[XBox 360 Review] Saints Row 2

Two years after Saints Row brought the heat to the Xbox 360 with a story of gangs, betrayal and an unknown thug upstart ascending the criminal underworld, we finally receive the anticipated sequel.  The game picks up five years after the initial storyline ended with you being taken out in a boat explosion.  During the five years, a lot has occurred in the city of Stillwater, as the 3rd Street Saints have crumbled, Ultor Corporation has moved in, and other gangs have taken control over crime in the city. And so Saints Row 2 begins, and after a short cut scene of two prison guards discussing how you have awoken from your coma and approaching your hospital bed inside a prison, you go right into the character customization screen.

The Character Customization in Saints Row 2 is extremely deep and is right up there as one of the best. You choose your gender, even though with sliders you can make them as masculine or feminine as your taste suits you, and then you move onto the rest of your features.  Nearly every feature of your character’s look and attitude can be tweaked, from facial features to muscle or body fat, right down to how you walk and talk. There are three generic voice types for each gender that help to capture the authenticity of the character you have created. The compliments and gestures can be as straightforward or outlandish as you want them to be, but my advice is to check out The Dumper and The Teabag.  The only issue I have with the character customization is the lack of a height adjustment and a full color spectrum for hair.

Customization in this game does not stop with just your character, as you can trick out your vehicles, fully upgrade your cribs complete with a stripper pole, and even choose between what style of gang you would like (nothing better than ninjas with guns), their taunt, what sign you tag buildings with, and right down to the cars they drive around in. And now in Saints Row 2, you no longer gain cribs after taking out each gang’s leaders, but instead you go out and purchase various properties through out the city, as well as buying up a portion of businesses in neighborhoods you control.

Once you have made your character to your liking (In my case, it’s an Asian female with black and pink hair), you start the next cut scene where you meet Carlos. Carlos helps you escape the prison, and within this escape you have two choices in playing the tutorial or skipping it.  The only difference with the two options is the tutorial will take you out by rooftop and the other has you running and gunning through the prison. Unlike many games where you have to start over with firepower, Saints Row 2 hands you all the weapons you need to get out of the prison. Weapons are aplenty in your escape, ranging from pistols to satchel charges, and if you feel more like brawling, you can take advantage of the new combo system, in which you can hit the LT and RT buttons in various combinations to take out your opponents with various finishers.  Once out of the prison, you learn the Saints have been vanquished, Dex has disappeared, Troy is the Chief of Police and Johnny Gat is on trial for murder. Once you help Johnny Gat escape his sentencing at the courthouse, you begin your quest to restore the Saints to their former notoriety as the top gang of Stillwater.

The graphics of Saints Row 2 tend to vary depending on the situation. When it comes to characters and character models, the game does good job even though it isn’t up to par with GTA IV.  But when looking at the city in the skyline, it is very well done, and definitely captures the feel of Stillwater 5 years later. The one praise the original Saints Row received was for the explosions in game, and it is no different this time around as explosions look better than ever.  The surroundings of the game capture the feel of each area of the city and fans of the original will immediately recognize areas while driving around since quite a few of them haven’t changed much at all in 5 years.

The audio in this game is very well done in terms of voice acting, special effects and locking down the tone of the environment.  Your character now talks, unlike the three or four lines he had in the original game, and with my choosing Female Voice 1, it suits my character perfectly. Anyone worried that the voice actors used for the generic voices would not fair well, will be pleasantly surprised. Returning in their original roles are Daniel Dae Kim (Johnny Gat), Michael Rappaport (Troy), and Keith David (Julius), they are now joined by new cast members, in Michael Dorn (Maero), Eliza Dushku (Shaundi), Neil Patrick Harris (DJ Veteran Child), and Jaime Pressly (Jessica).  There is never a slip in the way they portray their characters and truly bring the characters and game to life.  The sounds of the environment, explosions and gunfire are very engrossing and help make the city truly feel alive.  People are having conversations on the street, emergency sirens are aloud, and gun shootouts can be heard just off in the distance.  The only downfall to Saints Row 2 in the audio department is the measly offerings from the song track list.  The radio stations are constantly replaying the same songs repeatedly, and there is no talk radio this time to bring in the laughs. The only upside to the radio stations this time around, is the fact the commercials have gotten even funnier since the first game and will constantly have you laughing as they play.

The gameplay aspect of the original Saints Row is what gave the game it’s charm, and Saints Row 2 has taken what the first game did so well and catapulted it to a whole new level. The activities in which you carry out to gain respect to do more missions have brought back everyone’s favorites from the original, and yet ramped it up with all new ones. The new tasks you must complete are an absolute blast, including Fight Club, Fuzz (Where you pretend to be a cop for a TV show, taking out criminals), and Trail Blazer (In which you race through checkpoints on an ATV while ablaze and blowing up everything in your path).  Driving in the game has kept the same feel from the original with just slightly tighter controls, and makes you wonder why GTAIV ever got away from the style. Volition has even taken a page from Burnout Paradise and rewards you with stars and respect for power slides, jumps, and more while cruising around Stillwater.  Saints Row 2 has also added the Human Shield feature in which you can take a hostage during shootout, and once you are done with them feel free to throw them off a building, in front of cars, or just execute them in a very graphic manner.

Saints Row 2 manages to do what Grand Theft Auto IV did not, and that is being able to play the campaign through its entirety with a friend.  Co-op is the one part of Saints Row 2 that will keep you coming back for more, whether you’re doing missions or activities, or just screwing around in the city causing chaos and killing each other.  There is nothing better than one of you storming the area taking out opposing gang members, while the other sits back watching his/her back while sniping. Saints Row 2 does up the difficulty and number of enemies while doing mission and activities cooperatively, and no matter how many times you do a mission, the experience is always different in some manner.  The other online multiplayer modes are very fun, but don’t really compare to the cooperative gameplay or the original game modes from the original.

In terms of fun and replayability, it doesn’t fail to satisfy, and manages to take the tongue in cheek humor of the original to whole new plateau without ever feeling stale or forced. If you haven’t played the original Saints Row, do yourself a favor and give it a play through prior to this one, so you can have a true understanding of Saints Row 2. While this game does have it’s share of glitches, frequent pop-in issues, and doesn’t live up to GTAIV in terms of graphics and convoluted story telling, when it’s all said and done, this is an example of what a sandbox game in this next generation online world should be.

Rating: 9.4/10


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