive tactics. The gangs are the Ronin, Japanese and wannabe Japanese gang members that use swords, the Sons of Samedi, a gang headed up by some Caribbean gang lords with pothead college kids as soldiers, the Brotherhood, tough tattooed brutes with fast cars and lots of guns, and the Ultor Corporation which of course is the evil corporation that has ties to the gangs of Stilwater. The system to do the missions is unique to the series, and frankly, I don't like it. You have a respect bar that's filled by completing side mission, killing gang member, driving crazy and various other ways. Once you gain a certain amount of respect, you will have the option to do one of the gang missions. This forces you to play the extra content of the game. For me, I use the side missions and stuff as a break from the regular missions, but in Saints Row, the main missions are the reward for spending time with all the side missions. I didnt like it in the original and I still don't like it now.
The gang missions are pretty standard missions and not much variety, but then again, the whole purpose of the missions have a similar premise that's been used in GTA-type games so it shouldn't be a surprise. Missions will have you blow stuff up, kill a lot of gang members, and so on. Where the real creativity of the game shines is in its side missions. You have the typical racing missions, steal certain cars, mayhem mission (you just destroy everything around you), and ride a taxi side mission. The unique side missions include the Septic Avenger, you take a tanker filled with crap and shoot it over all over the place, Crowd Control, you act as a bodyguard to a celebrity grabbing crazed fans and throwing them off building or into tables to stop them, Escort, drive around a hooker while avoiding paparazzi and several others. Also, to break away from the game altogether, you can head to one of your cribs and play a game within the game, Zombie Uprising. A simple game of just killing waves up waves of zombies; you'll have some good times with it. When you complete these side missions, you'll get the respect need for the gang missions and you'll unlock special abilities that will do stuff like take less damage or pay less for clothes.
Speaking of clothes, the customization is a huge aspect of the game. You have thousands of possibilities to choose from to make your guy a model, a thug, or just an ugly brute. You pick your race as well which dictates how your character will sound. There's even an option to choose how you walk whether it's a standard walk or a pimp walk, you'll have several fun choices. Don’t worry about having these set in stone because you can change it up by going to a plastic surgeon later in the game. You even unlock certain attributes and fighting styles of other gang members when you complete a specific amount of missions. The customizing doesn't stop there. During the game, you gang hangout can be customized to include pimped out home theater system, a bar, and even stripper poles. Your personal cribs also have the same option and when you customize, you add style points which help your respect go up. But oh no, it doesn't stop there. Another new customization is the ability to choose the look of your gang and their rides. The gang will still represent their colors but the looks can be changed from the typical athletic wear look, to the more high class look, and even a straight pimps and hos look. Finally, as expected, you can customize your character whether buying new clothes, jewelry, and even tattoos. Again, the better you look the higher the style the more the respect earned. For fun, you can outfit your male character with the female outfits that are available.
The controls and gameplay are solid without any weak spots. One analog stick controls aiming while the other takes care of movement letting you run and gun very easily. A new edition to the controls is the over the shoulder view that can be toggled. Clicking on the right stick will bring the camera over the shoulder and allow you much better accuracy. While this view has become popular the last several years, Saints Row 2 does the unfortunate by slowing you down to a crawl while in this mode. Your aim is great but it keeps you from the run and gunning which is what the game is really built around. The only weapon that benefits from this view is the machine gun since the gun is not that precise while running and gunning. A new move added is the ability to throw your enemies. Get close and you can grab a person and use them as a human shield. However, you do have the choice of pressing a button and throwing that person several feet away and off buildings if you're near the ledge. It's amazing how something so simple can add so much more fun to the game. Driving in the game is fine, thankfully not annoying like in GTA4. A downside to the gameplay is that there are glitches that popup here and there. Saints Row 1 was riddled with glitches and SR2 is not that much better. A common glitch is when you reach a certain spot at a certain speed; something happens with the game and all the sudden your character will be invisible and unable to move. For some this is a minor problem but when you have to restart a long mission because of this, well it doesn't make one happy.
For presentation, the guys at Volition didn't really up the graphics, but instead tried to perfect them. There's a bit more detail here and there, some better effects, and overall a cleaner look. The graphics are solid but it's obvious that they did not take them to another level. As expected with a big title, known actors were brought in to provide voice work that is truly exceptional. Musically, the song list is a great variety of music from well known songs to lesser known songs in a variety of genres from the 80s to metal. Now I don't want to go off on a rant here but seriously, Reggae music? Yeah it was unconventional to have Reggae music as part of the radio stations in GTA3 but does every fucking GTA-type game need a damn reggae station. Is there a clamoring for fucking reggae music among gamers that I haven't heard of? I've never read a thread on a message board complaining about how they didn't have certain reggae artists in the game. Want to know why? BECAUSE NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT REGGAE! The only time people would actually listen to the reggae station in a game is if it had nothing but Bob Marley tracks. Ok, rant over. A new addition, and one of the best additions involving the radio stations in a game, is the making of a play list. Throughout the game, you can find CDs to unlock certain songs that play on the radio stations. You can bypass the search and just go to music shop and buy these songs. When you get these songs, you can create your own radio station, simply called My Music 89.8 that will play only those songs you put on your play list. So it's like having your ipod hooked up to your radio because there's no DJ, no commercials, just your music that you want which is great.
The online part of the game is fun but not a huge aspect of the game. It's there for you have some fun but it's just not a stellar online game. On the other hand, co-op mode is a lot of fun since the two players can really play the game in their own way rather than being forced to do just missions or just do some side missions. You can team up or you don't, it's up to the two players.
Saints Row 2 is not a GTA4 killer. It's a great addition to the series and one of the better games released in the Holiday 2008 period. SR2 will make many gamers happy whether they're new to the series or hardcore fans. It created its own niche in the sandbox games genre and being the best in that niche should be satisfying to all that enjoy the game. In comparison to GTA4, the game is more of like Boyz N the Hood while GTA has been more like the Godfather. You still cannot go wrong getting this game.