The most fun I've had in an open world crime simulator since Grand Theft Auto : Vice City.
The game starts off with the protagonist in Stilwater correctional recovering from the explosion at the end of Saints Row 1. However, the story wasn't set in stone as to what or who your character was from the prior game, so it allows you to create a character from scratch. There is much more freedom in creating your character this time, and by that I'm not talking about white, black, Asian or Hispanic, but I mean as a female as well if you desire, giving the game a unique take on the open world crime simulator (although it affects the game in absolutely no way other than aesthetics). Other characteristics you can select are height, build, hair color, facial features and expressions, voices, taunts (some of those are downright hilarious).
Once your character is finalized, the game throws you into the thick of it, breaking out from jail and focusing on the rise back to the top. The storyline isn't as well written as Grand Theft Auto or other dramatic action games or RPGs, but it works nicely connecting the first game to the second in a coherent manner. You have to take back the city from 3 new gangs that moved in once the Saints lost power in the aftermath of Saints Row 1, but the biggest thing is that the Ultor Corporation moved in (these guys made sunglasses in the first game if you remember). The reason for things happening are made evident throughout the game.
The game plays like a cross between Grand Theft Auto with the free roaming car driving do anything aspect, but the gun play is more akin to a first person shooter, which makes for some intense and well designed run and gun arcade style action. Mind you it's not as tactical as a Gears of War, but it's more like a John Woo bulletstorm, which fits right in with the game's tongue and cheek approach. It's less serious than GTA, and is downright slapstick, in a Mature rating sort of way. Utilizing the same 8 point wheel to control your weapon choice in addition to the d pad selecting your food items, drive bys are more accessible by using the X button to initiate cruise control so you can aim and make a getaway easier than in the previous game.
Gone is the Wheel Woman who would take you around this time and let you focus on shooting and stuff, but instead Saints Row 2 got something better, and something GTA 4 doesn't have, complete and total 2 player cooperative. Yes, you can drive, steal, shoot and blow up anything do anything together with a friend with no tether no restrictions, nothing. It is as open world coop as you can have and is one of the most endearing features of Saints Row 2.
Whether 1 player or 2, Saints Row offers a tremendous amount of things to see and do and customize. The series offers a tremendous amount of customization from the character, to cars with spinning rims, chrome fenders, irridescent paint and fuzzy dice in the window to infinite combinations of clothing colors and options that anyone can wear (yes, for the men who love high heel stripper boots and short cheerleader skirts, you can wear them in game). Oh, and you can be a pirate or ninja should you choose (and you can customize your gang in 5 different ways, including as Ninjas). The cribs you can purchase can be upgraded in many ways, including stripper poles, 103 inch TVs, and more. These increase your style points which makes it easier to get respect (currency to start missions, but in reality running people over or doing other side missions is enough to start missions, so it's purely for aesthetics and something to spend your money on).
The voice acting is great, the character who oftentimes reminds the player "That mute **** was getting old" is no longer a mute, but has a much more expanded vocabulary to interact with the heads of opposing gangs and the rest of the Saints in hilarious F bomb laced drug referencing ways. The soundtrack is much improved in variety, especially with the 80s station, the techno station, the modern rock and reggae station. The underground hip hop of the Wu Tang and affiliates and others has been replaced by more mainstream rappers like Nas, Young Jeezy, Fat Joe and others, but it is still an effective urban soundtrack.
Probably the most interesting aspects of the game's sound is the people. I kid you not, I've heard "I need scissors, 61!" and "THE FEAAARRRR!!!" and numerous other Metal Gear references, in addition to references to the Blues Brothers, the Dukes of Hazzard and more. Easter eggs abound in Stilwater.
The most important aspect of Saints Row 2 though is the sheer variety of the missions. They range from pure run and gun and driving, to escort missions, to stealth and hijack missions, to on rails shooters (well in a helicopter rather, which happens to be my favorite mission of the game), to side missions where you run around the city on fire causing damage, to spraying feces on buildings for fun and profit, to street races, assassination missions, chop shop, to drug dealing to Fight Club (it's just as it sounds), to The Fuzz (think Cops, but you beat down criminals with chainsaws and flamethrowers) to Protection (chucking celebrity stalkers into trash compactors and off buildings for more fun and profit). With this being mentioned, variety in Saints Row 2 just blows Grand Theft Auto 4 away. There is no question.
The combat is tighter, the driving is slicker (sometimes a little too loose, but way better than taking a corner at 10 miles an hour in a ferrari but losing control while your pursuee takes it in a jalopy at 60 mph...).
The two points where Saints Row 2 loses compared to it's nearest rival of Grand Theft Auto 4 are the following.
1.) The graphics are passable, or even good, but some of the textures are down right weak. Much of the details in Saints Row 2 aren't vastly improved over Saints Row 1. But the biggest hit to the graphical prowess is that the paint jobs for the cars are not as well defined, as if some of the paints that should be glossy are not, nor do the metals look metal and other things that actually performed very well in Saints Row 1 do not make a comeback with the same performance in Saints Row 2.
2.) The game has bugs. Oftentimes, objects will stick into cars and disrupt driving, like a metal sign crammed into the engine block after hitting it. Other things like helicopters are very tempermental in controls and often overturn instantly as no fault of the pilot. Sometimes certain enemies don't spawn from failed triggers and missions are broken. Other times, getting stuck in a wall or falling through the floor into nothing is not unheard of. Numerous little bugs, with only a few mission ending riddle the game. Not to the point of severely or even slightly damaging the fun, but they are noticeable. Most of the reason they don't effect the gameplay so much is that the missions are broken into small managable pieces and not some large complicated tail mission for 5 minutes followed by a 10 minute shootout and a 3 minute getaway with numerous points of failure along the way (like a certain other comparable game).
In the end though, the combination of the variety in missions, activities, customization and music and voice work coupled with an enjoyable setting with a relatively rich backdrop with the nice bonus of complete two player cooperative (this requires two consoles and games sad to say but its worth it with a friend) makes it a worthwhile trip back to 'tha Row'. I know I got a least 120 hours of single and coop play time in Stilwater and plan to book another trip soon.
Gameplay : 10 out of 10
Graphics : 8 out of 10
Sound : 9 out of 10
Value : 10 out of 10
Tilt : 9 out of 10
Overall Score : 9.0 out of 10
+ Variety, and more variety
+ True free roaming coop gameplay
+ Great sounds, music and voice acting
+ Over the top fun (don't come in looking for an ultra realistic gritty crime drama)
- Good graphics but not much improved from the previous game
- A number of bugs can get annoying and detract from the level of workmanship of the game.