I briefly played the original Saints Row after borrowing the game from a friend and I don't recall too much from it. This sequel apparently carries on from the events in the first game, but is not vital to have knowledge of the series to enjoy this one. The original was only available on the Xbox 360, so its good that PC gamers can jump straight in with this one.
You awake from a coma in an island prison hospital and quickly plan an escape. Once you reach the shore, you begin to rebuild your criminal empire (3rd Street Saints) and retake control of the city from rival gangs (the Sons of Samedi, the Ronin, and the Brotherhood) who have taken advantage of your long absence.
One of the first missions is to save Saint's member Johnny Gat before he is put to death by electric chair. He essentially becomes second in command. Together, you begin your uprising, hitting rival gangs property, disrupting their money supply, and taking out prominent figures to swing the balance in your favour.
The game obviously takes inspiration from the massively popular series Grand Theft Auto but often takes a more light-hearted tone. The tone is all over the place though, and there are some dark, brutal, or emotional scenes scattered throughout the game. There's a huge city to drive around in, with various side missions scattered throughout. There's all kinds of vehicles to steal, from various cars, motorcycles, in addition to boats, planes and helicopters.
You are equipped with various guns to take down your rival gangs (or just shoot innocent bystanders) including pistols, shotguns, SMGs, assault rifle, rocket launcher, mêlée weapons such as knifes/crowbars and other thrown projectiles such as grenades.
The combat is third person, and you can switch to an over-the-shoulder view for more precise aiming. The combat seems fairly generous as I found I could frequently achieve head-shots from long range with the pistol. You have a fairly large amount of health which regenerates when you stay out of danger for a few seconds. You do need to watch out for explosives though, or severely damaged cars which explode; since these can often be instant kills.
Often, the missions have a check-point or two, so you don't lose much progress should you die. This does alleviate the frustration of being killed in an explosion, or dying by the tricky gun-fights.
The gun-fights can be quite frantic since there can be hordes of enemies on-screen at once, carrying all kinds of weapons. They are often backed up by reinforcements who arrive by car, so you always need your wits about you to avoid been run-over.
As you progress through the game, you get the ability to make members of The Saints follow you (initially you have one slot, but this increases up to 3). These members can be revived within 30 seconds. As your gang presence becomes stronger, you are more likely to find reinforcements of your own who are always happy to join in the fights. As you drive around the city, there's plenty of spontaneous fights that break out between your gangs. When you have gang members in your vehicles, they lean out and fire out of the windows. You also have the ability to fire your gun whilst driving.
You can grab people to take them hostage and use them as a meat-shield. You can also throw people which is usually instant death (which is a bit silly). Many objects can be picked up to use as improvised mêlée or projectile weapons.
There are special missions called Strongholds which involve massacring all gang members in a particular building. This gives you control of that area of the map. This means you can purchase certain properties in that area which give you daily income that can be collected from your 'Cribs'.
There's plenty of variety in the side-missions, from squirting sewage over properties, destroying property using unlimited ammunition, escort missions, to Crazy Taxi style time-trial from point A to B.
One complaint I read about the game is that you need to increase your reputation to unlock the main story missions. I only did the occasional side-mission and there was only one occasion where I was forced to play side-missions in order to progress. Maybe it was my tendency to often kill rival gang members when I past them in the street.
The graphics are very dated now but the game-play still holds up pretty well. The voice acting sounds poorly recorded; it sounds a bit too loud and slightly fuzzy. The cut-scenes were slightly broken for me, with objects that the characters were holding appeared to be floating in mid-air. The music in the game covers a huge range of styles. There's classical pieces, metal, electronic, rap and R&B, and the in-car radios can be switched using the D-Pad (if playing with a controller). The game assumes you will be playing with the Keyboard, since all on-screen prompts are keyboard only which is a bit annoying and takes a while to learn the controls.
The main problem I had with the game is that you frequently see cars or people disappear right in front of you. This can be very annoying when you see a parked car only for it to vanish before you get there, which is even more infuriating when you are trying to escape an area.
If you like open world sand-box type games, then you will have plenty of fun driving around the city and shooting/running over random people. There's some great ideas in this game and there's plenty to do; taking around 20 hours to get through.