Saints Row 2, the successor to the underdog Saints Row, a true contender to the shooter/action-sandbox throne that has been held by ‘Grand Theft Auto’. There is one thing in particular about the series which is much be mentioned, that these games are pure fun and what makes this game even better, is how Volition have come back with a sequel which offers more gameplay, more content and more freedom than the first. This game really is, a true ‘sandbox’. Let’s discuss how.
The beginning of Saints Row 2 takes place a number of years after the ending of Saints Row, fifteen years later as a matter of fact. After awaking from a coma, you are taken to the ‘Character Customisation’ screen where they can customise almost every aspect of your player, from the positioning of facial features to voice and everything in-between. Instantly, you can see the level detail which the developers have gone through to emphasise the concept of complete player freedom in this game. After breaking out of prison soon after, you are introduced to the new Stillwater – with some areas completely renovated, others with a few news stores and features but the greatest of all, the inclusion of three new areas such as the suburbs expansion and an system of underground caverns – so much exploring is to be had for both new and acquainted gamers to the franchise.
Skipping forward, the storyline follows your character reviving the 3rd Street Saints – the gang you originally belonged to in Saints Row and once again, your task is to take back Stillwater, one territory at a time from three new gangs. The first is known as ‘The Brotherhood’, run by Maero with their gang colour red. These tattoo and car enthusiasts can be simply described as thugs for the better part. The second gang ‘The Sons of Samedi’ is operated by The General and Mr. Sunshine. These green-tooting gangsters follow the ancient art of voodoo and have a large involvement in the illegal drug trade running throughout Stillwater.
Lastly but not least, the third and final gang is referred to as ‘The Ronin’ and is run locally by Shogo Akuji, but the head of the organisation is his father, Akuzo. The main colour of the gang is yellow and their weapon and vehicle of choice include the samurai sword and motorbike respectively. In addition to gangs though, there is the inclusion of the Stillwater Police Department and the mega-company The Ultor Corporation which have a large interest in Stillwater and the turn of events that occur on the streets. Throughout the game you get a feeling that there is more to this business than just selling sunglasses and clothing apparel.
The game is split into four avenues which you can take to advance your progress in Saints Row 2. The first are missions and strongholds. These two are tied with the storyline and success in each results in a new territory being gained by the Saints. Each gang has a separate storyline and an equal amount of missions and strongholds totalling more than 15 for the three gangs and a some for the Ultor Corporation.
The other two are Activities and Diversions, and while these do not contribute to the storyline, they aid in unlocking special weapons, abilities and vehicles to make your game much easier. Activities are varied and can range from racing to hitman, insurance fraud to mayhem, each having 12 levels scattered across two locations and each offering a new unlockable for completing them.
Diversions can be best described as ‘side-activities’, and also are helpful in unlocking different items within the game. These can range from burnouts to powerslides, drive-bys to base-jumping, all just providing that little something ‘extra’ to add to the gameplay. Unlike Activities though, Diversions are measured by stars, ranging from bronze to silver to gold – three gold stars being the best possible score for a diversion. Diversions though can be started and achieved anywhere in Stillwater where mission, stronghold and activity starts are indicated by a marker. Combining them all, with over 100 activities and more than 40 missions and strongholds, Saints Row 2 does not fall short of content nor in providing enough gameplay to keep you entertained for many hours on end.
Probably one of the greatest features of Saints Row 2 which makes it so enjoyable to play is the physics model used for movement in this game. Volition used the same ‘Havoc’ engine when developing this game that they used for Saints Row and it most definitely shows from the get go. Unlike another recently released action-sandbox title, walking, driving or flying in this game is not sluggish or slow. Let’s look at walking for starters. The pace of movement is quite fast and free and running does not involve button mashing, but rather, simply holding down the Right Bumper.
Driving is not much different, and whether it be vehicle or a motorbike, travelling in either is relatively easy. Being able to drive at incredible speeds, pull the handbrake and effortlessly slide at each turn is one of the many positives of this game. To top that off, there are numerous options to customise your land vehicle – whether it be bumpers, rims or paint – or even deeper, nitrous, hydraulics or torque, so much can be done to tailor detail your car to suit your preferences. When it comes down to water and air travel, it is however much different. While there are many variants of travel for these two types – let it be from jet-skis to speedboats or ferries to attack helicopters, the ratio of land to air/water vehicles is significantly higher and unfortunately, neither type can be customised. This is a negative aspect to the game, but regardless, there is still much fun to be had in vehicles from those two groups.
Another great feature in this game is the ability to store all of your vehicles across a number of garages and cribs across the world, and with the ability to call up and have your car delivered for little to no cost, you are never too far from your favourite sports car or bike. It is important to note, that while the physics are in no way realistic, they are incredibly easy to get used to and this was a decision made by the developers some years ago. Saints Row 2 does not focus on realism and that must be understood to truly get into the gameplay.
From vehicles to artillery, Saints Row 2 features a vast array and variety of weapons for use at your disposal. Whether it be something as simple as a baseball bat to a guided missile launcher, there are numerous ways to cause a great deal of damage back to enemy gangs or just cause chaos on the streets of Stillwater. Along with the traditional selection of pistols, rifles, shotguns etc. there is the inclusion of special weapons such as flamethrowers, satchel charges and even chainsaws which can be used in almost every mission, activity or diversion within the game.
In addition to hand-held weaponry, various vehicles can also be used to take down opponents in Stillwater from fast-food cars shooting hot oil, attack helicopters with turrets and rocket-launchers and even septic tanks shooting … (I’ll let your creativity fill in the blanks). Furthermore, police are not called to chase you until you kill enough civilians and even then, losing them is as easy as waiting it out or driving to a ‘Forgive & Forget’ store to alleviate all your notoriety (works for gangs too)!
Aiming in this game is also a piece of cake. Each time you bring out a weapon a cross-hair will come across the screen and from there, it is a matter of aiming using the right stick and then firing away. This game does not have an auto-aim feature nor does it have a cover system, but there are enough places to hide behind while in large shoot-outs to recuperate health if it withers down to the near end of the bar.
Whenever it comes to graphics in a game, I often have this saying that they don’t define a game – and there is no finer example than in Saints Row 2. If we were to look at graphics between this game and the first, without a doubt, Volition has stepped it up a notch however if you were to compare this game with something like Grand Theft Auto IV, there is no contention. I guess, the developers wanted to retain that look and feel that Saints Row introduced and it also helps to show that the game does not take itself too seriously – gameplay focuses on over-the-top enjoyment rather than reality and perfection.
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