Review by BloodGod65

"Liberty City got you down? Volition has the cure for what ails you"

The phrase “GTA clone” is a label that gets thrown around a lot these days, and it typically only applies in the vaguest of ways. In the case of the original Saints Row, the label couldn't have been any more appropriate. Volition didn't just take inspiration from Rockstar's seminal franchise; they copied it play by play. Despite that, the game sold well, probably because it felt like GTA on a next-gen console – before GTA actually arrived for next gen consoles. Even so, it failed to carve out an identity for itself. So, has Saint's Row 2 escaped the same fate?

Upon starting the game, players will be tasked with creating their character. The customization options are quite deep, with the most notable addition being that you can now have a female character. Aside from that, and the typical array of body and facial sliders, there are plenty of other options to mess around with such as voices, walking animations, make-up and face paint. And the game doesn't cut off some options just because of what sex you choose to play as either. A male character can have a female voice, walking animation and makeup, meaning players can finally re-enact the Rocky Horror Picture Show in a virtual format.

Once players have their characters worked out, you'll be re-introduced to Stilwater. After the explosive finale of the original Saint's Row, the main character has been in a coma for several years. Since then, Stilwater has become an altogether different place with the Saint's falling apart, the Ultor Corporation taking control of their former territory, an ex-friend becoming the chief of police, not to mention you being in a prison hospital. After waking from the coma and making a daring prison escape, it becomes clear that the city has fallen under the domination of three new gangs – The Ronin, the Brotherhood and the Sons of Samedi (two of whom use the colors of old gangs, oddly enough). Of course, none of this sits well with the former member of the Saints and it becomes obvious that it's time to take back the Row… again.

In terms of story and overall attitude, it doesn't take long for the game to show its true colors. Let's just say anyone disappointed by Grand Theft Auto IV and its newfound maturity and serious take on the gangster lifestyle will be right at home here. It's crass, dirty, politically incorrect, completely immature and totally hilarious. In the main story missions, there are situations that involve your character fighting a rival gang while stoned out of his mind (complete with wavy screen effects) and another that has you stealing nuclear waste to put in another gang leader's tattoo ink. And finally, in the Ronin strand swordfights pop up out of nowhere and under the strangest conditions imaginable. That's not even mentioning some of the wanton debauchery and outright lunacy you can get up to in the side missions (don't worry – I'll get to all of that).

Given the attitude the game, it really should come as no surprise that sometimes the game falls onto worn out stereotypes. For instance, the Ronin are an Asian operated gang that drives tuners and carries katanas. The Sons of Samedi are a gang of drug dealing Jamaicans who dabble in voodoo.

Still, those issues shouldn't be of too much concern because the narrative is not much of a factor. Sure there are plenty of cutscenes, and there is plenty going on, but mainly the story is just in place to give players a reason to cause as much chaos as possible. And given how easy it is to do so, the devastation a person can cause is almost unlimited. The same targeting system is still in place, so firefights are a breeze. For those unfamiliar with the system, it is basically the same mechanic from any first person shooter, but from a third person perspective. Just aim a targeting reticule, pull the trigger and watch the bodies drop.

Most story missions in the game come down to driving somewhere and killing everyone there. It's a bit disappointing that the game rarely gets any more unique than that, but it definitely fits the premise of wiping out rival gangs and taking back territory. There are interesting twists to a few missions. One has you dragging a buddy around the hospital on a stretcher, another has you kidnapping a mechanic to make him blow up gang vehicles, and infiltrating the police station. But these unique missions are few and far between, so the whole thing does become monotonous after a while.

Thankfully, the side missions are much more creative and where the game really goes nuts. There are plenty of things to try out, a few of the more interesting being Trail Blazing, where players ride an ATV in a flaming suit trying to set people and cars ablaze. Then there's FUZZ, a COPS-style game that involves impersonating an officer and violently stopping criminals for big TV ratings, and the wholly disgusting Septic Avenger, which has you spraying liquid waste all across town. There are other new additions besides, along with the returning originals and more down to earth things such as driving ambulances and fire trucks. Of course if none of that sounds fun you can strip naked and go streaking (I swear I'm not making this up). Completing most of these activities leads to useful rewards such as discounts at various shops, or new weapons.

Saint's Row 2 even has another game within itself, called Zombie Uprising. Accessible at any safe house, you can sit down to play a video game (while playing a video game…) that involves fighting off zombies. As you clear levels the amount of zombies not only increases, they get faster and some of them burst into flames. It's actually a pretty fleshed out mini-game that is fully capable of making players forget about all the other stuff.

While the basics for this iteration are largely the same as they were before, there have been a few truly notable tweaks. Least of these additions is that motorcycles, helicopters and airplanes are now in the game. The other things are actually pretty handy. Homies will jack a car and follow behind if your car doesn't have room for them (but beyond that they're still pretty dumb). A cruise control feature has also been implemented to make drive bys easier. At the touch of a button, cruise control will activate, allowing you to concentrate on targeting enemies.

Visually, Saint's Row is unimpressive. Technically, there's nothing really wrong with it, but put next to the vast majority of other titles for the 360, it just seems a little mundane. The visuals just lack that certain “pop” that many other games have. Often the game takes on a hazy look with washed out colors. This contributes to the feeling that the graphics could have used a few extra coats of polish before release. Also, many players may be disappointed to find that much of Stilwater is the same as it was previously. Even though this goes with story continuity, driving around the same locations has a tendency to provoke a sense of deja-vu.

Things are better on the audio side of things. Voice actors are pretty good and unlike the strained attempts at humor from the original, this one has lots of genuinely funny dialog and one-liners. Not that I can give any examples, because most of it wouldn't get past the censors. The soundtrack is varied to the point that almost everyone will be able to find something to suit their tastes, but each station could have used some more songs to keep from getting repetitive.

There's no doubt that Saint's Row has found its niche with its second entry. The inconsistent direction of the first game is gone and what's left is a goofy thrill-fest. There are still some rough edges that need to be ironed out if Volition intends to deliver a third, but they aren't anything players can't get past for the time being. If the new direction of GTA IV wasn't your cup of tea, Saint's Row 2 has what you're looking for.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/12/09, Updated 07/07/10

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

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