A more fun alternative to GTA IV which leaves you with a smile on your face.
scrawneystick wrote this review on .
The best way that I can describe Saints Row 2 is as a next-gen San Andreas. The similarities are obvious with a lot of the good features from SA being included here, such as: parachuting out of planes, gang wars, gang territories, customisation options, getting homies to ride round with you and the ability to buy businesses. Being a next-gen SA isn't a bad thing in the slightest as we all know that SA was a great game and playing a slightly beefed up and less vast version of the game like Saints Row 2 works brilliantly. Added in are features from GTA IV such as the phone (although it isn't used as heavily or as easily accessible as in GTA). There are some subtle digs at the GTA series, for example in an early mission you have to shoot up a casino to get at a rival gang. One of your gang forms a stealthy and detailed plan to get the money out of there unseen, Johnny has a better idea, "why don't we just go in there and shoot everyone on sight... it'll be more fun". That sums up the two games perfectly, GTA leads the player on a winding journey with epic moments where as Saints Row prefers to just blow things up, and it works.
Moving away from the GTA comparison for the moment, Saints Row 2 offers a number of new features that help improve the longevity of the game. The most entertaining of these are activities such as Septic Avenger where you spray things with human waste in order to create havoc, Crowd Control where you act as a bodyguard for a celebrity and get rid of crazy fans for them, Fuzz which is a parody of COPS but instead of making arrests the cameraman just films you killing criminals in lots of different ways and Trail Blazing where, wearing a flame retardant suit and on a quad bike, you set anything you like on fire while racing round through checkpoints. There are more additions and all help add replayability with 6 levels per activity. Some old favourites return such as Escort and Hitman and since I got the game 3 days ago, I've played for 12 hours and only completed about 10 missions because these activities are so fun.
All these new additions are all well and good but Saints Row just wouldn't be Saints Row without some customisation. Well, the level of customisation in this sequel is huge. Starting with the character creation you are immediately impressed with the amount of options on offer here. I'm going to stick my neck out and say you could create just about anyone or anything that comes to mind. My character is a blonde haired, babyfaced guy with a strong jaw who sounds like Todd Carty (for anyone who's ever seen EastEnders or Grange Hill). The voices on offer are one flaw with the character creation with only 3 on offer per sex but they are pretty diverse so every type of character should be catered for. Once you've made you're character and got your gang together you can customise them. Everything from style (my favourite being Pimps and Hos), the gang's sign (I went for the Fonz-like "Ehhhh") and the cars they ride round in can be customised with more cars being unlocked as you play through the game. The customisation options aren't just for fun though, they allow the player to create their own unique gameworld that is right for them which instantly brings a connection to them, their character, their gang and their game.
Back to the GTA comparison here and like R*'s bestseller, Saints Row 2 has a radio system used in game. Included are news reports and adverts similar to GTA's in-game radio although Saints Row 2 doesn't include a TV network, just the chance to view cinematics and play a 3D survival horror game. The adverts used are funny but slightly less satirical than in GTA's and the news reports are limited to one story about your latest mission success. However, I believe that the soundtrack is slightly better than in GTA. I liked GTA's soundtrack but there were no real standout classic songs except from Queen's "One Vision". In Saints Row I can count about 4 or 5 with the biggest being the 80s classic "Final Countdown" which my character likes to singalong to, albeit really badly. Throw in the fact that you can create your own radio station via the playlist function on the menu and you have a brilliant radio network that covers every genre and taste. You can also find CDs littered about Stilwater which unlock extra tracks that can be added to your playlist.
The AI in the game is also brilliant. Yes there is a lot of scripting and odd events happening like pedestrians just appearing in the middle of the road but they are minor glitches compared to some of the random things that happen on an average day in Stilwater. The biggest highlight for me was when a massive fight happened between 2 guys near my crib. During which one of the fighters sprays pepper spray in a cops eye and the cop beats him down. The fighter fights back and throws the cop 20 feet through a fence and into a wall, the cop gets up and casually walks over to him and blasts him with his shotgun and all in the space of 30 seconds. Glorious! You also see carjackings, people jumping off buildings and gangfights on the streets. However, once you team up with a gangmate in a mission, the AI does let itself down. It'll shoot at the wrong people and go the wrong way but any decent gamer will be able to make up for their mistakes.
Finally, we have the main thing about the game, the story. There's a reason why I've saved this till last and thats because I wanted to emphasise that the story is almost just a side feature to the game. You don't feel pressured into moving onto the next mission at some pace, which is a bit of a shame as with all the things you can do in Stilwater it feels as though the story is just another activity. However, if you actually play through a few missions the plot holds up pretty well. You start off fresh out of prison on a jailbreak as a person recovering from a coma induced from the original Saints Row ending. You're left on your own with your old gang disbanded and with the task of making them big again. It has a similar feel to San Andreas and in many respects the story follows that vain although you don't meet as many crazy or corrupt characters as in SA. The missions are also strong with no having to pick people up and drop them off early on as seen in GTA, instead you commit jailbreaks, kill rival gang members and recruit new gang members by doing errands such as towing someone's car for them. However, deep down it is the same drive and shoot mechancic that is the staple of the GTA series. The cutscenes are also a highlight with some funny dialogue and revelations made, you also see the news play a role during the cutscenes with the local reporter standing reporting on past missions that you have done. This is something missed out on in GTA.
The story is good but it isn't as epic as Niko's story in GTA IV or CJ's story in SA. You feel that everything is quite linear and there are no actions the player can do to change the outcome of the story as in GTA IV. The missions are also good throughout but the games big set-pieces such as setting fire to a farm from a helicopter never quite match the Three Leaf Clover mission in GTA IV. It will keep you playing through to the end but you'll struggle to remember a particular mission in great detail and you won't be too fussed about starting again to replay the story.
To conclude then, Saints Row 2 is a definite improvement on it's predecessor and is now the main challenger to GTA's throne. It is obvious that much of the work that has gone into the game was based on trying to match San Andreas and very little has gone into competing with GTA IV. However, because of this they have been able to increase the fun that was seen in San Andreas while also bringing it into the next-gen arena and adding a few brilliant new features. Saints Row 2 is a game that is all about fun and putting a smile on the face of almost all gamers. It also has a solid storyline and in Stilwater, a vibrant city although not quite as brilliant as Liberty City and that is best way I can sum up this game. It's very good but not quite at the level of GTA IV. This is a game for people who have finished GTA IV and want an alternative that is easily accessible but also to those who thought that GTA IV lacked some of the magic and fun seen in SA, Vice City and GTA III. Either way, I'd reccommend this to any fan on the genre.