Review by horror_spooky

"3rd Street. Home."

The original Saints Row did not impress me all that much, mostly due to the fact that I felt like I was playing an inferior version of San Andreas. The game just didn't have its own identity and felt like an open-world game that was just trying way too hard to be exactly like Grand Theft Auto. I wasn't really interested in the sequel, but I decided to give it a shot anyway and I'm glad I did. While some problems still persist that keep Saints Row 2 from being as good as the breathtaking Grand Theft Auto IV, it is still one of the best games on the Xbox 360 and the best GTA clone ever made, and that's just something that Rockstar fanboys, like myself, can't deny.

Saints Row 2 focuses a lot on being goofy, over the top, and just generally insane. As a result, the game still feels like San Andreas, but this is much more respectable considering the drastic change the Grand Theft Auto series took with Grand Theft Auto IV. Saints Row 2 will have you doing plenty of whacky things, and while it'd be nearly impossible to indulge in everything you can do with this game, let's just say that you can car surf. Yeah, car surf.

One gripe I had with the original was that the game forced you to complete the little side mini-games in order to progress through the story and for whatever reason, the developers have decided to reintegrate this feature into the sequel. The activities from the first game return (including my favorite, Insurance Fraud), but the fun you could have had with these imaginative little side missions is lessened because you are forced to complete them in order to go through the story. Granted, you can now spray houses with a septic tank and be a part of a COPS rip-off called FUZZ, but you will still be dreading playing these side missions when forced.

You have to complete these side missions to fill your respect bar, and when you have a full bar of respect, you can start a story mission. The story missions are made up of regular missions that actually advance the story and pretty lame strongholds that while they can be fun, they will also feel like they are just another obstacle preventing you from enjoying the game's story mode.

Saints Row 2's missions generally end up in giant, overblown, ridiculous firefights that requires a lot of bullets. That's not to say that the game gets repetitive, your objectives in missions are actually quite varied. You will kill a ton of people before you're done with this game though, and the amount of carnage that you can cause in one little mission is simply awesome. The destructible environments and the nice variety of weapons definitely help this as well.

Saints Row 2 has adopted the over-the-shoulder camera that pretty much every third-person game has nowadays, but you can still play the old-fashioned, more isometric way. However, a spiffy new camera isn't the only thing that Saints Row 2 adds. It also adds the ability to pick up nearly any object in your environment to use against your opponents in melee combat (plus the melee combat has been brought up to include some nice combos that are pretty deep). You can pick up chairs, bricks, trashcans…pretty much anything and everything is a weapon. I haven't seen this amount of available weapons since 2006's Dead Rising, and this is definitely a good thing.

I did have an issue with the game's driving controls. Grand Theft Auto IV uses the right trigger for acceleration, providing for a much easier and less headache inducing driving experience for when you're trying to shoot another vehicle during a mission or something. Saints Row 2, on the other hand, sticks to the dated driving control scheme of using the A button for acceleration, causing some issues for when you are trying to shoot, rotate the camera, and drive all at the same time. You can definitely work around this issue, we did for the Grand Theft Auto games, but you will still find yourself somewhat disappointed that Saints Row 2 didn't take liberties with Grand Theft Auto IV's driving control scheme.

Despite this, Saints Row 2 isn't inferior to Grand Theft Auto IV in all respects. In fact, Saints Row 2 actually fixes some of the complaints that Grand Theft Auto IV had, providing for a much more user-friendly experience that won't seem so daunting. There are checkpoints during missions so you won't find yourself cussing at the TV so much for having to drive so damn far for one little mission, plus there is a regenerating health system so you don't have to drive to a restaurant after every mission. You can still heal yourself mid-battle though by consuming food or drugs, but your best option is generally to find some cover and wait for your health to recharge. I know this sounds like it would make the game too easy, but it doesn't at all, and you will still die plenty of times before the credits roll, believe me.

