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Saints Row 2

Score: 93%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Free-Roaming

Graphics & Sound:

Saints Row 2 picks up five years after the original game's explosive finale. In that time, Stilwater has undergone a bit of a revival while you lay in a coma. Returning to Stilwater is a bit like returning to your hometown after a long absence. The city feels familiar, yet at the same time, it feels like a completely different city. Visually, Saints Row 2 is a step up over the original, though the changes aren't readily apparent. Everything you come across looks and feels the same, but even if you know the city better than your own house, there's still a lot of new things to see.

The initial setup provides a great introduction to what I think is the game's strongest visual feature, customization. Not surprisingly, the blast left your character in such a bad shape that the doctors had to rebuild you. This provides you with the opportunity to craft any character you'd like. You can choose your character's sex, race... if you can dream it, you can build it, whether that be your own likeness or that of soon-to-be President Obama (Yes, that's what I did). As you delve deeper into the game, the level of customization eventually includes the option of choosing what your character will wear, what you crew's cars and hangout will look like and even what they'll wear.

When creating your character, you can also choose from several voice tracks. When you consider the number of times your character talks during the game, it is rather impressive that Volition was not only able to get that many voices into the game, but to do so with a decent level of performance out of each. The rest of the voicework is on the same level; not perfect, but well above average.

The number of songs on the soundtrack is just as impressive as the rest of the presentation. There's everything from 80's (which has to include a song from every movie John Hughes made in the 80s), jazz, classical, you name it. The only thing missing is a talk radio station.


Gameplay:

After a daring escape from the Stilwater prison, you return to find it a much different place. The Row has been paved over and, under the leadership of the Ultor Corporation, become the "...shining city upon a hill." You also discover the Saints are no more and three new gangs have popped up around the city and claimed all the territory you fought so hard to take in the first game. What's a Saint to do? Take it all back.

Saints Row 2 is sort of the Michael Bay version of GTA 4. What it lacks in "realism," it makes up for with lots of action, massive explosions and over-the-top plot points. I couldn't begin to explain the levels of awesome some of the story missions hit. Some are just cool, while others are so ridiculous you can't help but enjoy the moment. Really, how many games can you think of where you steal radioactive waste and inject it in a rival gang leader's tattoo ink? This is what I liked about the first game, and I am glad to see that Volition decided to remain on this road rather than going for the more "realistic" route of Rockstar's offering. In a sense, Saints Row 2 feels a little more like a follow-up to San Andreas than GTA 4.

The underlying story is to take back your territory, and to do that you'll have to take down three different gangs with their own storylines. In order to take down gangs, you'll first need to earn enough respect by completing activities. Nearly all of the activities from the original are back, though some have received a bit of a facelift. For example, you now have to protect drug dealers from rival gang members while piloting at attack helicopter (like I said earlier, over-the-top). Several new activities are also included, such as an underground fight club; "Crowd Control," where you have to protect a celebrity from crazed fans; and the aptly named "Septic Avenger," where you lower property values by spraying sewage everywhere.

There's no limit to the things you can do, though it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. It is apparent that Volition did its best to cut down on the number of locations you have to travel to; activities are found in two locations now, though there's so much to see in the city that it is daunting to drive around and identify the hundred or so locations before you find the right one. There's no doubt you'll uncover several during missions, though couldn't you uncover everything once you take over a territory?

Mutliplayer is a big improvement over the original. There's drop in/ drop out Co-op for players who want to experience the game with a friend and competitive multiplayer for people who just like to shoot at others. All of the requisite modes, like Deathmatch, are present, but the most interesting is Strongarm, where teams are challenged to buy out different neighborhoods by completing activities.


Difficulty:

Most of the story-based missions aren't incredibly hard, but you will constantly be outmanned and outgunned on nearly every one. As your reputation grows, you'll earn the opportunity to recruit crew members to bring along on missions, which can make things easier. However, crew members aren't Stilwater's best and brightest, so you may find yourself babysitting them, or at least running to revive them every few minutes. Lucky for you, rival gangs are recruiting from the same pool of intellectuals you are, so it isn't hard to outsmart enemies - especially in Co-op.

Activities, on the other hand, can get really hard. Each activity has five difficulty levels that you must pass through to complete it. The first three levels are challenging and enjoyable; then you get to the last two and see the challenge level spike. Some are manageable, but then there are missions like the bodyguard ones where there are too many people coming at once. Worse, you're on a strict timer and the system for dealing with them isn't adequate enough to handle the mob. It isn't enough to make you want to break a controller, but expect to spew a few choice vocabulary words and voodoo curses on the developers and their families.


Game Mechanics:

Volition is a company known for its shooters and it really shows when it comes to combat. Rather than implementing an auto-aim system, Saints Row 2 uses a traditional shooter set-up. This ups the action level of firefights, making it easier to take out stationary targets as well as moving ones. There's nothing cooler than running alongside a plane and launching missiles at it just as it is about to take off. The system is so tight, in fact, that it is possible to pull up alongside a vehicle and quickly kill the driver. The only area where the targeting system doesn't work is during some driving missions where you have to both aim and shoot at an escaping target. A "cruise control" option has been added to make it a little easier to drive and shoot, though you still have to deal with traffic, so it doesn't help that much.

Although shooting isn't much of a problem, some of the melee combat moves aren't there yet. Simple punches work alright, but grabbing enemies presents a few problems. Tapping the button will grab and toss an enemy, which is your goal during "Crowd Control" missions. However, the game will sometimes register the "tap" as a "hold" and use the enemy as a human shield. In a fight this isn't a bad thing, though it costs you valuable time during "Crowd Control" activities and is a big reason for the frustration found in higher levels.

Just to stir up a little controversy or hurt my "credibility" (whatever), I'll go on record as saying that I enjoyed Saints Row 2 more than GTA 4. Note that I didn't say Saints Row 2 is a better game, but as far as enjoyment levels go, Saints Row 2's antics are so out there that it is hard to not enjoy yourself.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Sony PlayStation 2 The Naked Brothers Band: The Video Game Microsoft Xbox 360 The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon

 
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