Review by JB_Heins

"The GTA Alternative Delivers"

Everyone said that Saints Row 1 would be the GTA killer. Sure, we've all heard it before. But nothing has ever touched the magnificence that is Vice City or the awe when GTA III released and started the genre of sandbox-style games on the next-gen systems. I think IGN summed it up best when they said that Saints Row 2 didn't try to be a GTA killer, it offered itself up as a GTA alternative, and it that regard it delivers in spades.

I sat with great anticipation the day before the release of Saints Row 2. I played a little bit of the original Saints Row again, a little bit of Grand Theft Auto IV, and also a little bit of Madden NFL 2009. I can hear what you're thinking, "but Justin, Madden isn't even in the same genre as Saints Row 2!". Well I didn't play Madden for comparison purposes, I just felt like playing a football game. Stay with me here now. I thought we were going to share facts about our days. Geez.

*ahem*

Anyways, I picked up Saints Row 2 on release day and set myself comfortably in front of my TV and started up my 360, much like a kid waiting for Christmas. The game started fairly quickly, and the only loading screen that lasts for more than 10 seconds is when you start the game. The opening dialogue tells you where Stilwater has progressed/regressed in the years that you have been out of the game and leads very smoothly into your character creation, which is very robust and detailed, if you were wondering. Here is where my epic review beings.

Graphics - 8/10
I am going to assume you liked the graphic style in Saints Row 1, mainly because I liked it and this is my review. It doesn't always have to be about you, y'know. So, since you liked the graphics style in the original Saints Row so much, this is more of the same with a lot of smoothing of the rough edges that gives the game a very nice, consistent appearance. There is a little bit of pixelation during cutscenes where there is a lot of activity on screen at one time, but that would probably be my only complaint. If you want to see how truly gorgeous this game can be, hop in either an airplane or helicopter at night and fly over the city. It is pretty breathtaking, actually. Not quite as amazing as games like Mass Effect, GTA IV, or Madden 2009, but still very nice.

Gameplay - 9/10
The shooting style seen in Saints Row 1 is still intact and is an excellent model for a game with so much fighting. The new "human shield" ability is very easy to use and makes for a new method of fighting gangs and the feds. Also, you have the ability to dual-wield single-hand guns and the aim mode is more precise than seen in Saints Row 1. The sticky-reticule style of shooting puts this game eons ahead of GTA IV simply because you can actually shoot on the run and be accurate, unlike GTA where if you are not stationary, you are likely dead. Driving is even better, with the controls being very arcade-like and very easy to control. Not once have I blamed the inability of the driving engine for my death, unlike in GTA IV where I often tried to take a tight corner only to find myself facing my pursuers head on after a beautiful 180. Nice. Air and water craft are also very easy to handle. Flying a plane is very smooth and doesn't require training missions, for example. Every once in a while you may have a slight issue, such as during the Insurance Fraud mission where it doesn't recognize you going into ragdoll mode, but besides minor nuances, the game is very easy to pickup and play, and the controls are very smooth.

Sound - 9/10
Okay, the radio stations still don't have anywhere near the greatness that Vice City or San Andreas had, but they aren't bad. The quality of the sound is very good in the game, even to the point where every gun has its own unique sound, a fact that can come in handy before running into a room where a gang war is taking place. You don't want to bring hand guns to an AK-47 fight, by the way. Very messy. The voice acting is very, VERY good. During the cutscenes you will often feel like you are watching a movie, and you quickly grow to understand each character so that their involvement in the story means far more to you.

Story - 9/10
I will admit that as of right now I have only finished one tier of the game, but I have started all three and they do a great job of building conflicts to the point that you really want the opposing gang leader to suffer. Plus, you play as one of the most hardcore anti-heroes I personally have ever seen. Ever scene has the perfect blend of comedy, class, crudity, and seriousness that makes you look forward to every mission. The progression also doesn't burn you out with constant shoot-outs with no goal besides killing everyone, even the stronghold missions seen in Saints Row 1 often have an overlying objective that gives each one more meaning.

Replay Value - 10/10
Much like Saints Row 1, this is an area the game shines in. Insurance Fraud never gets old, there are so many activities in the game that you will keep coming back for more, not to mention the added distractions you can do that range from parachuting to a designated target, car surfing, and some well deserved... fun. I'll let you figure that one out. The multiplayer is solid and a lot of fun and never feels like it is too out of balance. Plus the ability to jump into any game as a co-op character at any time adds new depth to the game.

The Wrap-Up - 9/10
Whether you liked GTA IV or not, if you are a fan of the sandbox-style shooter games then this is a must own. The gameplay is very solid and the story is very involving, making you keep pressing on to reach the stunning conclusion. While I obviously cannot recommend it to all ages, I strongly recommend this to anyone who has ever enjoyed a GTA-esque game.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/22/08

Game Release: Saints Row 2 (US, 10/14/08)


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