After reading the Official Game Reviewers Handbook it has been brought to my attention that no Saints Row 2 review is complete until you exhaust all Grand Theft Auto comparisons. Much like every football game is/was compared to the Madden franchise there simply cannot be an open world, sandbox style gangster (gangsta?) game that is not immediately seen as a rip off of Grand Theft Auto. It is a reality that Volition Inc. dealt with when they released the original Saints Row (at the time dubbed a ďGrand Theft Auto killerĒ) and the comparison is back with the sequel.
I know that the new hotness in the GTA universe is the story of Niko Bellic but if you want to compare Saints Row 2 to anything Rockstar Games has ever produced and have it be an accurate depiction those lines should be drawn not to Liberty City, but to San Andreas. I will state here emphatically that this game is NOTHING like GTAIV if you ignore the fact that both games are open world, action adventure ďsandboxĒ style games. After only an hour with Saints Row 2 you will immediately find yourself feeling as though youíve stepped into the true sequel to San Andreas and not a knockoff version of GTAIV. Trust me when I say that by not taking the same deeper storyline, more feelings, and epic movie route that Rockstar took with GTAIV Volition is able to create a game that is actually worth playing. What I mean by that is you donít feel as though youíve already spent 40 hours playing through this game earlier in the year. Saints Row 2 feels like a unique game, even if it is built on a foundation that was already wildly popular earlier in the year.
I might be going against the grain here but in my opinion the cut scenes in Saints Row 2 look better then those found in GTA. Maybe itís because of the deep character customization that makes your character seem more personal then the cookie cutter Russian-ish guy in Liberty City. For my money all of the major characters in Saints Row 2 are more unique, and look better then their GTA counterparts. Donít be confused, this isnít Gears of War Ė you will not be blown away by the graphics in this game but when you see the cut scenes youíll at least be satisfied at the character models and animations.
On the other hand Iím not sure there is much else that Saints Row 2 does exceptionally well. The car models are just ďmehĒ and while there is pretty deep car customization ability in the game you tend to see the same five cars through each section of Stilwater at all times. Also the way that these cars appear damaged seems a bitÖoff. You can drive 100 MPH into a concrete support beam without denting the hood of your car but there are times when youíll knock over a telephone pole and your car will explode. Oh and you will be amazed when you hit a stop sign and it doesnít wind up stuck in the middle of your hood as you drive down the street Ė and that is not a compliment. It is a graphic glitch that happens more times then it doesnít, and thatís just scratching the surface of what is wrong in the graphics department.
Any time you play one of these sandbox style games you expect some graphic wrapping or warping. Iím not even sure thatís the proper terminology but thatís what I call it when I am flying a helicopter over the open water and see the wake of a boat where a boat cannot be found. Or when youíre running towards a car parked in a parking garage but when you get the spot where you saw the car itís nowhere to be seen Ė the case of the mysterious vanishing pick up truck haunts many a Saints Row 2 neighborhood. Finally you will notice when youíre flying a helicopter that the city of Stilwater slowly fades into view as you fly around to the point where you might wind up flying into a suspension bridge, or skyscraper because it suddenly materialized in front of you. These issues plague most sandbox style games, but I felt like they were more prevalent in Saints Row 2. There is a mission at the end of the game where you must engage in a helicopter fight, which wouldnít be so hard if the helicopterís that tried to shoot you down didnít suddenly appear two inches from your own chopper without any warning.
Finally (and Iím sure you can tell I was disappointed in the graphics) you will spend a good deal of time cursing at the screen for one of two reasons. The first being that there will be moments where you wind up stuck in a rock/wall/car/ceiling with no possible way of getting down. There is a mission against the Sons of Samedi that ends in a warehouse firefight with one of the top generals in the gang. He has a voodoo doll that has the power to throw your character around, which is tough enough to defend when you donít wind up stuck in the ceiling without the ability to be hit, or hit anyone else. I just stood there watching the game happen below me for a few minutes until my God complex wore off and I had to restart. But the most egregious error in this game is the freezing Ė my god the fín freezing will drive you insane. I counted five times when my game froze during ONE mission. It literally got the point where I couldnít play the game anymoreÖI got so fed up that I almost stopped and wrote this review ending with that particular mission (for those who have finished the game itís the final Sons of Samedi mission). This game freezes a lot more then it should (and it should freeze none) so be forewarned that of all the good things this game does, the graphics cause enough headaches to be a drain on your patience.
