SummaryCrass & Offensive, but undoubtedly one of the most entertaining games ever made.
The GoodSaints Row first appeared at the beginning of the current generation, and while it garnered a following, it was not much more than a rip off of GTA San Andreas and didn't really do enough to really gain much attention. It was a mere snack to tide sandbox crime fans over until Rockstar released a true next gen GTA game. Saints Row 2 then found itself in an awkward position, GTA IV was looming on the horizon and so not many people payed attention to Volition's work, so Volition quickly buckled down and shoveled in as much content as possible, gave the game as loud a voice as possible, and unceremoniously threw it into the fray. It was so loud that people couldn't help but take a gander, and one of those people was my wife, who a day after bringing it home didn't emerge from the gaming room until 3 days later.
SR2 is no GTA IV, and I think it understands that. It doesn't try to be GTA IV so much as a lighter toned version of San Andreas, perfecting the concept of taking over gang territory and having a posse of gangbangers follow you. San Andreas was a great game, but it was experimental and had flaws, but the concept is nearly perfect here in Saints Row 2. Each area of the map is owned by various gangs, and you have to take over that territory through missions and wars. It works great and tackling each gang brings a unique string of missions that all stand out. My favourite gang was by far the Sons of Samedi, both fighting them as well as observing them. Not only was their leader awesome with an awesome suit, any gang modeled after Baron Samedi gets props from me. They also put up the most interesting fight, bringing some supernatural elements into the mix deep into their mission line. Its fun to run around with mush brained lackeys and gang wars are always intense and fun, and its satisfying to take chunks of land.
The controls are also perfected from the GTA formula. Cars control great, you can pull off just about any maneuver with ease, style, and grace, and you will rarely get into an accident unless the AI or yourself intended it to happen. Using weapons in cars is a second nature, with a crosshair always on screen and the ability to shoot while still driving straight is a great thing. The on foot controls are just as good, weapons, motion, everything just feels right. Even flying in planes and helicopters controls damn near perfectly, something that games simply can't seem to do. The controls become second nature and sometimes you'll forget you have a controller in your hands.
Character customization is awesome. You can create just about any character you imagine, from a cool Sean Connery-esque pimp in a pinstripe suit to a fat transvestite with big breasts and a Mexican accent wearing nothing but a garter belt. The various clothes, tattoos, accessories and highly varied character customization tool gives you several different options to create any character you like. I had fun with it because I always love churning out mutants with these things.
"Variety" is the key word in Saints Row 2. From the lengthy and fun missions to various oddjobs (Emphasis on the word "Odd") and side missions to the high amount of interactivity with the world means that you will have plenty to do. There are tons of different weapons, vehicles, and mini-games that all are fun to use and do, and the game rewards you by unlocking new missions and items for doing them, but unlike most games where doing side missions to unlock something feels like a chore, in SR2 you WANT to do these minigames because they are fun. Even if they weren't rewarding you with cash and respect, the amount of fun one can have with them is reward enough. This means the game has nigh on infinite replay value too, there are so many misadventures to have in Stilwater even outside the script, which is truly what a sandbox game should have. The game world may not be as immersive as a GTA game or some other sandbox games and it definitely feels like a game at all times, but that's the beauty of it, the game knows its a game and doesn't take it seriously. It just says "Have a lot of fun with me."
Co-op mode is awesome. Me & My wife had a ball meeting up on Xbox live (Though it is annoying that so few games use splitscreen! The only reason we have two xboxes is to overcome this since we love playing games together but so few support splitscreen these days) and jumping into Stilwater and causing individual mayhem, tackling missions, and finding new ways to kill each other. I still remember the time she was having a rampage with a bazooka, and I decided it was time to save the residents of Stilwater from her mayhem, so I barreled out of a plane and killed her... by crushing her with my body. We also had a blast doing the "Insurance Fraud" minigame together, where we pretend to get in accidents to get cash. One time we both jumped in front of the same truck and the game glitched out and our ragdolls got stuck together. It was hilarious.
The BadThe graphics are... meh. While the player clothes often have nice details, and the game is quite colourful which is a pleasure to see after so many dark and gray coloured games, but the detail is poor and special effects aren't exactly "special." The game looks awful and has some annoying draw distance problems and car damage modeling is embarrassing, especially when compared to GTA III. Yes, I mean GTA III, not IV. The only visuals that really work here are some nice shadowing and lighting effects, and the aforementioned colours. The framerate also takes a dive at times, particularly in boat chases or missions with frequent and massive explosions.
While you will often laugh at the misadventures you have and the havoc you start, the game itself and the writing simply isn't funny. In fact, it's offensive. Maybe this is just the feminist in me talking, but when only 3 female characters have names and the rest are just "B**ch" and "Ho" and are often just used as props giving sexual favours or dressed like hookers even when they aren't, is somewhat offensive and the way characters talk is annoying. I may swear up a storm at times but the language here is ridiculous and the characters try so hard to be "Gangsta" they end up being more annoying than entertaining.
The music is sparse, while I suppose its not bad, I'm not really into rap and the only good rock station is mostly 80's stuff and there are only a couple good tracks. There's a station that plays classical music, and I love me some classical but it doesn't really fit the mood of the game, but all inall the classical they picked is good. You can buy more tracks in music stores, but I honestly couldn't find more than maybe 2 or 3 that were any good.
The game world is relatively small compared to other sandbox games, but I suppose in the end it makes up for it by having so much stuffed into it.
Having a Japanese wife, studying their ancient culture and religion, as well as living there for a short period has taught me a lot about them and the Ronin gang in the game is downright offensive in how stereotypical they are. Every Japanese stereotype ever uttered finds its way in there and having had a brief encounter with a Yakuza member, I know that the Japanese mafia aren't a bunch of yellow Jumpsuit clad gits with Katana's going on about "Honor honor honor" all day. If anything, the real Japanese mafia is somewhat like the Russian mafia; ruthless and unashamed of their brutality. While the Yakuza and other gangs in Japan do rely on Respect, its respect in the same mannerism as the rest of the gangs in this game or street gangs, respect just gets you a higher place on the ladder but lack of respect or 'honor' doesn't get you booted out or make you have to sacrifice anything. Maybe I'm biased, but I found it somewhat offensive to the degree of stereotyping here of the Japanese, and in some ways, Mexicans as well.
The Bottom LineSaints Row 2 isn't a masterpiece in the artistic sense, but when it comes down to 'having a good time' Saints Row 2 delivers. Big time. It may be annoying, loud, and offensive but if you can tape its mouth shut you'll find a lot of fun to be had. That's all there is to it, its just "Fun" and it has nigh on infinite replay value. One can only wonder where Volition can take us next, but one can only hope that their next Saints Row game is just as plentiful in content, because if that's the truth than we will have a sandbox game that can last a lifetime and never get old.