Saints Row 2ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Action Games
Developer: Volition Inc.
System Link: Yes
Online Multiplayer: (2-12) Players
Co-op: 2 Players
Downloadable Content Support
Saints Row 2 released by THQ brings us what more of the exciting and excessively bloody gangster lifestyle from the first instalment. Never really being a fan of the sandbox genre, and not even having played the original title, I was not sure what to expect. However, I cleared my mind of any preconceived notions and popped in the game prepared to lead my gang to turf domination.
The graphics in Saints Row 2 left me a little disappointed for one major reason: glitches. The game is plagued with visual glitches, particularly in terms of character and gameplay environmental interaction. For example, when you call upon one of your Saint’s to join up with you they will sometimes fall through stairs and become trapped or they will become blocked by an object, such as a vehicle, that logically they could easily walk around. One of my favorite examples occurred during one of the story missions where I was required to kill a certain amount of opposing gang members. I had just smashed the butt of my shotgun into the skull of my target and the force resulted in him being launched into a closed door. However, he went through said closed door while the door remained intact and at all times, and ending up behind the door out of my sight. I was unable to finish the mission because I could not go through or open the door and the gang member stayed behind the door, out of my reach, stopping me from completing my objective. I am forgiving of the occasional glitch now and then, but when it goes beyond mere annoyance and proceeds to hinder my experience (e.g. hampering my ability to finish a stage/objective or attributing to my characters death) then it really lowers my overall enjoyment of the game.
I always expect the highest quality of graphics from any Xbox 360 game knowing the capability of the platform, and given my time with Saints Row 2 it is sometimes hard to judge the graphics of the title. The final product does not seem to have the lifelike detail or polished and refined graphics I might expect. Your created character does seem to have some of this detail, especially given the customization options available, but the majority of the other characters lack a lot of detail to match that of your own character. The game's environments were hazy at times as if the entire city was enveloped in smog and some of the buildings really looked like cardboard cut outs. However, the graphics did remind me of the artistic style of graphic novels which was cool. This style was fitting for a game built around the premise of gang violence, providing a little separation from reality.
While driving in any one of the cars you own, or one that you may have jacked, you can listen to one of 10 radio stations available in the game playing a variety of genres such as Modern Rock, Hip Hop and Rap, Electronica, Funk, College Radio, 80’s Pop and Rock, Hard Rock, Easy Listening, Jamaican, and Classical Music. The variety was one of the highlights of Saints Row 2 as the musical selection provides a little something for everyone with some old favorites and maybe even something new. Some track examples include: Gansgta Bitch by Apache, Let Me In by Hot Hot Heat, and, Hear I Come by Barrington Levy. I assure you there are lots more. Let us also not forget the hilarious radio ads scattered amongst the music. They are worth paying attention to for a good laugh.
In terms of the voice acting I was somewhat impressed. The voice cast is simply amazing featuring several great talents including Keith David, Michael Dorn, Eliza Dushku, Neil Patrick Harris and Daniel Dae Kim. Throughout the game your gangster will receive cellular calls from a variety of people and the voices were expressive and clear and set the story without the need of visuals from a cut scene. It really did add to the overall atmosphere of the game.
The sound effects compliment the already amazing music and voices throughout the game. Each vehicle has a distinct sound instead of a recycled engine noise plugged in as filler. While driving along the road and picking up speed, or doing some extreme power sliding around a corner, you will hear slight differences in how one’s vehicle performs compared to another under the same conditions. The weaponry at your disposal also comes equipped with their own distinct sounds, even from different models of a specific weapon type. As to be expected in an all out turf battle the game is filled with numerous sounds. From weapon fire, explosions, sirens, bullet impacts, screams of fear to the whimpering of a stripper wishing she had chosen a different career path, these are just a smattering of what you can look forward to hearing in Saints Row 2.
All in all the developers did a wonderful job in presenting an in-depth sound and musically rich environment to bring an excellent atmosphere to the game.
