Saints Row 2 (PS3)
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Release Date: 10/14/2008
Attention: This game and therefore review are rated M for Mature. Please expect gratuitous language throughout.
Or at least for a bit until I get bored. Thank you.
Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck-fuck-fuck.
Welcome to Saint’s Row 2.
This is pretty much how the game starts out; slapping you in the face with its over-the-top use of language. In quick order you’re presented with just about every major gangsta stereotype imaginable, up to and including your own death when the game informs you that you’ve been “smoked”.
And you know what? It’s a fucking hiliarious good time.
Okay, done swearing. Let’s review.
1. Story / Modes
Taking place 3 years after the end of the first game you… wait, what? You didn’t play the first game? Yeah, neither did I as it was only for the 360. Eh, no big deal, you pick up quickly. Where was I? Ah yes, you were on an exploding boat and in a coma for three years. You wake up in prison, break out (in what is possibly the easiest jail escape ever) and make it back to Stillwater (everyone says it’s a combo of Chicago and Detroit, but I can see a hint of Atlanta in there as well) to find that your gang split up and the city is controlled by three rival gangs and an evil corporation that you must defeat and unite Stillwater under the control of the Third Street Saints, just as soon as you rebuild your gang.
Confused? You won’t be, after
this episode of killing everything that moves. Yeah, it’s simpler that way.
In all seriousness, there are 3 major story arcs, one for each rival gang. Due to the open nature of the game, you can run through and entire story, or jump between them as you wish. The writing, as cheesy as it sounds sometimes, is excellently handled, as is the direction. While everything is couched in gangsta terminology, the actual dialogue flows naturally from each character making them feel more like real, believable people than shuffling electrons on a screen. It even makes you go so far as to actually care about some of them; which is a real feat considering, as my esteemed colleague Matt Yeager expertly put it, everyone there is a “complete asshole”.
Saints Row 2 also offers multiplayer modes, both in story-mode and in specialized online competitions. It’s a nice feature, but the game defaults to having you let anyone play with you, so until you turn the function off (or to friends only), you’ll be sporadically hit with “join requests”. Which is nice, I guess, but not necessary.
Story / Modes Rating: Classic
If the Devil’s in the details, then Volition, Inc is clearly staffed by Satanists.
While the graphics aren’t blow-your-mind-realistic, the sheer variety is impressive. First off, the pedestrians are all different. Height, age, weight, gender, even style of dress. There are dozens of different cars, not including the motorcycles, jet skis, speed boats, helicopters, planes, and unlockable things, like a UFO. There’s even a truck shaped like a combo basket from the local Freckle Bitch’s fast food chain. You can literally drive around town killing pedestrians in a giant soft-drink, with exhaust coming out the fries in the back.
The personality goes even deeper when you get to the neighborhoods. Each area has its own personality in everything from the buildings to the businesses to the street itself. You can watch the road as you drive from one ‘hood to another and see the style change. Clean new asphalt changes to patched squares and running tar lines, and eventually to potholes and those annoying giant metal plates.
The weather system is nuanced as well, featuring different kinds of rain, from a light sprinkle to a blinding downpour. Granted, that doesn’t sound like much to get excited about, but when you think that most games only go so far as rain/no-rain and the fact that the weather here actually affects your driving, then yeah, I think it’s impressive.
There are smaller details, too. Lights changing, headlights coming on at night, people getting umbrellas out during the rain, people smoking, and even that little hexagon you get looking directly into the sun. It’s all in there.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t have its problems. There’s some flicker during the cut scenes (which seem to be zoomed-in game graphics, rather than pre-rendered) which is annoying, but so rare as to make it largely ignorable. The bigger problem is clipping with civilians. Sometimes people get stuck in other objects. I drove around for a while with a pedestrian half trapped in the roof of my car, flailing wildly trying to get out. Then there was the time I threw someone into the ocean, only to have them buried up to their waist in the sand. And of course there was the stripper in one of my cribs who was stuck in some sort of pedestal so that only her head was visible (though to be fair, this could be a feature for some sort of bukkake diversion I had yet to unlock. Take that, “hot coffee”!)
