Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Saints Row 2 (PS3, 360) Review

We're going gang-banging with the first HD reviews of 2010. It's been a year and a half since the next game came out, and I'm just getting to it. It's no secret that Grand Theft Auto IV was a disappointment to me, but that won't be the theme of the review for Saints Row 2, so no worries. I just mention it in the introduction, and then again later in the review. Now let's get bangin', yo.

Don't Be A Busta', Foo'. Get Saints Row 2.

There's no telling how disappointing Grand Theft Auto IV was to a certain sect of gamers. The city was well-developed, but the missions were pretty much the same, the characters were unlikable, and the lack of anything to do made some people angry. Volition Games is retooling its somewhat popular sandbox game, Saints Row, into a brand-new story and scenario with Saints Row 2. Are these the saints that you'll want to come marching in?

The events of Saints Row 2 take a year or so after the events of Saints Row. To recap, your character was riding high, having reclaimed the city of Stilwater from other rival gangs under the name of the Third Street Saints. Just when things were going your way, an explosion rocked a yacht you were gang-banging on. That was the cliffhanger conclusion of the original Saints Row. Now it's a year later, and you've been locked up in a cell. You haven't noticed since you've been in a coma, wrapped up in bandages. A friend of the Saints busts you out of your bandaged prison, and you escape to safety. Since your comatose state, Stilwater has changed. New gangs have surfaced and the might of the Ultor Corporation has risen to dizzying levels. The old Saints Row is no longer around. It's up to your character to lead the fight to the gangs and reclaim Stilwater for the Saints. The story really makes your character unlikable, and that really made me feel disappointed. This isn't an Oscar-worthy story, but it does enough to hold your interest until the very end.

See what happens when you mess up my masquerade party!?

As you begin Saints Row 2, you're asked to design your character. You can alter nearly everything from sex, skin color, facial hair, and voice. The voice options are pretty poor as there's only three to select from for each gender. Either you'll talk gangsta, speak with a Mexican dialect, or talk like you just got off the plane from the cockney area of London. That said, everything else is excruciatingly detailed. You can customize your face, change eye, nose, lip, arm, leg, and chest shape plus more. Once your gangster is ready for prime time, you can travel to one of many wardrobe shops and pep up your looks. From rags (jerseys and off-the-hanger chains) to riches (suits, pimp hats, highbrow retailers), there's enough clothing options to make your character stand out from the rest of the crowd in Stilwater.

Make your character your way.

There's three difficulties in Saints Row 2, casual, normal, and hard. This can be switched at any time. As for the main structure of Saints Row 2, it is simple. You earn respect by participating in activities and pulling off cool stunts and tricks. The more respect you earn, the more story missions you can play through. After you start your reclamation of Stilwater, you can choose to do missions from any one of three gangs. These can be done out of order, and you can mix and match between gang missions at any time. You're not just relegated to one gang at a time to pick apart. As you complete missions, you slowly, piece by piece, regain sections of Stilwater. Where before rival gang member caroused freely, shooting at any rival gang members such as yourself, your fellow homies are now walking around.

Missions in Saints Row 2 are much more varied than say, Grand Theft Auto IV was. There's your traditional chase missions, kill this target missions, big-ass shootouts in different sections of the city, and much more. Thankfully, Volition decided smartly to include checkpoints after nearly every big turning point of a mission. There's seldom any gratuitous redoing of sections which was something that nearly killed Grand Theft Auto IV for me. One mission you're entering a secret test facility to steal some toxic waste to inject into a gang leader's face while another you're in pursuit of high-speed gangsters on boats. As I said before, there's a ton of variety in Saints Row 2, and it doesn't just stop at the story missions either.

After the first two or so missions of the game are over, you have the entire city unlocked for you to move about in freely. Wherever you want to go, you can go there. If you want to buy a safehouse, you can do it if you have the money at the start of the game. A great way to earn money and unlock new bonuses such as the ability to run infinitely and greater health is through activities. There's a host of new activities to sink your teeth into apart from the old standbys such as insurance fraud (intentionally injure yourself for cash), snatch (driving hoes to a from their destinations), hitman (find target, kill target), and chop shop (find car, bring car back to chop shop). Drug trafficking is all-new, and in these missions you ride shotgun as you unload bullets on gang members trying to take your car and your drug-dealing driver out. There's also Fuzz where you're a cop trying to perform as much action for the camera as possible. You'll be ordered to kill enemies with a certain gun or weapon, that sort of thing. Additionally, there's septic avenger where the goal is to shoot as much %#%^ as possible all over marked locations and people before time runs out. If that wasn't enough, there's fight clubs and demolition derbies to partake in-- all of which have six levels each, and all with great rewards.

"We have liftoff. Bail out!"

All this would be great if you're just into the city of Stilwater, but there's even more. You can join a buddy online and hop in and out of missions at your leisure. It makes certain missions all the more easy to complete with two players instead of just yourself. You two can explore Stilwater freely, taking out bustas, fools, and playa-haters as much as you like.

Saints Row 2 plays really well, too. You use the left stick to walk around, the bumper to run, and the right stick to aim at enemies. There's no auto aim, so let your aim be true. Holding down the circle or A button opens up the weapon wheel. There's where you can select from grenades, rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, and melee weapons such as baseball bats and nightsticks to name a couple. The driving mechanics are pretty easy to get accustomed to despite them relying on buttons instead of the shoulder buttons like most games with driving nowadays. There's a seemingly endless amount of vehicles to drive, and they all pretty much handle as well as you'd expect.

Stilwater isn't as alive as Liberty City, but what is?

Not all is well in Stilwater, however. Sometimes, the camera can be a worst offender than rival gang members. There's also various glitches to watch out for that can make for some frustrating experiences, and there's more-common-than-I'd-prefer freezing after missions. Luckily, there's an auto-save feature, but the problem still makes for an annoying hindrance all the same. The citizens of Stilwater also seem to love driving in your way at the most inopportune times. Despite these issues, Saints Row 2 remains an entertaining game, so no worries.

Apart from the single player/cooperative story mode, there's a revamped multi-player component. Up to twelve players can duke it out in one of two modes. There's Strong Arm where the goal is to earn as much cash as possible before the other team buys out your hood. The other mode is Gangsta Brawl where the idea is simple enough: kill the opposing team by any means necessary. This time there's no true skill system to worry about or equally obnoxious player rating system. Multi-player is a cool diversion from the solo/co-op fun, but the main draw to this game's the story mode.

Take over or take cover.

Stilwater is a beautiful city, and Saints Row 2 is a beautiful game. It's not without dreaded pop-up and pop-in, but those are to be expected from a game as large and expansive as Saints 2. The voice acting is done in great way with many recognizable celebrity voices such as Neil Patrick Harris for one. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is much more varied this sequel with music from all genres and not just alternative rock and rap where they feel the need to say mother%#$%# every other line. Who doesn't love some Hall & Oates and Men at Work?

Overall, Saints Row 2 is an admirable and enjoyable follow-up to the original Saints. There's just more to do, more to see, and more people to screw around with. Those looking for a clever if not tactless alternative to the Grand Theft Auto series, you have one now with Saints Row 2.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

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