Saints Row 2 Review

Dan Webb

Way back in 2006, a little unknown title called Saints Row dropped on to the scene and was hailed as a GTA beater of some sorts. Well, that was back when Rockstar’s latest incarnation was San Andreas, but a lot has changed since then. Rockstar have since decided to tread the path of realism, whereas Volition and Saints Row went the other way and decided to focus on a tongue-in-cheek, fun title where realism is but a distant thought.

Saints Row 2 takes the action back to the streets of Stilwater, some years after the events of Saints Row where you’ll take control of the same unnamed protagonist from the first title and this time, they are blessed with more of a personality. Fresh out of a coma, the main character can not only speak more than a few words now, but they are also blessed with a psychotic personality that Tony Montana himself would be proud of. The story picks up with the Saints trying to recapture their glory days and retake the city, however, not only will they have to contend with 3 newly established gangs, but also with the Ulterior Corporation, run by smarmy, know-it-all, Dane Vogel.

Monster trucks are awesome fun

As soon as you fire the game up, the first thing you’ll have to do is customise your character, from choosing their age, race, build, sex right the way down to their accent, taunts and fighting styles. If you want to recapture the streets as a Krusty the Clown look-a-like, feel free, it’s your character after all. The choices aren't set in stone either, at any point in the game, you can head to a plastic surgeon to change it totally, but obviously, that will cost you a small fee.

The controls and such are almost identical to the original but Volition have tweaked the combat mechanics ever so slightly to include a devastating combo attack which is unleashed if you land 3 successful strikes. In addition to that, you can use props around the city to aid your melee frenzy, ranging from cinder blocks to fire hydrants. The car handling is also as you would expect ... arcadey as hell, allowing you to literally handbrake the car round every corner. The only real disappointment here, is the lack of new car models, there may be a few, but nothing to grab your attention other than the monster truck. Of course, there are helicopters and such present to help you navigate the city, but this was a likely step after their lack of presence last time around.

The story campaign is of a similar structure to the original, offering you 42 story missions that are each tied to a respective gang you are trying to eradicate, but Saints Row 2 offers one nifty addition, 2 player co-op. Of course, the action doesn’t stop there either, most of, if not all of the activities from the original are brought back, as well as a load of new ones which are fantastic in their own right. The new activities include: protecting a celebrity in Crowd Control, kicking ass in Fight Club, spraying the city with human faeces in Septic Avenger to setting the city alight in my personal favourite, Trail Blazer. This of course isn’t everything new and there are tonnes of other activities to keep you and your mates going for some time.

The customisation doesn’t stop at the characters in Saints Row 2, throughout the game you’ll unlock cribs and cars that you can customise to your heart’s content. While it’s not the most advanced internal crib customisation mode (you usually have 3 or 4 selections for each area of your crib), it is a nice touch. Come on people, this is Saints Row 2, not Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, so don’t expect to pick the matching crockery to go with your new drapes. Not only is it nice to have a tangible bonus for your stylish eye, but the more expensive your crib’s interior is and the better you look, you bigger your style bonus will get, that ultimately rewards you with respect multipliers. In addition, you can also customise your gang, from what they wear, their tag, to what they drive.

Welcome to pimp your crib.

One of Saints Row 2’s shining lights is most definitely its reward system. Throughout the game there is a massive list of unlockables that you can unlock by doing one of a number of tasks and these range from certain stunt jumps to headshot streaks. The streaks are tied to more than just head shots as well and the rewards are neatly introduced with a combo star system. The longer you do something, the more stars you get, starting from 1 star bronze going up to 3 star gold; the higher you get in that skill, the more respect you get as a result and the 3 star gold even unlocks a shiny reward for you.

The problem with Stilwater for those who’ve played the original is that it’s pretty much the same city. Volition promised a complete revamp, when in actual fact, what we received is more of a tweak. Sure, some neighbourhoods may have been touched up a little and there have been massive changes to some areas, but on the whole, it’s still the Stilwater we spent 30 hours going around in the original and it doesn’t have the same impact a new location would have had.

Granted, the game has got a little more polish since Saints Row 1 and I must say the car models look fantastic, but the game visually doesn’t really scream that much of an improvement. With graphical glitches, a poor draw distance and more pop up than ever, Saints Row 2 does not really excel on this front. The cut scenes just don’t seem as if they have any anti-aliasing support whatsoever with more jagged edges than a broken vase.

Moving from the inherently annoying to the damn right awesome ... yes, I am talking about the audio aspect of Saints Row 2. The cut scenes would be too much be bear if it wasn’t for the illuminating acting from the cast with all of the main characters pulling their weight. The tone and general attitude of the voiceovers gives the characters so much more life, and credit must be given to Michael Dorn for putting in an epic performance as Brotherhood leader, Mauro. Additional credit to both Daniel Day Kim (Johnny Gat) and Eliza Dushku (Shaundi) as well for bringing two of the Saints’ main characters to life.

