|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Volition||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: THQ||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 14, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
As far as murder simulators go, GTA is king. However, it's not the only game town. Volition and THQ are looking to further cash in on GTA's success with the latest addition to the Saints Row franchise, Saints Row 2. We went ahead and took the Pepsi Challenge, but we weren't fooled by the competition's "flava." GTA is by far the more refined and worthwhile series, but Saints Row could work in a pinch.
Saints Row 2 (SR2) takes place a couple years after the original title. After going through an impressive character customization utility that allows for near-limitless possibilities, players wake up to find themselves in Stilwater prison's medical facility. Apparently, you survived the horrific burns you sustained in Saints Row and have awoken from a coma. While you were out, several new wannabe gangs, including The Brotherhood, Sons of Samedi, and The Ronin, have taken over your turf and have all but obliterated the Saints' control. What's more, these poser gangs have not been able to keep the Ultor Corporation from gentrifying your former stomping grounds. As such, you'll first have to escape your incarceration, save your closest homie Johnny Gat from a date with the electric chair, and then find a new crib as a base of operations in order to reestablish the Saints as the true power in Stilwater, which, other than terrorizing the city and going on a virtual killing spree, is the ultimate goal of SR2.
Saints Row 2 takes place in a massive open world; Stilwater has grown significantly since the series left off and Ultor Corp came to town. The multinational has pumped millions into infrastructure, and players will benefit from this greatly as they wreak havoc throughout the now refurbished city. This open world is not nearly as detailed as Liberty City, but the resemblance between the two sand boxes is strikingly similar; the city is chocked-full of shops, leisure opportunities, and places to commit crimes.
Thankfully, getting around Stilwater is made easy by a detailed overworld map and waypoint system that is reflected on the ever-present mini-map. Using the excellent mapping tools to their advantage, players can easily occupy their time with various Diversions and Activities that help garner respect and money in the game world and take up hours of time in the real world.
Cash and respect are vital to your success in the main story. Missions that advance the overarching plot won't become available to you until you accrue a sufficient amount of respect, and getting these jobs done effectively requires the right tools, i.e. cash. The best way to advance the story is to take out rival gang members and tool around town, participating in the multitude of Activities.
Activities are extremely varied and over-the-top in SR2. Unlike GTA, SR2 is meant to have a much more arcade-like feel to it. Truly, the experience is meant to be out of this world. Accordingly, side missions involve running drive-bys for drug dealers, dressing up as a cop and stopping crime for a reality TV show, defacing public property by spraying human excrement from a septic truck, throwing your body at oncoming traffic to collect on the insurance, and even murdering rival pimps and taking over their stable of "hos." Of course, there are also more mundane activities like participating in fight clubs, tagging the Saints logo around the city, taking on work as a celebrity bodyguard, and racing around town á la Burnout Paradise. All these activities, and several more, will net you the requisite amount of cash and respect to advance the main story, which is only slightly less tongue-in-cheek.
One of the biggest things this game has going for it is its online play. Players can hop online and play the entirety of the campaign with a co-op partner. Unfortunately, there is no local co-op support; the days of split-screen action seem to be numbered. But I digress. Players can also participate in up to 12-player multiplayer battles that are either kill or objective-based. Online multiplayer functions smoothly, and the mix of modes will definitely keep gamers' guns blazing.