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Saints Row 2


Saintís Row came on to the scene at a very opportune time. Grand Theft Auto IV had been delayed for at least a year, so anyone needing a fix had a new franchise to turn to. Surprisingly, Saintís Row wasnít nearly as awful as other games that tried the GTA formula in the past. In fact, it wasnít awful at all, it was better than the latest GTA installment at the time, San Andreas in many ways, and didnít leave a bad taste in your mouth. It held its own incredibly well. However, Saintís Row 2 is making its debut on both the 360 and PS3 this time around, and right after GTA IV. Does it pale in comparison, or is it a GTA killer? Like the first game, itís somewhere in between, but definitely closer to being at the positive end of the spectrum.

The story is pretty straight forward. Stillwater has turned into a successful area thatís loaded with fancy skyscrapers; making the gangsta hood you called your home unrecognizable. Your affiliated gang, The Saints, have pretty much disbanded since the last time you raised hell with them. Thereís only one predictable thing to do from there, and thatís reclaim your hood, and expand your territory even further by wiping the rest of the gangs off the bottom of your shoe.

Is it simple? Yes. Does it ruin the game in any way? No! Thatís the best thing about Saints Row 2. It knows that if it went head to head with GTA IV based on story and contextual content, as well as trying to provide the most real experience imaginable, it wouldnít have a chance. This game focuses on providing a good time through the gameplay experience alone, and it succeeds in almost every way. The cut scenes in the game are lousy, the voice acting is awful, and the script itself would make you want to cringe if this were any other game. However, because Saints Row 2 is clearly going for a different experience than its competitor, it all fits together splendidly.

One thing thatís very different from our first trip to Stillwater is the character youíre going to play as. The character creator is incredibly in depth. I spent some time tweaking every little feature I could, and eventually I thought I was looking in a mirror. I had my wife come and look at the character I made and she was floored by how close a match it was. Another big change is how much your character talks. In the first game, it was as if you had your jaw wired shut, yet in this game, youíre talking in every cut scene! This is great, and the concept behind being able to choose the voice you were prefer to use for your character is nice too, but theyíre all pretty extreme. Thereís no Ďmiddle of the roadí voice. Last but not least, you can choose a positive response you can give to people on the street, as well as a vulgar taunt.

Donít expect anything out of the ordinary when it comes to the missions themselves. Youíre still going to be picking up and dropping off, running into places with guns blazing, covering people with a sniper rifle as deals go down, and much, much more. If youíre looking for Saints Row 2 to knock your socks off with something really new and fresh, then youíre going to be disappointed.

Where this game truly excels, is in its open ended gameplay. I know, I know. Youíre saying, ďAll of the games that are like this are open ended!Ē True, but how many of them let you go anywhere on the map and access any of the side missions right from the beginning of the game? You have the option of spending all your free time playing only side missions, the story, or mixing it up whenever you want. Not only that, but this philosophy works with weapons, too. You can use a kitana fairly early in the game, and you can find them frequently. Everything is easily accessible in this game.

Car garages are a lot better in this game than theyíve ever been for any open ended game. In GTA IV for example, youíre left with a parking space that allows you to park two cars, maybe a third if you can fit it in there just right. Saints Row 2 rectifies this annoyance by automatically placing your car in a garage that can hold numerous cars at once.

The only real limitation you have as far as things you can or cannot have early on in the game, are the clothes or cribs you can buy with the blood money you earn. Itís worth saving up though, because you can buy some expensive cribs that come with a helipad. You fly a chopper in the game, and itís yours in a garage thatís located on the helipad! You can decorate the multiple cribs youíll undoubtedly buy to be cheap and on the down low, or you can pimp it up and install stripper poles! Try getting your homies to leave your crib then!

A lot of the old activity favorites are still around. You can still earn a lot of cash by driving around town while a hooker is keeping a client happy in the back seat, and you can still rack up a lot of dough by performance insurance fraud. To be expected for another installment in the series, there are numerous of other fun activities that you can toy around with, and theyíre a lot of fun. You can drive around town in a septic truck and spray crap (literally) over anyone and anything, and you can even join in underground fight clubs!

Saints Row 2 is an incredibly fun game. Itís loaded to the teeth with action and fun activities, and you can play through the game at any pace you want, thanks to the great idea of making the entire map open to you from the beginning of the game. Is it better than GTA IV? No, itís not. I still prefer the more dramatic storyline and the realistic graphics, but to be fair, Saints Row 2 never tries to compete with its competitor. If you were a fan of the original Saints Row, this is a solid effort, and definitely worth picking up if youíre tired of GTA IV.


Graphics

Honestly, I thought the first game looked a lot better. Saints Row 2 isnít exactly ugly, but because this game is intentionally going with a fun theme as opposed to a deep one, it doesnít seem to fit the tone of the game as well as the original. We used to have some really saturated colors that were almost cartoony. It was unrealistic, sure, but it added a nice kind of pizzazz to the image.

Thatís not my only gripe though. The world that was created for the second offering doesnít appear to be as diverse in its appearance. A lot more detail could have been added to almost everything. What weíre left with is an open ended world, yes, but an open ended world that practically looks the same around every corner.

Even though I knew this game wasnít going to look as good as GTA IV, I still expected it to look at least as good as its predecessor. Iím not sure if the developers were in a rush to cash in on the numerous GTA fans before they got tired of playing this kind of game, or what. Whatever the reason, I think they really dropped the ball here.


Sound

I canít say Iím very disappointed in the sound department though! Whenever thereís a big explosion or thereís some loud guns going off, it sounds pretty decent. The bass doesnít really shake things up in your living room, but itís loud and has enough Ďoomphí to give you a great feel for the action thatís taking place on the screen. The dynamic range that youíll experience between gameplay and cut scenes could have been evened out a little, but itís a minor annoyance since youíre spending most of your time playing anyway. The most impressive aspect of the audio is its directionality. Youíre going to hear a very accurate representation of where things are around you at all times.

As far as the soundtrack goes, itís stellar. It doesnít feel nearly as diverse as what was offered in GTA IV, but it more than makes up for this by taking great pride in its quality, not the quantity. In fact, Iíd even say that I actually prefer the soundtrack to this game over that of its competitor.


Gameplay

Saints Row played smoother than a babyís butt, offering an insanely easy control scheme that felt a lot easier to use than that of San Andreas, so itís no surprise that the same focus on ease of use has been carried over here.

The vehicles are still not grounded in reality as far as the controls go. You can still spin your car around as if it were a tin can, and this furthers the effort that was made to make this a game that wouldnít be frustrating. Whatís kind of a disappointment though is that you never feel like youíre ever driving at an insanely dangerous speed. The joy rides you go on feel pretty tame.

The aiming system is smooth and fluid, and it doesnít take a lot of time to get used to at all.

Thereís nothing really frustrating about the gameplay itself. There are some times where thereís a lot going on at once, and the game can slow down a little, but keep in mind it takes an awful lot to keep this game down.


Overall

Saints Row 2 isnít a GTA killer, thatís for sure. However, it stands well enough on its own due to its different take on this style of game. There are so many fun activities that you can take guilty pleasure in playing right from the beginning of the game, and you can go back to that shoot Ďem up until theyíre all dead storyline whenever you want. I think Iíd be hard pressed to find anyone who didnít care for this game at all, because although it has numerous shortcomings when it comes to its graphical presentation, the game makes up for it in so many different ways that you just donít care! This game is recommended to anyone who has ever played the original in the series, or wants something thatís a little more laid back than GTA IV.