Alright, so we have established that the game's missions are epic. The firefights are awesome, the destruction caused is awesome, and everything is just generally awesome. You will constantly feel like being in the middle of battles, killing twenty enemies in a matter of seconds with a blast from your rocket launcher, but then you will realize that you are being prevented from doing this nearly as much as you should be. You will feel restricted from having all this fun because you will be forced to completing activities, you will be forced to drive around too much, and this is ultimately how Saints Row 2 comes across: Saints Row 2 is the perfect action game with an average sandbox game strangling the fun.

Another problem I had with the original is, unfortunately, not fixed. You can't play the multiplayer modes offline, but with the addition of the insanely fun online co-op, I feel sort of obliged to forgive the game for this fault. Still, the next installment should definitely have support for local gaming. Imagine blowing through Stilwater with a friend with you right there on the couch? Developers really need to realize that couch co-op is still ideal, and while the online mode is fun enough to alleviate some of these pains, you will be left wondering what was possible with Saints Row 2.

I have never experienced a better story in a video game like Saints Row 2 ever. The way you progress through most of the game is non-linear, and you get to choose which game to take out in any order you wish. The storylines for all of these gangs are deep, shocking, heart pounding, and you will be dying to see what happens next throughout the whole adventure. The game is filled to the brink with emotionally involving and equally psychotic characters, all with a personality that you won't be forgetting for a long time. The main character is a little lame compared to everyone else though, but you will grow to like him towards the end of the game. Spoilers for the original game with follow the upcoming comma, but those who had worries that the main character from the original game being dead doesn't have to worry. After the original's explosive ending, you have been in a coma and sent to prison, but you are busted out of prison by a young gangbanger named Carlos, and after that, you are on a quest to restore the dignity of the Saints and to retake Stilwater, one neighborhood at a time.

With some amazing animations, above par visuals, on the dime character models, and astounding explosions, it's a shame that Saints Row 2 is brought down by some technical flaws. There are a ton of glitches, though noticeably less than the original game and the game has a tendency to freeze and crash sometimes. On the bright side, there is practically no lag at all, and the load times are even shorter than those in Grand Theft Auto IV, though Saints Row 2 definitely isn't as pretty as GTA's latest outing. The city of Stilwater still isn't very memorable and you won't connect with it like you do with Liberty City, Vice City, or San Andreas, but the lack of pop-up is still awesome, and those used to GTA IV will be happy to know that the lag between GTA IV and Saints Row 2 is a drastic reduction. I was really impressed with Saints Row 2.

Saints Row 2 continues to deliver with the spectacular audio presentation. The voice acting is great and the humor during cut-scenes is improved from the original, though the radio commercials repeat a little too much and aren't really funny at all. The soundtrack is easily the greatest soundtrack in a sandbox title ever though, and I can say that without stuttering. The Grand Theft Auto games also seem to use obscure soundtracks with only a few songs thrown in there that you will recognize, but Saints Row 2 has an awesome soundtrack that you will be tapping your foot to. There is literally something here for everyone, with songs by Taking Back Sunday, Panic at the Disco, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, The Used, DJ Quik, Run-D.M.C., Mozart, Avenged Sevenfold, Duran Duran, and Men at Work. Trust me, you won't be disappointed with Saints Row 2's audio presentation at all, and if you are disappointed, what the hell is wrong with your musical tastes?

To beat the story mode of Saints Row 2, it takes about fifteen hours. After that, there is still the online-only (what a shame) multiplayer to enjoy, plus some co-op destruction. It will take you a while to master all of the activities, to find all of the diversions, find all of the tag locations, and find all of the hidden CDs (which can unlock more songs after you find them). You will definitely be spending a lot of time with Saints Row 2, though I was disappointed that the achievements were all pretty lame, with none of them really offering anything exciting to go after.

Saints Row 2 is an extremely impressive title that is the best GTA-clone ever crafted. The game is a major improvement over the original, but it still has its share of flaws that hold it back. The glitches and the crashing need to go, and the lack of offline multiplayer modes is disappointing. Completing activities and such in order to complete the story missions is just a ludicrously dumb idea, and I really hope that with the sequel, Volition does away with this nonsense. Saints Row 2 is an awesome game that just needs a little more work to outdo its main competition, and anyone who was disappointed by Grand Theft Auto IV's realism should definitely check this one out. You won't be disappointed.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/06/09

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

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