The Good: Super fun missions, great dialog and voice acting, huge open world, plenty of things to do
The Bad: Some technical issues, does redefine the genre, lame multi player
The sandbox or "open-ended gameplay" genre is actually the newest genre known to video games with a good seven years under it's belt, but not that many games have really proven the genre worthy. With Grand Theft Auto III being the daddy of this genre many games were failed mock-ups of GTA, many weren't even related, but still didn't do the genre justice. Saint's Row tried to push the genre once again a few years ago and didn't do such a great job, and was just shoved off as another GTA clone. Now that Saint's Row 2 has been out for awhile people kind of just stopped with blank expressions, while some roared and cheered with joy. Saints 2 really does push the genre and is a clear oppenent against Grand Theft Auto IV, but I'm not going to sit here and compare the two since Saints 2 deserves a seperate look.
The first thing you do when you enter the game is create your own character, and this is what really sets the game apart from others in the genre. You wake up from your coma in a jail hospital and bam you're in there changing your sex, picking your taunts (some are very vulgar), rearranging your face (you can do that in that outside of this too), picking hair, and even your voice. The options are deep and riddled with lots of ways to make your character unique and stand out from others online. Once you get out of this mode you are introduced to an easy to use tutorial that will show you how to control your character and I have to admit; the controls are wonderful. I never got frustrated with them and they are just so intuitive and easy to understand and remember. You start out with some melee training then you pick up a pistol and you discover you can zoom in via over the shoulder, jump around, and it all just feels nice and smooth. Once you hop into a car this doesn't change one bit since cars will turn on a dime and have the perfect feel to them (all 40 or so of them) and this makes driving around the city of Stilwater very pleasant.
The bulk of the game is about rivaling gangs through the story and I have to admit the story is riveting, gruesome, and very entertaining and never falters once. You see, since you were knocked out for two weeks all the gangs who hated you took their territory back and now you must gather your old friends, start the 3rd Street Saints up again and build your hideout up. In this hideout you can get your cash from the stores you purchased, change your gangs style (like 80's, hip-hip, pimps & hos that sort of things), change your weapon layout, and pimp out your crib. All of these are just nice subtle touches that THQ didn't really have to do, but they went that extra mile anyway.
Between these story missions you can go to different stores an buy food (health), jewelry or clothes to increase your respect, go to plastic surgeons to redo something on your character, buy cars, buy weapons, and the second half of the game: Play side missions.
These side missions are actually a blast and two I will talk about are Fuzz and Septic Avenger. Most of the side missions are scattered throughout your map (Stilwater is HUGE by the way) and they consists of events such as racing, celebrity protection, helicopter attack missions etc. All of these missions earn you respect so you can play story missions (each story mission takes one piece of your respect bar). Each mission gives you a time limit and a certain objective to complete, while some are wasy others are a pain in the @SS and can leave you screaming in frustration. Fuzz is a cop reality show where you drive around to designated crimes and kill them according to what your camera man says. Sometimes you'll have to use a chainsaw (camera angle a la Gears of War), use satchel charges on skateboarders etc. Fuzz is an addictive (like most missions) way to fill your respect bar and leaves many laughs as well (thanks to the amazing dialog THQ wrote for the game). Septic Avenger has you driving a septic trucks (yeah a poop truck) spraying fecal matter all over buildings to depreciate the value for certain clients. As you spray the buildings a red meter will drop and a cash amount will pop up bringing that much closer to your depreciation amount.
There are also some other smaller side missions like the taxi missions, hostage diversion in which you hijack a car and any passengers can be driven crazy (literally) until a ransom is given. You also have a streaker mission since you CAN walk around naked (blurred naughty bits of course) and streak in front of people for cash.
If you think the side missions sound fun don't forget those story missions. The game has amazing voice acting and clever dialog so it'll keep you wanting more and making you come back to see which gang member you're going to kill next. Not one missions is identical and you are blessed with a non repetitive mission based game that gives you many different places, and way to kill people throughout the entire game.
Now when it comes to nitpicking the game apart the graphics aren't up to par with most next-gen games (thanks a lot Gears of War 2!), there are serious slow down problems where the FPS will drop into the single digits some times, there are collision detection and clipping issues, some funky physic problems, but nothing that sandbox games haven't encountered before. The game is highly playable and you shouldn't let these small problems bother you. The last thing I need to mention is the fact that the game is gruesome and is more ballsy than GTA ever was. There are complete torture scenes, foul language, and running around naked a la Sims style is pretty far out there. The game is just hard hitting and in your face and that's exactly what a mature rated sandbox game needs.