Saints Row 2 picks up roughly around the end of the original Saints Row. Youíre in a prison hospital after being blown up on a boat. The horrible burns that you suffered allow you to customize a complete character with unique voice, style, personality and everything else under the sun. You are joined in the hospital wing by a kid saying he got himself shanked just to get to you and help you break out of prison. With some help you bust out of prison and return to Saints Row to rebuild your empire. Your first mission is to bust into the Court to spring Gat your second in command, and after that you must recruit your Lieutenants Piece and Shandi (played by the sexy voice of Eliza Dushku). Once the Saints have been rebuilt itís time to really start the fun. Stilwater has been broken up into three controlling gangs (and a super corporation which you donít really meet until the end). There are the Ronin (think Yakuza), the Sons of Samedi (Voodoo drug lords), and The Brotherhood (tattooed maniacs). Each rival gang has a set of missions and strongholds that you must complete in order to gain their territory, so that after each mission has been completed you will see a portion of your map switch from yellow (Ronin), green (Sons of Samedi), or Red (Brotherhood) to purple to signify that youíve taken control of that particular territory. Your goal is to gain control of all 45 territories and strongholds (each of which produces a certain amount of cash at the end of each day) making the Saints the most powerful gang in Stilwater.
Accompanying the main storyline of the game is a handful of side missions, and diversions. These missions allow you to gain respect (which is needed to start another mission), and money (to buy weapons, upgrades, ect). Each of the six side missions present their own unique elements from the helicopter bombing runs of Heliassault, to the people throwing fun of Crowd Control and the out of control dive in front of the car mayhem of Insurance Fraud I really did find that each of the side quests presented their own fun experience. When you complete all of the side quests you will be rewarded with an achievement and some sort of upgrade. Iíd like to give you a rundown of what these rewards are but while fun, these side quests donít really add anything to the main thrust of the game and get a bit repetitive so I only reached the final stage of the Fight Club side quest which opened up a new fighting style for my main character. One thing that I can say that I liked was that once you complete the main storyline of the game you arenít required to restart the game, instead youíre placed right back in the middle of Stilwater where you can make the push for 100% complete by finishing all of the side quest tasks.
In the end there is one major flaw in Saints Row 2 and it comes down to the fact that youíre not really doing much. There is very little variety between missions as you are going to spend most of your time driving to a spot and killing a set number of people. There is a sprinkling of driving missions strewn throughout the level, and one pretty aggravating helicopter fight mission at the end but after a few hours you will start to get bored doing what is essentially one mission repeated many times over.
I must admit that Volition Inc. went out of their way to at least provide some quality voice work for Saints Row 2. Since the main character can choose between three generic male voices, and three generic female voices there was room in the budget to bring in some heavy hitters for the support roles. The most notable is Shandi who is voiced by Eliza Dushku. Iím sure that Iím not alone in saying this but Dushku has a fantastic voice and she made all of the scenes with Shandi more enjoyable. Joining her in the cast is Neil Patrick Harris (Veteran Child), Michael Dorn (Maero), Keith David (The Arbiter from Halo 3, and Julius in this game), Joe Camerano (Carlos), Daniel Dae Kim (Johnny Gat), and Michael Rappaport (Troy). As you can see that is a pretty impressive list of voice talent and it does add to the cut scenes and how enjoyable they are.
Volition Inc. also did a great job with the soundtrack. There are a handful of radio stations available when youíre in the car that range from classic rock and rap, to reggae and hardcore rock. The variety of songs is pretty wide though if youíre anything like me youíll just keep the dial tuned to the classic rock station waiting for ďThe Final Countdown.Ē I will say that one thing I thought was missing from this game is news channels, or talk radio station. I always got a kick out of the talk radio stations in GTA providing both liberal and conservative messages Ė while the music is great I would have liked to hear some comedy bits from either a liberal or conservative viewpoint.
At this point itís probably worth mentioning the vehicle and weapons sounds but in the end you wonít really notice them, which is a good thing. The cars all sound pretty good although not like authentic vehicles but more how youíd expect them to sound in a game like this. The weapons also donít leave a lasting impression on your psyche which is fine, their sound wonít take away from the game and thatís really all you can ask for in this type of game.
