Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, if that is the case, then Saints Row 2, the GTA-clone published by THQ and developed by Violation, has proven that mantra in spades.
There is no question that Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized how games are not only made, but how they play in today’s gaming market. Sprawling open worlds and sandbox gameplay have become staples in the industry, and it has not been without it’s fair share of copycats. But for every Driver and True Crime, there is a game like Saints Row 2.
Saints Row 2 is the sequel to a sleeper hit that came out early in the 360 lifecycle. Billed as a GTA clone with a lot more attitude, you control a nameless protagonist that you create from the ground up who, after being stuck in a coma for five years, reawakens finally in a jail hospital. With the help of a fellow inmate, you break free from the man and quickly learn that things have changed since your attempted murder in the previous game.
Saints Row is one of the few games to acknowledge that it’s a sequel, by radically changing the storyline that is tailored made from the events of the previous game. Thankfully, the story takes a backseat when compared to action, something that, while in theory may be a bad thing, in practice it works a lot better than, well, the very franchise they are copying. Instead of following a troubled soul from Serbia, you create your own gang-banger with one of the better creation tools found in a game. Everything, from the way they walk, to how they talk, can be changed and remade, often with hilarious results. You can also mix and match clothing, car parts, colors, pretty much anything you can think of, can be tailored, and that is quite refreshing from the drab, grayscale palette that is seen in most games.
Saints Row 2 knows it’s a copy, and it doesn’t shy away from it. In fact, it downright embraces the lunacy of an open world gangster game. You can run over people, shoot down cops, helicopters, trains and boats with a myriad of weapons. You can participate in a wide variety of missions, such as literally spewing liquid **** on houses with a septic tank, to riding a scooter while your in a fire suit and blowing up pedestrians and cars on a timed course. These missions add a ton of variety to the game, and really help in changing the pace from open world standards like hitman missions and demo derby’s. To even give you incentive to play these missions, you can unlock special weapons or unlimited ammo, new clothing and cars, and gain enough respect points to tackle the story missions one by one.
It is important to know that Saint’s Row is really no holds barred. You go all out in a humorous, cartoon violence ridden world that does not take itself seriously. And while most of the story missions follow suit of this trend, some of them borderline on the too sappy. But then again, if you’re playing this game for the story, you are making a big mistake.
Another neat addition to the game is the co-op feature, which lets you and a fellow gang-banger go all out in town and basically destroy everything in sight. You can tackle story missions, just explore the landscape, or simply mow down a few grandmothers in a suicidal joyride. Playing the game on co-op is an interesting experience, and one that works rather smoothly if you have a person who knows what they are doing to help you.
Sadly, the multi-player experience is really lackluster. Finding enough people for a simple deathmatch is hard enough, but what makes it worse is the fact that the options for multi-player are essentially copies of what is in GTA. Granted, minor tweaks change it from being a downright clone, but it’s still pretty obvious. It is also too buggy online. A lot of times ive been kicked from games due to the framerate dipping by the hosts console, which adds to the frustration of playing online.
Graphically the game is pretty decent. The customization is what really makes the game, but in including so much, it’s not as photo realistic as most games attempt to be now days. The big letdown though is how buggy the damn game is. A lot of weird pop-up and a lot of freezing happens when driving and when the action gets too hot. The lack of polish on this brings down the experience somewhat, and is frankly reminiscent of the first Saints Row, which suffered from this a whole lot.
The games sound makes up for this though. The voice acting is really top notch, with many returning voice-overs from the first game, like Daniel Dae Kim, and Michael Rappaport making a return to the game. New voices include Neil Patrick Harris, Eliza Dushku, and Phil Lamar join the cast, and each of them gets into their roles with ease. The games music soundtrack is fairly solid too, with a lot of old school hip-hop, alternative rock and heavy metal blowing your speakers as you go cruising.
All in all, Saints Row 2 is the bastard son of Grand Theft Auto, and proud of it. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither should any gamer who should to play it. It is a fun diversion with great customization for a sandbox game, a ton of cool missions, and a decent story mode that is adequate enough to play through the game at least once. So do yourself a favor, and pick this one up when you can. At the very least, give the imitation some love of it’s own.