IGN Review of Saints Row 2
When people see Saints Row 2 they'll instantly think of Grand Theft Auto IV. It's inevitable. It moves similarly, the scenes have the same saturated lighting and there are several parallels that can be drawn between the gameplay of the two. Heck, the text is even color coded in a similar way for mission objectives. But, be warned, Saints Row 2 is most certainly not GTA.
Thankfully this is one imitator that turns out to be much more than a straight carbon copy. In fact, Saints Row 2 takes GTA's gameplay, turns it on its side and sends it rolling down a mountain filled with land mines, roving monster trucks and ninjas. Lots and lots of ninjas.
What does that translate to in terms of quality? A crazy good time. Saints Row 2 may not be as pretty or have the production values of Rockstar's rock star, but it does offer hours of zany entertainment that will please fans of open world gangster gaming.
Saints 2 picks up a few years after the events of the first. Your character has been in a prison hospital stuck in a coma since he was blown off of a yacht, thus badly burning your exterior. Luckily that happens to open the door to the robust character customization. You can select from three female accents and three male accents as well as the usual huge array of physical traits. Plus later in the game you'll earn new personalities, taunts, costumes and fighting styles. It's hilarious to strap the hot dog suit or the Borat bathing suit on your character and then watch some of the more dramatic cutscenes.
Of course once you're done creating your evil concoction it's time to bust out of prison, free your long-time running mate Johnny Gat and then build the Saints back into the prominent gang that they once were. Of course that means reclaiming your old stomping grounds and getting a few lieutenants to govern your peons.
The beginning of Saints Row 2 is actually a bit more engaging than your typical open world game. There's not much of a tutorial and you aren't doing menial tasks like taking someone's girlfriend to eat and then back to her house. Instead you're breaking out of prison, hopping on the back of a gunboat and going to town on some pursuing copters and police boats. Good times.
After you complete the first few tasks the game really opens up. There's no unlocking of islands or other boroughs, instead the whole city of Stilwater is available to you from the get-go. And with that freedom comes a plethora of activities and diversions to try out. There's the all-new Trail Blazer and Septic Avenger or you can try out the analog stick-based sex mini-game. They're all just as fun and outrageous as the next.
It's in that ridiculous nature that Saints Row 2 really finds its niche. Driving down the highway on a flaming ATV, exploding cars to extend your timer or throwing your limp body into oncoming traffic to rack up a medical bill are things that you just don't see in other videogames. SR2's activities are more outlandish than in the first game but they're also more varied. There's still the more mundane racing and helicopter assault, but having the option of going outside the box a bit is great.
So while the off-the-wall activities are what earn you respect to be able to play the main story missions, it's the campaign where players will have the most fun. Unlike the first Saints, SR2 keeps most of the voice acting at a very high level. Characters are witty, mean and always willing to throw out an insult to an innocent passerby. Only in the secondary characters will you find a slight drop in quality.
The story follows your quest to take down three gangs: The Sons of Samedi, The Brotherhood and The Ronin with the Ultor Corporation coming in at the end. Each gang involves a different one of your three recruited lieutenants, thus pulling the player a bit deeper into each of the storylines. Characters die, there are emotions that flow from your character and there are cutscenes that help build the dramatics. The production values aren't at the level that I'd like to see, but every so often I would be impressed with what I was watching on-screen.
The missions, and there are a lot of them, do a good job of staying varied throughout your onslaught to bring down each gang. There are missions where you'll be throwing fireworks out of the back of a truck or you'll have to evade a group of trucks in a makeshift demolition derby. While there are still the standard "go kill everyone here, then go kill everyone here" type of missions that get slightly monotonous over time, the majority stay varied and fun. The development team at Volition also added a handy checkpoint system which should eliminate some of the frustrations that were felt in the first game.
Aside from the aforementioned touch of adding a checkpoint system, there are also a few other finite additions that are worth mentioning. The first is that of cruise control. To ease the art of the drive by players can now hold the left shoulder button to keep the speed of their car steady so their right thumb can then return to aiming. Second, when swimming you can now press a face button to instantly warp to the shore. The only small detail that was left out seems to be trophies for the PS3 fans of the world.
So the gameplay is fun, wacky and varied. The production values may not be as high as they are elsewhere, but Saints Row 2 is more of a low-budget Bruckheimer flick than a Scorsese-style Departed, so that's really no big deal.
The real negatives for Saints Row 2 come in the technical department. From graphics to AI to the sheer inner-workings of the game, SR2 has blemishes in every area. First, graphically it isn't as attractive as the competition. Character models and environments aren't as detailed as they could be, the framerate drops every so often (with a v-sync option included), and the collision detection is wonky at best. I constantly got pedestrians stuck in the grill of my car (no joke) or sometimes even stuck inside my car.
While driving on the streets you'll also notice a good bit of draw-in and fade that includes cars that downright disappear in some places. I've been chasing people on a hitman mission and had their car completely disappear from sight and radar. Not cool. I've also had helicopters warp to the basement of a barge when reloading a game and other open world wackiness that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Toss in the fact that I've actually had the game lock up on two separate systems a handful of times, and I can't help but feel that Saints Row 2 could have used some more time in the shop.
That's not say that Saints Row 2 always looks bad, in fact, more often than not it looks good (shoot the four-car train with a rocket to see what I mean), but when things go wrong they go seriously wrong and sadly that lessens the immersion of the experience.
The artificial intelligence is a bit more hit or miss. Sometimes enemies will take bystanders as their hostage while firing at you while other times they'll stand there, mid-firefight and not react to your presence. Every one of their friends is trying to kill me, yet they could really care less.
The sound in the game is solid to say the least. The aforementioned voice acting packs in the Hollywood talent to give to Saints and they do a great job. The sound effects are good, minus the sub-machine gun that sounds like a pea shooter. The soundtrack is one that has been described as "all over the map" by some editors, but for a set of eleven radio stations that's not such a bad thing. There's rap, there's R&B, there's metal and there's '80s. What more do you want?
Well, some might want something more than a standard single-player campaign and luckily multiplayer is one of Saints Row 2's best qualities. First, there's co-op play. The entire world is open to both players via online or system link (sorry, no split-screen) and that means that every mission in the campaign can be played with a buddy. The AI scales to fit the added player and you'll see many more hooligans trying to step in your way because of that. Everything is more fun with a friend and Saints Row 2 is no different.
Competitive multiplayer is also a great deal of fun. While the whole isn't opened up, the action is instead confined to individual neighborhoods. Eight or twelve players (depending on the mode) can join up and compete against each other in an objective-based mode or just standard killing. A couple of exclusive multiplayer activities are added to an already impressive list and players need to battle it out for the largest bankroll possible.
At first I thought I'd be disappointed by the restricted game world playing competitively, but the restricted size of each neighborhood actually keeps the action at a steady pace. There are little touches like in-game modifiers that skew the challenge for one team or another and a modest leveling system that sees you work your way up the ladder for bragging rights.
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