Saints Row 2 Hands-On - Story, Co-op, and Zombies

We take to the streets of Stilwater for hours on end, digging deep into the story and jumping into some co-op mayhem.

By their very nature, sandbox games are open-ended experiences where the balance between story progression and time-wasting mischief is entirely up to the player. It's hard to take that formula and squeeze it into a short demo, which is why THQ recently invited us to spend an entire day with Saints Row 2. This extended play-through gave us ample time to plug away at the bandages-to-riches storyline, cause some chaos with real and improvised side missions, and take a spin through Stilwater in a co-op setting.

Welcome to the gang-ridden world of Saints Row 2.

The first Saints Row greeted players ready to embark on their journey into gang life with one of the more elaborate character creation systems seen at the time. Saints Row 2 takes that system and beefs it up considerably, giving you the option to customize a truly ridiculous number of attributes. Using sliders adjusting everything from your overbite to your septum width, you can craft an avatar of either gender that looks anywhere between "perfectly normal" and "abomination of nature." Once your base physical attributes are set, you can set the mood of your face with a number of fixed facial expressions to make yourself look confused, joyous, or just plain evil. From there, you have three voice options for each gender (including a wonderfully out-of-place English accent for the gents) and the ability to choose your taunts and walking style.

Your character then begins the game on a prison hospital bed, awaking from a five-year coma caused by the explosion that capped off the first Saints Row. You're whisked away from these confines by a friendly prison mate only to realize that the Saints are no more. Other gangs still roam the newly expanded streets of Stilwater, but the purple-clad clan you worked so hard to build up in the first game has been more or less eradicated. Thus begins the story, with you working to build the 3rd Street Saints back to glory. And because you're ostensibly playing the same protagonist from the first game despite crafting a brand-new avatar, Volition has tossed in plenty of self-deprecating dialogue like, "You look different. Did you get a haircut?"

First on the agenda is rescuing fellow Saint Johnny Gat, who's currently on trial with over 200 counts of homicide to his name. This mission involves storming the court trial with some heavy firepower, taking out the guards, and ushering Johnny out the door. The idea of storming a particular stronghold with guns blazing becomes a familiar refrain for the first few missions of the game, as the next item on your list--securing a base of operations for your gang--involves clearing all the Sons of Samedi and gang members (and a few scattered hoboes) squatting in a local abandoned mission.

Once you've got a base, the story missions begin to offer more than just shooting scads of people. One mission requires you to recruit some fresh blood for the Saints, and you go about this by doing odd favors for some of the local talent. One girl has you proving your worth by flying off a few of the big jumps lurking all throughout Stilwater, while another would-be Saint asks you to take his tow truck and impound the car of someone who owes him some money. But these types of missions are more the exception than the rule, as most tasks require you to exercise extreme prejudice against rival gangs in your quest to take back the city.

Explosions are a way of life in Stilwater.

One of the most compelling features added to Saints Row 2 is the ability to go through the entire story (and any mission in the game, really) in two-player co-op. It's a simple drop-in, drop-out affair that allows for you to set your game to be public, friends-only, or invite-only. The missions are beefed up in difficulty and enemy AI to compensate for your doubled firepower, and are triggered whenever one player chooses to begin. One odd thing about the co-op is that each player only sees his or her own character during the cutscenes rather than both of them, but as long as you're not playing on side-by-side televisions like we were, that shouldn't be a tremendous issue. And thankfully, there's no tether system to be found; you and your friend can exist on completely opposite ends of Stilwater if you so choose.

This time around, dutifully moving the story forward is a bit tougher with all the side missions, additional customization, and opportunities for mayhem vying for your attention. The side missions are broken down into two categories: Activities, which are found in the first game and help you earn some cash and gang respect, and Diversions, smaller actions that can be pulled off almost anywhere. Activities have you taking part in odd jobs for random strangers seeking a favor of you. A few examples of new activities include "FUZZ," where you pretend to be a cop and rough up petty criminals for a reality show, Septic Avenger, which sees you steal a septic truck and spray its contents on the city's major financial establishments, and "Crowd Control," where you act as a bodyguard for celebrities with rabid fans.

