Violation returns to the streets of Stilwater with a new ghetto blasting tale of vengeance in Saints Row 2. Bigger, badder and crazier then the tremendously successful original Stilwater gangster, Saints Row 2 is here to expand on what we expect out of sandbox action games with a good does of the ultra violence.
The Saints Row vs. Grand Theft Auto conversation is bound to come up, so why not start with it. It's almost a given that Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto franchise will be mentioned when you have another sandbox styled gangster game. Violation realizes this is an unfortunate fact and has been working towards separating the similar themed games. The first Saints Row managed to slighly pull away from Grand Theft Auto with its over-the-top style and Saints Row 2 takes that formula and gives it a nice shot of adrenaline. It is interesting to see Rockstar heading towards a more realistic setting in GTAIV as the Saints jump miles away from realism. In GTAIV you have realistic vehicle physics, character driven narratives and few moments of absurd violence. Saints Row 2 is basically the opposite. The action in Saints Row 2 is all over-the-top ultra violence with rubbery physics wrapped up in an unbelievable storyline. If anything Saints Row feels more like Grand Theft Auto III’s gameplay with San Andreas storyline then any other GTA game. It’s pretty safe to say that gamers who enjoy the one will enjoy the other. If you’re looking for straight out wild action pick the Saints, if you want a more down to earth story driven game look up GTAIV. Both games are excellent and deserve all the attention they are receiving.
Now that the GTA debate has been addressed lets get into the action in Saints Row 2. Saints Row 2 picks up five years after the events of the first game. In the first outting you play an unnamed character who works his way up the ranks of the 3rd Street Saints gang by taking on the rival gangs in Stilwater. This leads to a dramatic set of circumstances that leaves you blown into smithereens on Alderman Hughes private yacht. Saints Row 2 picks up as you a lying in the hospital bed waking up from a five year coma. This gives Violation an excuse to use the character editor and introduce your new player as one and the same, females now included. After you character is built your first moments in Saints Row 2 start off appropriately with a violent killing spree as you break out of prison. Out on the streets you learn that the Saints have been destroyed and the old hood has been transformed into a silver paradise of high rise towers. This doesn’t sit well for your character, so he finds former Saint Johnny Gat and brings the fight back to the streets of Stilwater.
Zombies, Septic Tanks, Respect
Saints Row 2 isn't shy about pushing the player through its own chaotic path of destruction. Unlike a lot of other games that hold your hand while you learn the basic mechanics, Saints Row 2 throws you into the world unrestricted with guns blazing. The world is yours as you can pick and choose which activities you will participate in, and there is a lot to do in Stilwater. Saints Row 2 is still about the main storyline, but now a few new classes have been added to the curriculum. This includes all the events from the first Saints Row along with six new selections. Without going into too much detail here is a quick overview of the new activities.
The first activity is “Fuzz” where you have to wrack up footage as the 5-0 in a mock up of the T.V. show Cops. Next is the stomach turning “Septic Avenger” which has you spraying septic waste all over the city of Stilwater. “Heli Assault” gives you a Tornado attack helicopter to go to town with causing massive destruction. “Trail Blazer” is insane explosive version of quad racing. “Fight Club”, self explanatory, “Crowd Control” lets you act as a security guard for a celebrity and last, but not least is the full mini-game add-on called “Zombie Uprising”. Zombie Uprising can be played on televisions and is a game that pits you against monster zombies in a survival mode. The Zombie game is pretty cool and definitely above the call of duty compared to the other games. All in all this is a whole lot of extras put in with the original content. Saints Row 2 is definitely packed to the brim with content.
Saints Row 2 approaches change with a mild swagger which is great for all those gamers who loved the original game. One change in the formula is made by adding a prerequisite of earning a certain amount of respect before you can jump into a main missions. Respect is earned by playing through the number of activates, or by being a general homicidal maniac against the Stilwater police or rival gangs. Your characters personal style also lends a helping hand to the amount of respect you earn when completing activates. At first I questioned Violations idea of focusing your attention away from the storyline, but once you get rolling you’ll truly enjoy earning respect through the various other activities.
The Gangs of Stilwater
Like the original Saints Row you can branch out and play all the main storylines at once, or focus your attack to one or two gangs. The number of gangs has been increased with a more diverse list of adversaries to battle with. Aside from the Saints, the other gangs consist of the Brotherhood, who's style consist of tattoos and piercing's giving them a warrior-esq tribal persona. The Sons of Samedi, a Haitians gang that has a voodoo thing going for them with their expertise being drugs. The Ronin are another gang that come from the streets of Tokyo Japan. The Ronin are the flashiest gang who often sport racing bikes and samurai swords. Lastly is “the man” in Stilwater is the Ultor Corporation. The Ultor Corporation acts as the major adversary in Stilwater which comes later in the game. It is the Ultor corporation is the claimed the Saint’s home turf.
