Saints Row 2 Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by Simon Wigham  
Filed under Reviews, Xbox 360

Grand Theft Auto IV may very well be one of the highest rated games on the planet, but there’s no getting away from the fact that there was seemingly almost as many people disappointed with it (Chris was amongst them, as you can see in our review) as there were people who thought of it as the next coming of Christ. The disappointed camp, cited various reasons, such as lack of things to spend their cash on, few interesting diversions away from the story missions, the move towards a more realistic experience as opposed to the somewhat OTT nature of its predecessors, oh and then, of course, there’s that annoying socialising feature. But enough of that I’m not here right now to criticize GTA IV (and yes it’s a really good, but flawed game) but rather to heap praise on Saints Row 2, a game that like its predecessor bears plenty of similarities with old style GTA.

Saints Row 2 has many connections to the previous game, so if you haven’t played that one, I suggest you do so as it complements it nicely and makes certain aspects feel that much more important. If you happen to have an aversion for playing older games however, its still largely self contained, so it’s hardly a requisite. There isn’t really one true story here, but rather each gang have their own story arc, making it feel a little disconnected, though the crazy cast of characters are likable enough and provide plenty of laughs throughout the story.

Before you’re able to wreak havoc in the city of Stilwater, you must first make yourself an avatar (this time you have a choice of both the male and female variety) through an extensive array of options that rivals EA in the sheer possibilities available. Almost everything can be tweaked, and you’re even able to change the accent of your character as well as the way he or she moves. But character crafting is just the tip of the personalization iceberg in Saints Row 2.

Your cribs can also be spruced up, cars can be customised, you are given the chance to choose the tag of your gang, as well as the clothes they wear and the vehicles that they drive around in. It’s certainly a game that is nice enough to allow you to stamp your own mark on it, and in this regard its generosity sets it apart from similar games, not to forget the fact that this all costs money, which in turn means there’s not a lack of things to spend your cash on in the city of Stilwater. Continuing this trend, there are also business’ and vehicles to be purchased.

Structurally, Saints Row 2 is identical to the first game. The story missions are still locked away until you gain enough respect from playing the activities. Speaking of those, all of them from the first game return (most of which are even better) whilst there’s also a smattering of new ones to try your hand at. Highlights include Fight Club, which, as the name suggests, is a series of melee brawls. The fighting mechanics may not be able to compete with the best specialist fighting games, but that’s to be expected, and what’s there is adequate enough and certainly better than anything that any similar game has to offer. Crowd Control sees you protecting celebrities from fans and homicidal maniacs, by tossing them into objects with the all new throwing manoeuvre (which has to be amongst the most satisfying and hilarious of actions in any game). With all these activities in mind, as well as the story missions, there’s potential for plenty of mileage from Saints Row 2.

These activities are worthy of play for more than just, evil grin inducing, enjoyment, as advancing through them will get you various rewards for your efforts. Punching power and shooting accuracy can be increased, explosion damage can be lessened, gang members can be gained, amongst other perks. It’s hugely rewarding and gives even more incentive to work through as much of them as possible.

The story missions themselves are hugely enjoyable, even if they sometimes lack the imagination of some of the more outrageous activities. Thankfully there are checkpoints on the bigger missions, which considerably cuts down the level of frustration, keeping things on the joyous side.

The original Saints Row refined many of the uglier aspects of the GTA games, but, of course, since that game was released there has been an advent of a little game called GTA4, which itself has tidied up many of the series’ past flaws.

Saints Row had a much tidier FPS like control scheme in place for its shooting mechanics, making it a far less frustrating and more pleasurable experience than GTA games of past. For this sequel it’s virtually identical to the original, though there’s an all new over the shoulder perspective, which is helpful for distant targeting. The game lacks a true cover system, though enemies can now be grabbed and used as shields, which can be a real lifesaver in a heated gunfight. The shooting, with it’s refinements is even better than the first games already sound system.

The driving aspect still has the emphasis placed firmly on arcade style accessibility, which will please those who were disappointed with the additional layer of realism that GTA IV’s driving model had. Different vehicles have a satisfying variance to their handling too, whilst cruise control makes it easier to maintain speed whilst shooting at the same time. Motorbikes and flight vehicles have been introduced, which further extends your options.

There’s few problems in Saints Row 2. Technically it’s fairly average, but does have a largely steady frame-rate, whilst the poor path finding of the team-mate AI can frustrate on occasion. There’s also a number of minor bugs, but this has come to be expected from such ambitious projects as sandbox games, fortunately, as far as I could see, there’s nothing game breaking.

Just like the first game, Saints Row 2 has online play. Gangsta Brawl (which has both solo and team variants) is the games’ version of death-match, whilst Strongarm sees you and your team attempting to complete activities, before the other team does. Both modes are hugely enjoyable, but the biggest draw to many will perhaps be the co-op mode, which allows for you and another player to work through the primary mode together online or via system link. In regard to online lag, my experience with the online as a whole has been a bit mixed, but when it’s smooth, there’s much enjoyment to be had.

Saints Row 2 is explosive, juvenile fun, with a sizable city that boasts plenty of things to do and an impressive level of customisation options. It’s the perfect tonic for those who think GTA has went all serious and boring on them, but more importantly it’s just an immensely enjoyable game to play.

9/10

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