In co-op, you can fire rockets from the passenger seat while your buddy drives.

Whereas Activities are deliberate tasks that require you to find a mission marker and begin, Diversions pop up over the course of normal play. If you jack a car with someone in the passenger seat, a pop-up will invite you to part in the "Hostage" Diversion in which you attempt to keep moving through the police for a set amount of time until the hostage pays you to let him go. "Vehicle Surfing" is a Diversion in which you attempt to balance atop a speeding car, and "BASE Jumping" will prompt you with a landing target if you take up the game's offer after leaping from the top of a skyscraper. What might be our favorite, though, is the co-op-only "Cat and Mouse" Diversion, whereby one player cruises through checkpoints in a sports car while the other hunts him down in an attack helicopter.

Also competing for your attention is the ability to put your own personal touch on what you wear, what you drive, and where you live. Clothing can be customized to the same ridiculous degree as your initial character designs. You can adjust the pattern, colors, and fit on nearly every last piece of clothing, while layering several different articles on top of one another. One stripe or three on those socks? Did you want that track jacket zipped or unzipped? Hat backward or at a 5/8 turn? You get the idea.

Cars can also be tweaked to meet your discerning standards. Just bring a vehicle into your personal garage, then head to a mechanic and fiddle with new body mods, paint schemes, rims, window tints, and NOS boosts. You can even create a custom radio station available to listen to in any car you find. To do this, you go to a record shop and buy individual tracks (using in-game currency) at $20 a pop. If you're up to the task, you can pool wildly differing songs from all the game's stations into one huge pirate radio station. For example, you can borrow A-Ha's "Take On Me" from the '80s station, Minus the Bear's "Knights" from the indie station, Run DMC's "Sucker MCs" from the rap station, LCD Soundsystem's "North American Scum" from the electronic station, and Mastadon's "Colony of Birchmen" from the metal station and use them all to create one great, big radio station thoroughly customized to your liking. (And maybe even throw Europe's "The Final Countdown" in there somewhere, if that's your thing.)

Finally, because even the most violent criminal needs a home to call his own, you can also customize your crib. There's the option to simply upgrade your crib's overall theme from something cheap and run down to something much classier, or upgrade your furniture piece by piece. However, even the cheapest of entertainment centers gives you the ability to play one of Saints Row 2's hidden gems: a video game within the game called "Zombie Uprising." Rather than a retro arcade game, this is actually a fully 3D zombie game that applies the look and feel of the regular game to a darker, more zombie-filled setting. In it you need to survive wave after wave of undead with a limited number of weapons and fellow survivors. It may be a poor man's Left 4 Dead, but it's still a very cool throw-in that's indicative of just how much there is to do in Saints Row 2 if you go around looking.

Never let it be said that Saints Row 2 doesn't promote peace between diverse cultures... or at least pirates and ninjas.

Whether you're playing through the story missions in co-op or just beating up a group of pimps with a parking meter while pedestrians take cell phone pictures, it's clear there are a lot of options for absurd entertainment in Saints Row 2. When October 14 arrives, you'll be able to take part in some of that absurdity yourselves. Until then, stay tuned for more coverage.

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Discussion

290 comments
nielvalve93
nielvalve93

Saints row 2 are hilarious and the coop are such a blast! this is so far the best game i ever played in the Sony Playstation 3 console...

scozotty
scozotty

saints row was pretty good and hilarious with the stuff u can do but its just a poser wanna be grand theft auto. Still fun though.

Gamezster
Gamezster

I'm going to buy it. Do you know what's the good thing about getting into a game right before it's about to come out? You don't have to wait.

Dexs31
Dexs31

This game looks good I'm going to rent it when it comes out.