The gameplay is what makes Saint’s Row 2 one of the most enjoyable games I have played this year which is surprising as I am not a fan of the sandbox genre. You start the game badly disfigured and in the hands of a plastic surgeon. Not knowing much about the story from the first game I discovered that my character was disfigured in a boat explosion at the conclusion of the original title. This sets the scene for character customization. You have the option of using a preset character, jumping into the game right away, or you can take your time and customize such things as sex, body, face, make-up and personality to your liking. The first three custom features are pretty straight forward, selecting from the available options gives your character the appearance you wish. In regards to personality you customize your voice, facial expressions, movements, combat styles, and how you compliment or taunt other people in Saint’s Row. Keep in mind that at anytime during gameplay you can visit your local plastic surgeon to change your looks and/or personality.
The campaign revolves around building up your gang and taking back Saints Row at any cost. Of course you will continually have to defend your current turf too. You will fight against the rival gangs of the Brotherhood, Sons of Samedi and the Ronin. The great thing about this style of the game is that you can choose when and how you want to take down your rival gangs. You can just challenge and take their strongholds from them or you can complete one of the gang missions in story mode to take over one of their neighbourhoods while moving the game's story along. As you take strongholds and complete missions you gain control of the incoming cash flow from the neighbourhoods with a daily income of $500/day. You also open up potential income sources from businesses you can purchase within those hoods.
As you continually earn an income there are quite a few places to spend your hard earned cash. Buy a new crib, clothing, vehicles, food and liquor, music, weapons, jewellery, tattoos or take a visit to the plastic surgeon. Being a little on the thrifty side, I found I spent most of my money on weapons and food as they were the most useful items for completing missions. Buying vehicles seemed like a waste of time as it was much more enjoyable to scour the city and steal my own sweet ride. Any vehicle you steal can be easily stored in your garage for later use; so if you find a car that might come in handy later on - store it!
The controls were intuitive and I was quickly on my way to a shooting rampage. Most of the action, including weapon and food selection, is done with the B button, D-Pad and your analog sticks. If you happen to forgot how to access something a quick reminder will pop up on screen. The vehicles take a bit of getting used to as the sensitivity is quite touchy. Be ready for some crash landings with your helicopters or some beaching of your boats as these vehicles are pretty squirrely.
The activities available in the game vary from street racing, destruction derby, fight clubs, helicopter assaults, drug trafficking and insurance fraud. Completing these activities will not only earn you cash but other things like special bonuses, fighting styles as well as items and gang customizations. Some examples of special bonuses are improved weapon accuracy, food and liquor discounts, increased melee damage or a bonus to how fast you attain respect. Three of the acquired fighting styles are those of each of the other gangs, as well as a wrestling style where you can perform maneuvers you would see in a wrestling match.
By far one of my favorite activities, and I’m sure I have supporters on this one, had to be Septic Avenger. In this activity you take a septic tank truck full of waste and spray it all over real estate to make it easier to sell for the real estate agent that hired you out. Another favorite was Trail Blazing where you don on a flame suit and hop on your four wheeler creating as much destruction as possible with Molotov cocktails and running things down with your vehicle. This activity is especially fun in co-op mode where your partner in crime takes over the duties of cocktail tossing, while you control the four-wheeler.
Customizations are a huge part of the game. One such customization feature is gang customization. Here you can choose the style of clothing your Saints will wear including Bodyguards, Ninjas, Pimps ‘n Ho's Prephop, Sporty and 80’s styles. Customizing your gang’s sign gives you quite a few choices including Teabag, The Wanker, The Jig, Smooth Criminal (straight from a Michael Jackson video) and The Dumper. There is a good variety of gang signs ranging from silly and hilarious to more serious like the middle finger and Neck Slice. Another gang customization is a choice of eight possible graffiti tags that you paint on one of the fifty tag sites around Stilwater. The last gang customization is your vehicle selection where you have three slots and up to 16 basic vehicles for your gang members to use.
If you think single player sounds like a lot of fun then you will really appreciate the cooperative aspect of the game as the campaign is playable online with a friend in co-op mode. This allows you to wreak havoc and mayhem all over Stilwater, but this time with a trusted wingman or wing-woman. I had a lot of fun in this mode as sharing my gang's exploits with another person really made it that much more enjoyable. Hearing the laughter from my co-op partner actually made me really appreciate the humor and satire in the game that much more. If the online campaign is still not enough for you then you can take the game online to play some adversarial modes such as Strong Arm or Gangsta Brawl. Strong Arm is where two teams compete for control of the neighbourhood by earning cash in activities and killing opponents. Gangsta Brawl is all out gang war where the team or player with the most kills at the end of the match wins.
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