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Saints Row 2

A GTA Killer? Close.
I’ll admit outright, I never played Saints Row; I never played any iteration of GTA 3 – but I did play GTA IV and had a pretty good time playing it, even if my attention drifted elsewhere after playing it for a while. With some trepidation I took on Saints Row 2, I mean why would I want to dive into yet another wide open sandbox title when I still hadn’t finished GTA? Did I really think that the characters would be a little more engaging and entertaining in this than the fleshed out immigrant Nico, and would the things l loved about that title translate to this one? Let the reclamation of Stillwater begin.

Taking place five years after the first title, SR2 begins with your character waking up from a coma due to an injury sustained at the end of the first game. Sadly, you’re not simply in a hospital and can walk out, but in a prison but thankfully there are people who know who you are and what you did prior to being incarcerated and subsequently help you escape from prison. Once out, the city opens up and it’s up to you to get the 3rd St Saints back into the limelight as gang not to be messed with.

After you open up your first crib and secure some homies to join in rebuilding the Saints with you, the real tasks of the game come into play – take out the other gangs who’ve cornered your old stomping grounds and make them wish they’d never stepped foot into Stillwater. The game features three new gangs who all need to be eliminated through a series of missions that can range from escort missions to taking out drug labs, and engaging in sword fights with Japanese gangsters, all depending on which gang you are taking on at the moment. Mixed in with the mission style gameplay are strongholds which need to be stormed and cleaned out of your enemies. Some of the missions are fairly short and won’t offer much challenge, while others are quite long and you may die while attempting to complete them and in one of the biggest pluses of the game when you die you are given an option to continue at a checkpoint if you’ve made it far enough. This is much nicer than have to repeat a 30+ minute stronghold from the beginning if you accidentally blow yourself up with a rocket launcher or stand too close to a burning fire.

Mixed in with the plethora of missions are tons of activities that you can do as diversions from the main story line. These can be anything from an alternate take on COPS called FUZZ, where you dress as a police officer and perform some vigilante justice for the camera, or one called Ho-ing where you perform thumb stick commands to pleasure a client. The game even includes a BASE jumping diversion if you get bored of causing mayhem or taking out rival gangs with nut shots.

Entertaining story aside, the game features a great set of customization options at the beginning of the title. Unlike my fellow reviewer, I chose to not put myself in the game but created a bad ass female character that not only looked good, but kicked ass like there was no tomorrow. If the initial customization options aren’t good enough, the city is littered with shops where you are able to buy clothing or jewelry, music to play on your custom radio station, or even pimp out your car with hydraulics to wow the crowds and earn more respect on the streets.

Compared to the other big sandbox title, I found that Saints Row 2 didn’t quite look as snazzy or pack the visual punch that other titles have been able to. But it’s hard to deny the pleasure you’ll get out of seeing the massive explosions take over the screen while you’re cruising away in a stolen car. And while the Rockstar title was able to demonstrate some outstanding voice acting and musical selections, I personally feel that SR2 easily met or even exceeded GTA IV in both areas. The musical selections here most definitely take top prize thanks to the sheer variety of music you can listen to. You can go from hearing the Culture Club on second, to A-Ha the next, and finish off the three song set with Mastodon. It’s a varied and excellent soundtrack. The voice acting too is top notch, of course there’s going to be some subpar section where the cheese factor rises exponentially, but overall the actors used for the game did a top notch job of bringing these characters to life. Even the typically quite main character is loaded with voice work throughout the game.

The achievements on the other hand are very skewed to the long time player and OCD gamerscore whore. If you like to simply sample the activities in the game you won’t get many achievements points until you start defeating all the gangs’ missions and strongholds. There are a good amount of achievements also awarded for playing the game in the co-op mode, which is nice to encourage that type of gaming.

There is one major issue that I personally encountered very frequently when playing SR2 and that is a case of the game locking up and requiring me to reboot the Xbox, this happened at least twice per gaming session and became very frustrating because it could happen anytime, even in the middle of a long mission or stronghold storming.

That issue aside, SR2 is a very enjoyable game that deserves more attention than it likely is getting. Being released in the shadow of GTA the game was likely labeled as a “me too” title and passed over by people who weren’t familiar with the title. Taking what makes the game such a joy and including cooperative play is an excellent enhancement, it worked very well for Crackdown and here too when you can get into a game this late into the games life cycle. Assuming the crashing issues that I observed on my system were isolated (I didn’t hear many reports of this happening to others) then Saints Row 2 gets a highly recommended grade from this reviewer.