Chaos has returned to Stillwater. Two years after the original debut, Saints Row 2 arrives on consoles with all of the over-the-top bloodlust and mayhem you would expect. The first time around, Saints Row had the good fortune to appear before Rockstar managed to get the next installment of GTA on the shelves, but now Saints Row 2 follows behind the critically acclaimed GTAIV by almost a year. Does Saints Row 2 offer players enough compelling content to compete with the likes of Rockstar’s behemoth? Is another visit to Stillwater necessary? Will the Stillwater brand of thug life be able to court the fickle tastes of gamers who have already consumed the delicious entrée of GTAIV? The short answers are certainly, absolutely and most definitely. The longer answer appears below…
The Saints Row series can be considered as a lighter, less realistic and cartoonier version of the worlds shown in the Grand Theft Auto series. In Saints Row 2, players assume the role of the character they portrayed in the first game, albeit with a few “cosmetic” changes. Since the events of the first game have placed you in a coma, you awake a while later having undergone some “reconstructive surgeries.” Yes, players can design their avatar any way they wish, and other characters in the game will remark about how different you look. Yes, Saints Row 2 does not skimp on the tongue-in-cheek, over the top humor it became known for in the first place.
Graphically, there have been many improvements since the first title. It’s obvious that Saints Row does not strive to portray a realistic city the way GTAIV does, but rather a colorful, animated city teeming with violence, sexism, racism and a general sense of moral ambiguity from each and every citizen. Yes, Stillwater is a grand place of gang culture, a perfect place to start a roving band of sociopaths. The framerate is rock solid despite an onslaught of on-screen action and explosions, and there isn’t a loading screen to be found (once you are in the game world, that is). The physics engine, like the rest of the game, eschews realism for more of a dark humor perspective, with characters reacting to the violence by flying through the air or sliding across the ground like “Raggedy Ann.” At times the driving physics seem to really take a back seat to realism with high speed antics that will have most players laughing while handling a hairpin turn at 200mph. At times the game even gives players the “car on a stick” kind of feel, as the speed is so fast it almost looks as if your vehicle is stationary and the world is moving past you. The colors of Stillwater are loud and brilliant, the buildings and people are either amazingly opulent or absolutely decadent. Realistic looking? Not exactly, but it is a place that you will love to stare at for hours on end.
The sound design is loud, offensive, silly and sometimes quite hysterical. The sound effects deliver all the rumbling, cracking, banging and booming in a lively and exciting fashion. The music is the typical hip-hop variety you would expect from a title with such a heavy “thug life” theme running through it. The in-vehicle radio stations are quite an improvement over the last title, but fall a bit short due to the short list of songs overall. It must be stressed, however, that Saints Row 2 does quite a good job at delivering a variety of musical genres, with something for everyone present. There just should have been more of it.
The gameplay style is exactly what you would expect from the genre. Sandbox-style citywide carnage is the order of the day, and Saints Row 2 delivers it all in spades. There are endless things to do between defending your hard-earned territories, participating in random side-quests, establishing respect and street cred with your “brass” being thrown all over town. The controls are tight and really, really easy to get used to, especially for the driving. The Saints Row series has always delivered really snappy controls and the developers have certainly not disappointed this time out. The same cannot be said about the AI of your gang members, though, as any recruits you employ will fumble about quite a bit, sometimes to the point of frustration. There also seems to be random clipping issues, with characters getting trapped in a wall or getting their feet stuck in the ground, etc. This doesn’t happen very often, nor does it really detract from the overall fun of the whole experience.
Saints Row 2 also offers a really robust multiplayer experience, with the crown jewel being in the co-op mode. Players can drop themselves into either end of the city and do whatever they like, including helping each other out or launching into a one-on-one battle with each other. The typical online modes are here as well, with variants like Strong Arm, Racing, Capture The Flag and the like. The Fraud mode is a new take on the “Insurance Fraud” minigame, where teams of online players try to throw themselves in front of cars, trucks and such in order to rack up the highest dollar amount of insurance money. It’s quite a fun trip to try to hurl yourself into the air as fast as possible and in the most horrific ways. Hysterical!
Saints Row 2 retains everything that made the original a great addition to the sandbox-city crime genre, and tweaks it even further. If GTAIV is the granddaddy of the genre, then Saints Row 2 is the young, brash upstart making a lot of noise to draw attention to himself. While it can be said that the game doesn’t do much to advance the genre into new territory, it does keep the tried-and-true formula tightly in tact while delivering a real blast of a gameplay experience. That is, of course, if you’re not the type of person that is easily offended by foul language, excessive violence, sexual themes and racist language. If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re the type of gamer who would consider those traits to be more like requirements.