E3 2008: Saints Row 2 E3 Demo Hands-On

We meet with THQ for a sneak peek at the E3 demo version of the upcoming Saints Row sequel.

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If you've read our Most Anticipated Games of E3 feature, you know that one of the games in our top 20 is Saints Row 2. Currently scheduled for release in October, Volition's sequel promises to expand upon the original game in just about every way imaginable and--depending on whom you talk to--will include features that would have been welcome additions in Grand Theft Auto IV. A new playable demo of Saint's Row 2 will be shown at E3 later this week, but rather than wait until then, we went ahead and played through the demo during a recent meeting with THQ.

The E3 demo includes the first "level" of Saints Row 2, which kicks off with an intro cinematic in which two prison guards are discussing the fact that one of their hospitalized inmates has woken up after being on life support for an unspecified amount of time. That inmate, of course, is you, and as one of the nurses is seen to be removing the bandages wrapped around her patient's head, you're prompted to customize your character's appearance. The game's character creation tool is robust to say the least, and although we've talked about it already in previous previews, the new demo includes a number of options that weren't available previously. For example, regardless of whether you choose to play as a male or female character, you can now wear makeup. We didn't spend a lot of time checking out the makeup options on this occasion, but it's clear that relatively subtle options like lipstick and eye shadow are included along with customizable full-on makeovers for those of you who want to play as a clown or a mime.

After settling on your appearance you'll get to take the controls for real and set about escaping from the prison, which, like San Francisco's Alcatraz, is situated on a small island a merit-badge-worthy swim from the city of Stilwater. Opting to escape with the tutorials enabled extends this opening sequence somewhat and causes prompts to appear onscreen anytime you need to perform a new move for the first time. You'll learn to sprint, you'll learn to climb, you'll learn to throw punches, you'll learn to pick up a wheelchair and beat a nurse around the back of the head with it--you get the idea. Courtesy of the inmate accompanying you on your bid for freedom, you'll also learn that you've been unconscious in the prison hospital for years rather than days and that Stilwater is now very different from the city that you tore up during the events of the first game.

 Getting rid of that outfit will be priority one once you reach the mainland.
Getting rid of that outfit will be priority one once you reach the mainland.

Once you're outside of the prison, you'll find that a number of cops are waiting for you and that more are arriving in cars and choppers. You'll already have acquired a pistol from one of the guards inside the prison at this point, and as you fight your way toward the dock where a boat is waiting for you, you'll acquire night sticks, shotguns, machine guns, a second pistol for dual wielding, and whatever else the cops are packing. When you reach the speedboat at the dock, the game temporarily takes the form of a rail shooter, tasking you with destroying the police boats that are pursuing you while your accomplice heads for the mainland. As you step ashore, it's clear that the two of you--still dressed in bright orange prison overalls--are going your separate ways. Our first goal was to visit a clothing store, but before we had a chance to do that our time with the demo came to an end. That wasn't the end of the meeting though.

Checking out content that, as we understand it, won't appear in the E3 demo, we were treated to a look at some of the items that you'll be able to acquire for your Saints Row 2 wardrobe. Given the level of character customization that's available in the game, it came as no surprise that there are plenty of different items of clothing to choose from, but we still weren't fully prepared for some of the outfits that we were confronted with. Some of the more memorable getups modeled by our muscle-bound thug were a female swimsuit, a prom dress, a ninja suit, a tuxedo, a judge's robe, a firefighter's uniform, and--our favorite--a hot-dog costume much like that worn by some of the pedestrians in the first game. After donning that last one, we were shown one of the game's in-engine cutscenes. It was a gritty affair that culminated in a fight with a heavily tattooed enemy, but taking it seriously was impossible given that the protagonist was still wearing his sausage-in-a-bun suit (and earning a +20 style bonus for doing so, we might add.)

If the hotdog outfit doesn't really do anything for you, maybe you'll opt for something like this.
If the hotdog outfit doesn't really do anything for you, maybe you'll opt for something like this.

Before our time with Saints Row 2 came to an end, we were afforded an opportunity to get hands-on with one of the previously unseen activities that will be featured in the game: fight club. Like other activities, this one is completely optional, and succeeding in any of its six difficulty levels will earn you respect that counts toward unlocking new missions and the like. Predictably, fight club activities are an opportunity for you to pit your pugilism prowess against increasingly challenging opponents. Locales will include everything from dingy basements to big UFC-style arenas, but on this occasion we got to fight inside a simple octagonal ring with very little going on outside it. Both of the contests that we fought in pitted us against two opponents simultaneously, though on the easy difficulty setting that we were playing they might as well have been punching bags. Using the left and right triggers to throw corresponding punches and holding both simultaneously to block, we had little trouble knocking our opponents to the canvas over and over again. Once their stamina was low enough we then had the option to finish them off by tapping the Y button and then following whichever button prompts appeared on the screen, the most complex of which involved mashing two buttons alternately.

While GTAIV is still the most obvious game to compare it to, Saints Row 2 is shaping up to offer a very different experience. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.

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