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Saints Row 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

Saints Row 2 (Xbox 360) review

"But then Volition did something that a lot of developers with flawed games fail to do: created a sequel that not only addressed the “if onlies”, but expanded on the game as a whole. Saints Row 2 brings the noise."

The original Saints Row was a very well made open world game. The only thing that stopped it short of greatness was a collection of small flaws and minor irritations. With every glitch and every time I had to pad back to an activity starting point rather than having the option to restart an activity, I sighed and thought, “If only...”

But then Volition did something that a lot of developers with flawed games fail to do: created a sequel that not only addressed the “if onlies”, but expanded on the game as a whole. Saints Row 2 brings the noise.

Before the true game begins, you can already notice improvements in customization. There are far more parameters to tweak in just the face alone, everything from deeper facial gaunt to wider eyebrows. It goes even further than that. The original forced you to create a male, but the second game allows you to create a female character. You can even change your character's voice, and the voice isn't limited to your character's sex. If you want make a morbidly obese African-American male and give him a Latina woman's voice, you can. And with deeper clothing customization, you can dress your fat bastard in a pirate suit or have him parade around town in a skimpy cat girl outfit.

After you arrive in Stillwater--the city from the first game--steal a car and run over a few pedestrians, you realize how much everything has changed. The graphics are more up-to-date and cleaner. Where the first SR looked like a high-res original Xbox game, SR2 looks more detailed and more realistic. Stillwater, as well, has grown and shifted from a ghetto to a thriving metropolis. While all the key locations, strip clubs, shops, etc., are all where you left them, new areas have been added. You can cruise the new college and throw molotov coctails at cheerleaders, or drive up to the hotel and marina district and throw a pirate into the sea. Or maybe you'd like to go to the trailer park and drink a couple 40s before torching the rednecks with a flamethrower. Even some old districts have transformed. Saints Row itself is no longer a rundown neighborhood, but now a corporate/business district. It's impressive that Volition can reuse the same city, but it doesn't feel at all like rehash (are you paying attention, Square Enix?). You can still find your way around the city as if you're playing the first one, but feel like you're experiencing it for the first time again.

But does it play better than the first?

Yes, you can restart activities when you fail them. No, Volition didn't add more structure. They didn't need to. What activities they kept that had any flaws, they improved. You don't have to restart Snatch or Mayhem until you get a good setup anymore. Snatch no longer has you chasing pimps in limos all the way across town, nor does Mayhem set you up for failure by giving you lame bonuses--and with more environmental stimuli, it's easier (and much chaotic/destructive) to rack up points by blasting the neighborhood. They also cut back on the number of levels for each activity. Where the first game had three different activation points for each and eight levels apiece (24 levels per activity), this one has two different locations with six levels apiece. Cutting the levels in half may sound like a drawback, but it reduces the burnout that may occur from playing the same mini-game for too long.

Even the street races have improved, as they are no longer a requirement to attain 100% completion. Even were they, that wouldn't be a problem since they are more balanced, especially the AI.

And let us not forget about new activities: Septic Avenger has you spraying feces all over high profile buildings, people and vehicles; in Heli Assault you fly a helicopter to give one your lieutenants air support while they sling dope; Fight Club puts you in a caged arena to battle other criminals with 2x4s and broken TV sets, finishing off each busta with a neck-snapping twist.

Volition went a step further in including “Diversions”, mini-games that don't have any bearing on the completion rate, but still unlock neat and handy features. Get your rocks off on the highest level of the Hoing diversion and you'll land a Pimp Outfit, or land perfectly in base jumping and you'll gain immunity to falling. Yes, you can leap from a helicopter at the very apex of its flight, fall hundreds of feet, smack the corner of a building, skid along the side, and hit the pavement with a bounce and not take a lick of damage. Just hope the helicopter doesn't fall on you.

Slinging dope, smearing crap all over city hall, rescuing hookers from overdressed rivals, and breaking inmates' necks isn't all the Third Street Saints need to do to take back Stillwater. You may have crushed The Vice Kings, Los Carnales, and The Westside Rollerz in the previous game, but three new gangs have taken their place: the Yakuza-like Ronin, the tribal-tattooed Brotherhood, and voodoo drug dealers of the Sons of Samedi. Through storyline and stronghold missions, you can take back the districts of Stillwater and increase the Saints' power. Conquer a territory and you can buy shops and property to increase your cash flow. Any rival gangs that were once there will leave, replaced by fellow Satins. Completely conquer a gang's territory and you'll never see them again.

The missions in the first game were insane. Plausibility was flexible, even if the threats were believable, and the narrative featured with both dark and silly humor--all of which return in SR2 After hitting a gang leader's limo, he'll retreat to a mall. There he'll get behind the wheel of Hummer while you chase him down on a measly four-wheeler. Gang vehicles and rent-a-cops will swarm you, but it's nothing a few hundred bullets and explosions won't cure. After the climax, your character will cap it off with some cheesy one-liner's and a fine display of his sociopathic behavior. But other scenes still show his/her human side, especially in regards to fallen comrades and his/her commitment to avenge them. The protagonist says more than four lines this time and has a more active role in the story. After all, (s)he's the one calling the shots this time and not taking orders. The seriousness and silliness may sound jarring, but they're balanced out in a way that makes them both fulfilling and enjoyable.

Variety is still a key factor in many missions as the game thrusts you into situations where you chase vehicles down, fight off police and gangsters with the same third-person shooter gameplay, engage in sword battles, blow up a pot farm from a helicopter, and throw boxes of fireworks from the back of a moving van at enemy vehicles to make them explode.

...and yet, the variety isn't enough. If there's one flaw SR2 suffers from, it's that it overkills one type of mission objective. In almost every mission, you have to kill x number of [insert gang or organization here]. Travel to the casino and kill twelve Ronin, or fight off five squad members while in the old church. Sometimes you'll complete this sort of objective multiple times in a single mission. You do have other objectives besides killing a certain number of enemies, but this one appears so frequently that it gets tiresome. Many of these enemies aren't difficult to deal with. Even if you don't unlock infinite ammo or any of the special weapons, you won't have much of a problem bringing these punks down

When I first finished Saints Row 2, all I could think was that I wanted to play the third game right now. Volition took a game that was pretty good before, expanded on the ideas that worked and kicked out the crap that didn't and made a game that was absolutely solid. It's far less of a nuisance to play, and I don't find myself saying, “If only...” Action, insanity, more customization, better activities, more to tinker with and do... This is exactly what a sequel should be. Now let's just hope they don't screw up Saints Row: The Third.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (June 10, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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fleinn posted June 10, 2011:

Like the review.. if it was paired with your Saints Row review somehow, they would be two very strong reviews, imo. Since the first is more explicit about how far the pimping goes, and the second doesn't have a replay of the explanations from the first..

Smearing faeces on clown hall, though.. shit.. why haven't I played this game yet..
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 11, 2011:

Yeah, I was apprehensive to play these at first. My thinking was that gangbangers annoy me, and this game is loaded with them. After getting a recommendation from a friend, I bought both games cheap. Turned out to be a good move, as I enjoyed both immensely.
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fleinn posted June 13, 2011:

:D hehe. I was thinking this was something like Dave Chappelle making satire over gang-culture, but never got around to playing it. I mean, it's Volition and THQ. They made Freespace, and Red Faction - could be they take themselves too seriously again... ..but I actually have the first game on a shelf somewhere for the 360..

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