This is a difficult decision for a few reasons. On the one hand there is multiplayer and online co-op which should give this game some shelf life. Volition Inc. has already announced some DLC including a Christmas theme, and a new story arc that should be out before the end of this year. Those things alone should keep people playing Saints Row 2 for a little while. However, by the time I got to the final mission of this game I could not wait to take it out of my console and leave it out for the foreseeable future. The graphical glitches, and repetitive game play didnít leave me wanting more, and the multiplayer and online co-op has never been a very big selling point for me in these types of sandbox games. If I wanted to play a great multiplayer game Iíd play Halo 3, COD4, or Gears of War 2. Iíd choose not to delve into the multiplayer for Saints Row 2 for the same reason I never really supported the GTAIV multiplayer.
I will admit that online co-op adds something that was sorely lacking from the GTA franchise. However, once again there are better games to play co-op then this one and by the time I had finished one play through of this game I couldnít imagine going back and playing through again. Here is the problem with a game that is built on crazy moments and ruthless violence Ė when there is no story there isnít much of an incentive to keep playing. Maybe Iím jaded but after beating the main storyline of Saints Row 2 I felt happy that I had gotten to the end, but I had no desire to keep playing from that point on.
If youíre the type of person who enjoys these sandbox games and their multiplayer component then youíre going to find more to do with this game then I did. Of course after putting in over 20 hours of game play you could ask how much more appeal do you want? All in all Iíd say there is some redeeming value to this game because of the DLC and the co-op play.
For those of you who love the rank up system in a game like COD4 you will not be happy with this multiplayer. While there is no ranking system as you progress through the multiplayer modes there is a badge system. This is basically just a reward you get for completing certain tasks. After each match you can select which badge you want to display next to your name in the lobby Ė but again there is no real benefit to having these. It would be cool if you unlocked vehicles or weapons by winning these badges, of course then youíd have people just running around Stilwater trying to complete the tasks instead of playing the multiplayer. All in all Iíd say this only appeals to people who want to show off, or rack up achievements. In the end I donít think the superficial badge system is enough to get people to invest more of their time into Saints Row 2.
Saints Row 2 starts off really fun. As a matter of fact for the first five hours or so you will even like this game more then you enjoyed GTAIV. The story might not be as deep, but the game play is more over the top, and the feeling of being in an open world where you can do almost anything imaginable makes the early phase of this game incredibly fun. Unfortunately once you experience your first freeze, or you spend some time stuck in a car that is going underwater your tune will change. After you stand around during a mission killing every rival gang member within a 10 mile radius only to have fifty more guys show up after ten seconds you will begin to get a bit aggravated. Iíd venture to guess that you will flat out stop having fun with this game around the 15 hour mark or so when the story gets painfully repetitive, the missions stop being enjoyable and your gangmates continue to shoot you in the back of the head during Stronghold missions, or worse yet just spend five minutes shooting a car that youíre standing behind blowing you, the car, and them all up for no reason.
There is fun to be had in this game. The missions start off being fun, the side quests start off being fun and hell buying property and customizing cars is fun. However, after awhile you start to feel like youíre just spinning your wheels and then everything stops being fun. I criticized GTAIV for trying to hard, and in the same vein Iíd criticize Saints Row 2 for not trying hard enough. This game knows what is wants to be and it doesnít stray at all from that formula no matter how draining on the player that strategy becomes later in the game.
At the beginning the lack of a deep movie like storyline seems almost refreshing. Unfortunately after awhile you realize that when you donít feel anything for any of the characters in this game what youíre left with is mindless killing for the sake of mindless killing. Saints Row 2 doesnít try to be anything at all Ė it is exactly what youíd expect it to be, a sandbox game that rewards you for killing as many people as possible without providing much of a reason to do so. Iím not even saying thatís a bad thing Ė but I am saying that it doesnít bring much to the table in terms of rewarding or fulfilling game play. In the end this game is just thereÖand Iím not sure thatís enough during a holiday season full of worthwhile games that you will really enjoy playing.
The cut scenes are really good, but the clipping, warping and freezing will be enough to drive you crazy
You get what you expect with Saints Row 2 which isn't a bad thing but some more variety would have added to the score.
Good voice acting and radio stations, would have liked more variety on the radio and the weapons/cars sound average.
The story mode will take you about 20 hours or so, and with multiplayer and co-op there is enough to keep you coming back, the question is whether you'll want to
Graphic issues and repetitive gameplay hamper what starts out as a fun mindless game.