Graphics Rating: Great
3 words for you. Neil-motherfucking-Patrick-Harris. You know you’ve hit the big time when you’ve got NPH playing a rasta/hippie/college-dj in your game.
Needless to say, the voice acting is flawless. With such a huge cast (did I mention there are six different voices for the protagonist?) you’d expect to hit a few duds, but I’ve yet to find any. This includes all the bit-players and street folk. Again, you can see Volition, Inc.‘s attention to detail and background pieces here. People in the street are always chatting, especially when they’re being thrown there from their cars. The best so far? When yanking one driver out the his seat, he hit the ground yelling, “KHAAAAANNN!”.
And bonus points for having my character sing along with “Take On Me”.
Sound Rating: Classic
4. Control / Gameplay
When you start the game with your character’s creation, you’re presented with an incredible amount of options. This is, quite litereally, the most options I’ve ever seen for a simple character. Playing through the game will unlock more options as you go, and you’ve always got the ability to switch everything (and I do mean everything: face, voice, gender….) around once you’ve started by visiting a plastic surgeon. So if you’ve ever wanted to create an old, overweight asian woman with green hair, a beard and the voice of a man, this is the game for you!
Once you actually get started, play runs pretty smoothly. L2 and R2 are your fists, allowing you to brawl and mix up your hits for combos. Guns fire nicely, each having their own unique characteristics. There’s no lock-on, which would have been helpful, but you can fire a full 360 degrees while driving, so there’s that.
The driving system is simple and straightforward and handles better than most. The cars have a real feel to them based on mass and manueverability which only adds to the level of the game’s detail. And while you’re driving you can use the built-in GPS system, which allows you to get where you’re going without opening and closing the map screen a dozen times. The more you drive around, the more GPS shortcuts you’ll unlock, which let you get there faster.
Unfortunately, the GPS and mini-map are prone to error. Sometimes the GPS sends you the long way around, especially during boat missions. And the minimap doesn’t show elevation, which isn’t so much a problem for driving as it is for fighting. In some of the buildings you’ll round a corner expecting a fight, only to find it empty. Or have a red dot on the minimap zoom up behind you (and even follow you around), even though there’s no one else on your floor. And while we’re on the subject of bizzare behaviour; who made the protagonist into Chief Broom from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”? You seem to have the ability to rip heavy objects from their moorings in the concrete and not only throw them, but wield them as weapons. Weird.
The actual gameplay is so huge and varied I wouldn’t have room to write about it all, so I’ll skim a bit. You’ve got 3 different gangs to take down in three different mission arcs. Each mission requires a certain amount of respect from your gang in order for you to take it on. To earn respect you can kill members from other gangs, do some driving stunts, or undertake activities and diversions. The activities and diversions will earn you cash and respect and range from racing to spraying raw sewage all over town.
In need of cash? You can always rob any of the stores in the game, but it’s easier to take over territory by completing missions. Each neighborhood provides you with some cash every day, which can be increased by “buying” the local establishments. Which you can still rob. Ah, the circle of life.
Of course, robbing places will bring out the cops. As will running down pedestrians for some reason. Oh, and carjacking right in front of a cop upsets them as well. What doesn’t tick off the police? Killing other gangsters. I suppose they see it as your civic duty or something. Sometimes they’ll even help out!
But for my money, the best way to play this game is with the cheat codes on. I know, it’s anathema to gamers to advocate such a thing, but cheating in Saints Row 2 is a thing of beauty. In fact, it almost becomes another game altogether. It hit me when my character, dressed in a leather motorcycle jacket and wielding an automatic shotgun, walked through some flames to blow up more cop cars. Bullets were flying everywhere, cops were freaking out and burning, and reinforcements were on the way. It was then I realized; I’m not playing as a thug, I’m playing as the Terminator. It was hours of mindless explodey entertainment.