Dexs31
Dexs31

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

96windsor
96windsor

can't wait, can't wait, can't wait!

hillelslovak
hillelslovak

Yeah, I bet you have the game carbon_dioxide..... This game is gonna be insane. 1 more week!!!

carbon_dioxide
carbon_dioxide

i just got this game and well....its the same as saints 1. the map is similar and gameplay feels exactly like first one.

carbon_dioxide
carbon_dioxide

i just got this game and well....its the same as saints 1. the map is similar and gameplay feels exactly like first one.

Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

i missed out on Saints Row, im gonna try playing this one cause it sounds FANTASTIC.

DantheMan9856
DantheMan9856

this will beat GTAIV, SR1 beats GTAIV. I am going to love how over the top and crazy this game will be. It's going to be awesome.

burstlimit514
burstlimit514

it sounds good. Ill look into this but i dont think it can beat gta4! :)

dg3215
dg3215

I hope this game is not gonna be like GTA 4 and get a good rating just cause of its genre and name.. I hope it is as good as the SR1 which imo was better than GTA 4.

dg3215
dg3215

I hope this game is not gonna be like GTA 4 and get a good rating just cause of its genre and name.. I hope it is as good as the SR1 which imo was better than GTA 4.

ediot567
ediot567

this game is going to be awesome im selling a bunch of games to get it! gta 4 sucked

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

XtremeDude09
XtremeDude09

The customisation seems too drawn out. i don't really care if my jacket is green, blue or multicolored with pik spots on the sleeves (well mabe the last one). i'll stick with GTAIV just for it's perfect blend of action, reality and just Liberty City's pure size.

598gh
598gh

this game is the best ive loved grand theft aouto but this game looks better than gtaiv sr2 its gonna rool gta4

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

fasttrack99
fasttrack99

No man i cant nothing tell you about this game this is too better than gta iv.

gazzad
gazzad

This game is gonna OWN Grand Theft Auto IV, it sounds better than GTA Ever did already... lets just hope it's all not just hype.

Handsome-Hall
Handsome-Hall

Pirate and ninja team up ohh THATS WORTH SEEIN!!!!

YoJim8obaJoe
YoJim8obaJoe

I hope zombie lynn still on it,loved watching her beat people to death with her own lopped off arm

ace3507
ace3507

SR2 is going to be awesome there customization beats gta all the way. but not to sure about game play i guess we will have to wait and see

AnDyVsU
AnDyVsU

theres some serious noobs on this forum comparing this to other games of a different genre stupid r*tards! this is going to be much better than gta as yes the system and graphics arent necessarily as good as gta4 but in terms of fun and amount of content with things to do this blows gta out of the water! theres like more to do in this game than all the gta games put together! graphics dont make a good game gta4 was a good graphic and engine wise game but the lack of content made it very boring very quickly this is the opposite

sho565
sho565

SR2 is gonna whipe GTA IV.Get real GTA SR is way out of ur legue.

diggyman
diggyman

no doubt, this game will have some funny moments. As far as the GTA4 vs Saints2 debate goes, listen, It's the same style or game concept, but not the same approach. If you like more realism and slight carnage you go with one side. If you like slight realism and more carnage you go with the other. Or you could be like me, thankful someone's even considering making another sandbox game. It's always funny to read how many of you seem to cling to your chosen side in such an extreme manner. Chill.

Nichocruz
Nichocruz

and It Was Totally Awesome ... Yeahh! :)

Nichocruz
Nichocruz

Booyah! This Game Blows!!! :)

bnazty23
bnazty23

@Handsome, Are you kidding me? I freaking LOVED that intro! Everyone got blasted, EVERYONE! It was better than the ending to The Departed. If you beef is that it was a unbelievable or unrealistic I can definitely understand that. However, it fun factor and simply coolness of the intro was amazing. One-by-one each gang in different shiny colors got Swiss cheassed-up, lol.