Tourism is on the rise
The city for the most part remains the same. If you’re like me and have finished the first game you will probably recognize a lot of the locations in Stilwater. Violation has expanded the world roughly to be about one a half the size of the original map. Besides the Ultor home-makeover, a university section has been added along with a marina, mall, casino and two islands, one that hosts Stilwater’s Pentitentionary which is a take on Alcatraz. The missions themselves are varied throughout your travels with the common bond of violence holding them together. At times they can be a little repetitive, however that is expected in a game of this nature. For the amount of missions packed in the game there is enough variety to keep players interested when you mix in the storyline. I was constantly jumping in and out of activities, main storyline objectives and random exploration. Saints Row 2 isn’t a cakewalk either, I found a good majority of the missions to be more challenging then expected. They have definitely beefed up the level of intensity and challenges for the sequel.
For other features, Saints Row 2 now includes mini-checkpoints that are placed like racing markers during an objective. This saves a lot of time if you are having problems. The checkpoints don’t spoil the action and are usually set at a good pacing between each other. Given I had to replay a number of the missions, I was greatly happy the Violation added this feature. Another addition is cruise control on the car which can help keep the focus on shooting during driving missions. I wasn’t too happy with the button layout at first concerning the driving with the face buttons as the gas and brakes, but I got used to it after a few minutes of rampaging. For the cruise control, I hardly used it, but I can see a lot of players taking advantage of slapping it on.
Stilwater is infested with bugs!
On the negative side of the row, the game can be glitchy at times. The glitches are random and usually so odd that they are hard to explain. They also range from disappearing gang members, gang members turning into police, cars paint changing colour during missions, and even buttons not working when switching weapons. During my time in the Row I would come across one every now and again. The glitchy nature of the game never affects the gameplay in a major way. They usually only garner a “oh, that’s was weird” statement, or even a good laugh once and a while. With Saints Row 2 being so off-the-wall, nothing fazes you while you’re playing the game. Sandbox games are a hard project to nail down, all-and-all I think Violation and THQ did a good job making everything run in sync.
Multiplayer is another big component to Saints Row 2 with support for full co-op play over the net. The co-op is the biggest plus in Saints Row 2 because it’s so much fun to blast away in the city unrestricted with friends. All the missions can be played together and have Xbox 360 Achievements (sorry no Trophies) attached to reward co-op play. Saints Row 2 also has a standardized multiplayer mode that is similar to the last game with in game ranks and earnings along with customizable characters. The multiplayer supports up to twelve players and is shrunken to play in different neighborhoods from the main map. The range of multiplayer games are a lot of fun when you are working in teams or playing alone. Get ready for a lot of smack talk, Saints Row 2 is one of the funniest games to play online if you are looking to bust someone’s chops.
The visuals have been mildly been improved in respect to the Saints world. More diversity has been added into the mix without too many adjustments to the core game engine. The character models seem to be pumped up a bit with the animations tweaked to include more movements, but that is about it. Saints Row 2 isn’t the best looking game on the market, however what it lacks in visual flair it makes up for it by the sheer amount of content added. The framerate can also be a problem along with screen tearing which can be adjusted by enabling the v-sync option. At a first glance Saints Row 2 looks a little uglier then when you get into the action. All the problems I was noticing in the first hour started to slowly disappear until I accepted the world and ran with it. Even with the visuals being a little underwhelming there is no way anyone would pass this game up because of its performance.
While I’m on the production values the soundtrack is filled full of a wide variety of songs. It’s not the ultra popular mix that comes along with Grand Theft Auto, but it has a few nice selections. Again, like GTA, Saints Row 2 has a number of radio stations with DJ’s announcing in between the music. This helps make the game feel like a real world and the quality is exceptional. From easy listening on Ezzzy 105, to the heavy metal station Krunch 106.66, you should find a number of toe-tapping songs. The voice acting is also top notch in Saints Row 2. Along with some great direction in the games cut scenes the individual personalities pop out of the game with a realistic vibe.
Saints Row 2 has built its own unique niche with a formula that has been closely scrutinized for being a clone of Grand Theft Auto. However, the Saints has stepped out of the shadow of Grand Theft Auto, making it perfect replacement for all the gamers who want to unload with the madness like the GTA games did in the past. Saints Row 2 takes the formula of sandbox action shooters and adds a whole lot of crazy and over-the-top insanity to the mix. Filled with fast gun battles, great co-operative gameplay, excellent bonus activities and an engaging story, everything is here for a fun night in front of the console and TV. Saints Row 2 isn’t a technical masterpiece, but the plethora of content out weights any minor flaws.
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 10.20.08