Did I mention you can make your character look kinda like Summer Glau?
Looking back at what I’ve written, I’m still not sure I’ve done the game justice. It’s deep, varied, immersive, and immensely fun. One of the best I’ve played in a long time.
Control / Gameplay Rating: Classic
I don’t know that “replayability” is what we’re talking about here, so much as “long term playability”. There’s so much ground to cover, so many mini-games to play, and so many hidden items (music, tagging spots, jump ramps) that you’ll get 100 hours of gameplay out of this, easy. So while I don’t know that you’d start up a new game to play all the way through (after all, you can revisit old missions any time you want), I can see this being a lasting game on the shelf that won’t be traded in anytime soon.
Replayability Rating: Great
Overall, Saints Row 2 is a pretty well balanced game. In the day-to-day activities, you don’t take on more heat than you bring upon yourself. Some of the missions get a bit heavy, but with some decent tactics and a good use of human shields, you get by okay. I think what I’m getting at is that while it can be hard, you never get the feeling you died unfairly.
And if it does get a bit too hard, you can always break out the “Never Die” cheat.
Balance Rating: Very Good
Alright, I’ve gone almost the whole review without addressing the elephant in the room. GTA. So let me say that I can’t really compare the two, since I’ve only ever played GTA III and was bored out of my mind. This game? Not so bored. In fact, if you’ve never been interested in that style of game, I’d heartily recomment Saints Row 2 as a great starting point.
So as far as originality goes, this one still gets high marks. For the variety, depth and nuances that make it stand out in a sea of imitators. The best of the “it’s like GTA” games, Saints Row 2 has really created a world all it’s own.
Originality Rating: Very Good
Definitely addictive. While it’s not so addictive that you’ll take a sick day to play it, Saints Row 2 is a time eater. I think it’s the ease and versatility of gameplay that keeps you coming back. You can do what you want, when you want. If you just want to kill some time driving along the sidewalk and taking out pedestrians, you can. And if you want to get into the storyline and go through a couple of missions, you can do that too. Giving you options rather than linear gameplay makes this an easy choice when you’re looking for something to do.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
9. Appeal Factor
I’ll admit, the gangsta theme put me off the very idea of this game. I thought it was made for suburban kids who aren’t even allowed to ride public transportation because their parents are afraid of “those people.” But once I started playing it, I was hooked. It was like watching a great gangster movie. King of New York meets Aniki. It just goes to show that you’ll never know what games you’ll enjoy until you try them.
Appeal Factor Rating: Great
So, fantastic story and acting, great appeal and graphics, what more could you ask for? How about a sense of humor?
As games get more and more involved, and more and more like the movies, the sense of amusement seems to diminish. Saints Row 2 had me laughing from the character creation. Some of the faces and movements you can select are just funny. The taunts and compliments are even better. How many games let you cop a squat and pretend to take a dump to rile up your enemies? Or dance a jig on their corpses afterwards? Or let you kill barbershop quartets and cheerleaders cheering about how their team cheats? Or stop a “violent protest” of people waving picket signs by burning them alive with a flamethrower?
Simply put; how many games have you break up the “battle of the century” where Pirates and Ninjas are fighting in an intersection?
That’s right, beneath the gruff gangsta exterior of Saints Row 2 beats the heart of a true geek.
Oh, and there’s motorcycles named Tetsuo and Kaneda, too.
Miscellaneous Factor Rating: Classic
Story / Modes: Classic
Control / Gameplay: Classic
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous Factor: Classic
FINAL SCORE: CLASSIC GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
I just got into a fight on the freeway, beat a woman to death with her own sledgehammer, stole her car and drove away listening to polka music.
Then I ran over a man wearing a hotdog costume.
This should tell you everything you need to know about this game.