bnazty23
bnazty23

This game is going to be ridiculous, the first was one of my favorite on the next gen consoles both when it came out and now. SR makes gta better in that it serves as good competition for the franchise. New add-ons in gta 4 were found in SR first. Now the ridiculous amount of customization is going to be even better not to mention a really good story line, not to mention I do appreciate the celeb voice over touch. I am really really looking forward to SR2, it is a shame it got pushed back to October though, had it come out in August when it was originally planned I would have bought it but right next to Fable 2 and Gears 2 I may not have enough.

adamlyons87
adamlyons87

Even though this is a bit away from Saints Row 2, it seems to be where this general thread has headed... I agree, San Andreas was absolutely amazing, one of the best games ever. GTA4 is great in many respects, I love the graphics, physics and realism. The story is really engaging. They set out to make a quality game, and they did. But it just doesn't compare to the fun you have in SA; being able to drive a buggy through miles of countryside, diving, PARACHUTING, planes, gambling, turf wars, that spirally mountain, the red-neck areas. I appreciate it's just their first attempt at a gta game on the next-gen consoles. Hell, look how far they went from GTA3 to SA on one console. But just try and include more fun stuff next time please?

Assassinspeed
Assassinspeed

Sounds good but it's probably gonna be a letdown like lots of the games this year. If Halo 3 didn't possess the magic name it would suck too. Hell if you slapped a Halo sticker on a sock everyone would buy it except for me of course.

Ironthor
Ironthor

I've never been a fan of saint-row series, I've always been there for the GTA's, but since the disappointment in gta4, I might try this out.

thecakeisalie47
thecakeisalie47

I have say that it seems like they are just trying to cram in a bunch of stuff for the sake of having, well, a lot of stuff. HOWEVER, this is a GAME, and it should be packed and loaded with all sorts of ridiculous (hopefully fun) crap. GTA moved to a more realistic approach, and was BORING. I played it, and played it A LOT, and after a while you get sick of listening to winos complain and running from the cops after assassinating someone (pretty much every mission).

johny52
johny52

kyle i agree but in gta 4 they were going for realism maybe they were trying how real world physics would work on a gta game plus it seems that they were useing the multiplayer mode as a test for the fact it wasnt the best. san andreas was like everything youd want in a game like planes, a huge map, and over 100 missions it was good really good plus the odd useless mini game mode but hopefully in the next gta theyll make planes and a bigger map i wouldnt mind if i had to wait and hour for it to install onto my ps3 as long as it is good with the same graphics or better

kyle3000
kyle3000

i kinda agree with the coold steam guy except... the new gta couldn't compare with san andreas. we waited 4 years for them to bring it to the next generation systems and they couldn't even make niko dive under water? there was just way too much missing. the graphice were great and it was a great game but it just can't compare with how fun san andreas was. san andreas still in my opinion is one of the best games ever made if not the best.

Chevron45
Chevron45

dude,this is going to blow GTAIV out of the water,the great thing about the gta games was all the extra stuff u could do,in gta4 u can watch tv....so what?in san andreas the best part was 1nce u got bored with the missions,u could cruise the country on a quad bike,or cause massive caos,jack a rhino,then cause more caos!in gta4 u can go to a comedy club...the point is the new GTA game sucks,and saints row 2 is gonna kick ass....

Baldur3272
Baldur3272

OH AND PEEPS WHY DID YOU GIVE ME BAD REVIEWS ON MY COMMENT. I SAID,: I HOPE THEY HAVE SKINNYIER HOOKERS", SO YOUR TELLING ME YOU GET TURN ON BY FAT HOOKERS. OIHY!!! NASTY!!!!

Baldur3272
Baldur3272

uhhh. i hope my mom lets me buy this game. jesus, i hope...

dream_aloud
dream_aloud

I'll be happy if they bring back the radio stations. KBOOM FM was some hilarious $#!+ !!

Handsome-Hall
Handsome-Hall

i hope the beginning of the story is better than the last. The opening scene on the first one was terrible a gang war broke out and you had to randomly be there for no real reason jeez