Saints Row 2
OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
The sequel to a blatent Grand Theft Auto rip-off has a lot more going for it than you might expect.
Saints Row received a lot of success as the first open world game for this current generation of consoles, now, two years later we get to see how its sequel stands up in a post GTA4 world.
Let me get something out of the way nice and early, comparing Saints Row 2 to GTA is a lot like putting Need for speed next to Gran Tourismo; both are fine games and provide very different experiences within their respective genres. That said, there’s many possible comparisons I’m could to make, not just to show how saints is the same, but to show how the two differ.
As I mentioned before, Saints 2 is an open world game, it has the usual drill of side missions, gangs, guns and carjacking. However, as games like GTA 4 are being increasingly serious and straight laced, Saints Row 2 takes a “why so serious” approach, far away from GTA’s moral choices and instead the protagonist is downright brutal, but more on that later. The story’s layout won’t surprise you if you’ve played the first Saints, the story continues from the previous game and has the same kind of structure, complete a few missions at the start of the game, then the story branches out in three different directions and comes together at the end with some final missions, while you’re forced to take side missions along the way to earn enough respect to continue the campaign. The main story has many issues, both technically and creatively; You’ll occasionally have to restart a mission because a target simply isn’t there, or you’ll walk through a door just to die instantly when many enemies instantly spawn through the doorway. One campaign has you dealing with drugs has few memorable moments, others however do have a few hidden surprises and the voice of Michael Dorn is always welcome to anyone who watched the I Am Weasel cartoon, or perhaps the lesson known StarTrek:TNG (Worf), although most of the other voice work and lip syncing is shaky to say the least. The varying quality of the missions is only equaled by the seemingly random difficulty, one mission may set its self up to be an epic battle just to have break down to be a cakewalk, another seemingly insignificant task may end up challenging your patience as much as your skill.
The main story might not be where you spend most of your time in the city of Stillwater, with at least 20 types of side missions to be getting along with, most of which came from the first game, but with a few surprises:
- Streaking: Remove your clothes and run around in front of pedestrians
- Septic Avenger: Drive around in a septic truck and cover buildings with poop
- Fuzz: Stop crime in excessive ways, such as halting the activities of skateboarders with satchel charges
- Fight club
These activities, while mostly fun, can also be the most frustrating part of the game. Rather often they can be just based on the luck of the draw, as the location of any one mission will vary each time you try it and some locations are easier to complete your given objective than others. Although you are required to complete a certain amount of side missions before you can go on in the main quest you’ll still want to play these side missions, not only can some of them be a lot of fun or just over the top extreme, but the rewards are great, sometimes perhaps game-breakingly great. Some rewards will simply be a store discount or a new car, for some missions you’ll unlock unlimited ammo for a specific type of gun and having the ability to shoot dual SMGs without worry of ammo can make you feel like you’re cheating your way through the game. Some of the more amusing un-lockables give you new outfits, such as a traffic cone hat which you’ll see your character happily wearing even through the darkest and most twisted cut scenes.
Dressing your character and gang up as a ninjas or parading around as a giant killer hotdog is only one way of amusing yourself, as the actual character creation can really provide an unhealthy amount of joy. How about making a burly woman with a beard and cockney male voice who swings her hips as she walks, or creating a dude with a heaving chest that talks like a black woman. Personally my favorite character was a skinny white guy with glasses that has a crazy look on his face and a pimp walk. It sounds simply like a fun diversion, but I had tears down my face looking at the freaks of nature I’d created and fortunately for a small fee you can go back and change everything again by just driving to a plastic surgeon.
Taking these characters into multiplayer highlights the wide variety of customization available and allows you to reenact a 12 player epic Pirate vs Ninja battle. The Strong arm multiplayer mode is a team based battle where each team competes at the varying activities around the map, while you still have the option to just gun down the competition, you can also spray tag certain walls around the map to grant your tam bonuses or to hinder the other team. This makes for a pretty unique experience beyond the usual deathmatch mode which is included but is in no way memorable. One more than memorable option is the ability to play every mission and side mission co-op with a buddy over XBL. The co-op works exactly as expected and opens up some very intrusting ways of doing some of the missions. Even with just two players you can make even the dullest missions far more interesting and the crazy missions even more ridiculous.
I’ve mentioned times before about the insanity of the game, but let me give you an example; okay, you need to teach a lesson to a rival do you:
A, Place a prank call?
B, Knock on his door and run away?
C, Buy a geiger counter, take a boat to an island with a power plant, user the geiger counter to locate and collect radioactive waste, escape by helicopter, get shot down, steal a car and drive to his local tattooist, sabotaging the procedure he’s planning on having performed?
If you picked ‘C’ then congratulations! You’ll fit will into the world of Saints Row 2 and the brutal sadism of the protagonist. You also should probably get yourself checked.
A quick look comparing Saints Row 2 and GTA 4 will reveal that Saints appears to be a budget game in comparison, and indeed you’ll have that impression throughout. There’s very little polish, graphics haven’t evolved and it all feels like a hodgepodge of ideas thrown into a package. Bugs are rampant, the old trick of jumping on a car and materializing inside still exists, sometimes when trying to jack a police cruiser you’ll get in the back and if you look away from a car for just an instant it may vanish. The frustration of these faults can get on top of you, but fortunately there’s so much to do that you can always come back to what’s troubling you and these foibles are easy to forget when you’re having so much fun being involved in the circus of Stillwater.