Want to go back to the good old days of games like GTA3 and Vice City? Saints Row 2 might be the game for you.

User Rating: 8.5 | Saints Row 2 (Collector's Edition) X360
Last year I had fun with the original Saints Row and its completely over-the-top approach to just about everything. However, possibly due to its overall lack of polish I kind of came away from it with the feeling it was more or less a weaker version of the GTA games with simply the advantage of being the first game of its type available for the 360. After reading about some of the improvements made to SR2 I was looking forward to seeing how the second game would play.

GAMEPLAY (9.0) - Let's get right to the basics of what you're trying to do here. There are different gangs that have control over the various neighborhoods of the city of Stilwater, and you're determined to take all of them over to put the city under control of The Saints. Each gang will have their own missions and you can generally decide on which gang's missions you want to tackle at any point so it's not a case of you having to work on just one enemy gang at a time. The storylines for the gangs stay apart so you don't have to worry about staying in any kind of order. Of course with this being a sandbox style game there are plenty, and I mean plenty of other activities available, way too many for me to list all of them in this review. There's enough variety so that you'll be sure to find at least a few that you'll enjoy and this is important because there will be times where you cannot attempt some of the main missions unless your "respect meter" is high enough and the best way to raise the respect meter is by doing these other activities. Some of these activities include basic car races along with a demolition derby, fight clubs, even missions that have you spraying neighborhoods with a septic truck! There is a huge number of missions and mini-games to undertake and they are all humorous and really make the game feel varied. The large number of missions is made manageable by the use of an in-game map which will mark every shop, mission or mini-game and a GPS that will show you the routes to any missions you select, which works very well. In fact the GPS is so well done that it will learn shortcuts as you take them, and can later suggest a short cut to you. The actual controls worked pretty well with good sensitivity and targeting for weapons and decent performances from the many different vehicles available.

GRAPHICS (8.5) - No, SR2 does not have the more realistic look of GTA4 but it is definitely an improvement over the first SR. There are far fewer instances of pop-up and graphical issues that were in the first game. Not only do the main characters look great but even the average resident looks good and does a nice job of interacting with the environment or other residents. You can have quite an entertaining time just standing back and watching what people will do. A big plus for SR2 is the character customization, which has to be one of the most advanced I've seen yet. You can change every bit of your appearance, even including such aspects as to how your character walks, talks, fights, insults, and what sort of a facial expression he or she will make. A nice effect is that however you end up creating your character that is exactly how he or she will look and talk in the many cutscenes.

AUDIO (8.5) - Having your character speak in this game was a big improvement over the first SR, and the added ability to choose from several different voices made it that much better. Just for laughs my character started out as a 300 lb middle aged guy with a comb over that spoke with the voice of a Latin girl, but eventually I made him look more menacing and gave him a very cool sounding British accent. There are quite a bit of conversations in the game and they are all voiced very well though it probably goes without saying that the language is definitely R rated. The radio stations have a decent selection of music styles including rap, techno, funk, reggae, heavy metal and even classical and 80's stations. The basic environmental sounds of the city work well, and I noticed at times that pedestrians passing by would actually make comments relating to a mission I had just finished, which was a nice touch.

VALUE (9.0) - By the time I finished the main story I had put in over 22 hours and there are still an incredible amount of side activities I haven't touched. Add to that the fact that these are the type of games you can spend a lot of fun time with by just driving around and seeing the different ways you can interact with the city and you will definitely get your money's worth of gaming entertainment. In fact there were a few times I was just exploring areas of the city that had no connection to the main story and found secret areas that were pretty large and detailed, which added to that feeling that you were in a real city, not a linear area with limited accessability. A big plus for SR2 is the co-op play. Now a friend can join you at any time to play through the game, and it's not just for mini-games or diversions – you can essentially play through the entire story mode with a friend if you'd like. Of course multiplayer is there as well with deathmatch, racing and CTF.

SUMMARY - It's impossible not to compare the SR games with the GTA series since that's obviously their inspiration, and if I was to compare SR2 next to GTA4 I'd have to give the nod to GTA4 as the better of the two. However I like to think of SR2 as being more reminiscent of the earlier GTA games where it was more a matter of seeing just how over-the-top they could get while emphasising fun and making it as easy as possible to enjoy yourself and just get lost in its city. Filled with fast gun battles, great co-op gameplay, excellent bonus activities and an interesting story, everything is here for many hours of fun entertainment.