As far as the radio goes, there is a great mix and diversity of genres covered; whether your poison is a bit of Paramore, Lamb of God, Duran Duran, Nas or Mozart, there is something for everyone. With 10 stations on offer, you won’t be spoilt for choice either and sometimes, your character may even pipe up and sing along. “The Mix” was a favourite of mine with its 80’s vibe; hearing Sister Christian again gave me flashbacks of Vice City. Plus, there is something just so pleasantly sadistic about mowing down a sidewalk full of people with Karma Chameleon blasting out the radio. Remember kids, don’t try that at home! Also slotted in between the music as well will be timely news updates that speak mostly of your disruptive actions around the city which really adds a great sense of immersion to the experience.

The game also features an online mode but it’s something that I just couldn’t get too excited about. Why developers feel the need to tack these modes on, I really have no idea, but they do and it all seems so thin and bare bones. Strong Arm is the main mode of Saints Row 2 and it is a team based, multi round mode, whereby each round has a different objective. You could be involved in a hitman race to take out certain targets one round, then the next round be involved in a demolition derby, with the final round being a session of “mayhem” unleashing destruction on the neighbourhood. Essentially, the winner is the team with the most money. Throughout the level are “tags” as well which the players can control for certain team bonuses such as police help, more health, better accuracy, etc, which adds another element to the mode. While it is a good idea in essence and has some potential, getting people to work together in a game that promotes being a gangsta is hard work! Every game I had was either unevenly stacked or the other team quit within minutes. Connectivity issues? After Saints Row 1, maybe it is but it’s got a lot to live up to if it’s going to be hailed a successful mode. If Strong Arm doesn’t take your fancy, then Gansta Brawl and Team Gangsta Brawl make a return to complete the multiplayer modes and of course you can spend your hard earned cash at the online store.

Don't mess with the Gat!

The achievements are pretty frustrating on the whole and chances are, if you're playing alone, you’ll only pick up around 250 points for playing through the whole campaign which is about 15 hours of gameplay time. Not only will they have you completing activities to their max level which can be a tad tricky for some and very repetitive, but they have you searching for unique jumps, CDs and then you’ll have to do it all over again with a friend (or you could do it with a friend first time but that's too easy). Then there are the multiplayer achievements which should never be included in a title that bills itself as a free roaming sandbox game. Obviously, Volition haven’t picked up any tips from the 3 years the 360 has had achievements and all in all, the list is a total letdown in every way, shape and form.

Despite being set in the same city which is hugely disappointing, Saints Row 2 is by far better than its predecessor. Not only are there tonnes more activities to do around the city, but we finally have a story and a cast that has a soul. Once you’re knee deep in it, you just can’t wait to see what’s round the next corner ... Even better is, you can experience all that with a friend too if that’s what takes your fancy. While the visuals haven’t really stepped up to the plate, the rest of the experience felt that much more solid and truly has won a place in our hearts. Sure there is multiplayer, but that’s just a nice addition for some and a nasty distraction for others ... I can tell you now though, Saints Row 2 is a game worthy of your cash.

Great cast performance from the vast majority of voiceovers that really breathes life into their characters. With plenty of diverse genres covered musically as well via the radio stations, it all makes Saints Row 2 an audio experience.

Anti-aliasing issues, plenty of pop up, graphical glitches galore and a draw distance that leaves a lot to be desired. A bit touched up from the original, but not enough in all honesty.

Plenty of variety in activities that are all fun and quirky in their own right but after a while tend to grind. The combat and driving gameplay mechanics are not only easy to control but a pleasure on the whole, however, at times the bugs will have you pulling teeth out.

Same city with a very similar feel and not enough has changed; a few islands here, a few new buildings there. A distinct case of déjà-vu cripples the game in some respects but other than that, enabling the story as a co-op adventure nets the game some serious points, as does its memorable story.

Too much like the original and that wasn’t necessarily a good list. You’ll be collecting and doing the hundreds of tasks beyond the fun line to get most of the points. Then there are the online multiplayer achievements in an area that really doesn’t warrant them. Credit to Volition for the secret "Soprano" achievement.

The single player story is absolutely engaging in Saints Row 2, with a great cast to boot. It’s great to know that a good story with a soul can make the same old city a lot more entertaining. The online co-op will attract a lot of attention and rightly so, but the multiplayer mode doesn’t really have much substance. Like I say, sandbox games are all about the single player experience and THQ and Volition are right on the money here.

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