Giant Bomb Review

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Saints Row 2 Review

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Saints Row 2 ups the ante for the volume of sheer absurdity in an open-world action game.

One of many blinged-out looks you can give the Saints.
The original Saints Row didn't always benefit from comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto series, though with Saints Row 2, it's apparent that the two franchises are going in two very different directions. As much as it is a sequel to Saints Row, this is the logical extension of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, more so than GTA IV, and not just because of the similar street-gang premise.

The game picks up several years after the end of Saints Row, where your character was apparently blown up in a boat explosion. You wake up from your coma with a new face and with the city of Stilwater being overtaken by the oppressive Ultor Corporation, which has turned the gritty Saints Row area into a quasi-futuristic glass-and-steel paragon of corporate greed. The rest of the game focuses on you getting the Saints back together, taking down the other gangs of Stilwater, and eventually, Ultor itself.

Aside from the appearance of a few returning characters, Saints Row 2 doesn't really bother to resolve anything from the first game, which makes its overly familiar references to past characters and events that much more confusing. There's a fair amount of celebrity stunt-casting in Saints Row 2, which can make it difficult to separate the character from the actor. This was most noticeable for me with Michael Dorn as the insane biker Maero, though I won't deny getting a kick out of going up against a dude who sounds like Worf.

While GTA IV strove for dramatic weight and verisimilitude, Saints Row 2 instead tries to pack in as many ridiculous activities as possible. The main missions concern you with taking out rival gangs, and while this can be as simple as wasting a building full of dudes, sometimes you'll have to blow up the building itself, or at least fly a helicopter into it. To take on these primary missions, you've got to have a certain respect level, which you can build up quickly by taking on the occasional side mission. These can include performing insurance fraud by taking a dive in front of a moving car, lowering property values by spraying sewage, running drugs, protecting prostitutes, impersonating an officer, and riding a flaming ATV through the city streets, setting off explosions.

Take that, mass transit!
There are are also some ridiculous diversions, such as streaking, basejumping, anonymous bathroom sex, and car surfing. Not all of these side activities are winners, but there's enough variety that you're never stuck grinding on an activity you don't much care for. In a different context, a good amount of the stuff you can do in Saints Row 2 would seem fundamentally abhorrent, but the florid visuals and campy tone neutralize any potential for seriousness.

You'll earn some scratch running these missions, though real estate is the best way to build your fortune. You'll gain turf as you take out your enemies, and you can also buy an interest in any shops in your territory. These investments pay back dividends on a daily basis, and it doesn't take long for them to start racking up, to the point that money isn't much of a concern at all.

You can eventually take over the entirety of Stilwater, but Saints Row 2 is less concerned with creating a living, breathing world than it is with providing you with a giant sandbox to go nuts in, and the character creation is pretty indicative of this mindset. You can choose from a number of different fighting styles and elaborate rude gestures, and there's no stopping you from mixing male and female body parts and wardrobe. If you're at all unhappy with how your character's looking, you can drop into one of several plastic surgeons and change everything. You can also customize the look of the Saints with some pretty absurd results, and there's no denying the stupid appeal of seeing a half-naked man in a safety vest and a mosquito mascot mask rolling around with a gang of ninjas.

For all its shaggy, kitchen-sink charm, Saints Row 2 has got some problems, many of which are residue from its predecessor. The original Saints Row was partially impressive simply because it was the first real open-world game on this generation of consoles, but it's now two years later and Saints Row 2 doesn't look a whole lot better. The city of Stilwater is expansive and full of little details and secret areas to discover, but the draw distance isn't always great, and there's something about the lighting that leaves the game looking kind of flat. The frame rate mostly holds up, though there was a mission where I had to defend a large ship against waves of helicopters and boats full of dudes, and the combination of smoke effects and general activity brought the game to its knees. It can be a little buggy with the artificial intelligence, physics, and collision-detection systems, but to its credit, Saints Row 2 is liberal enough with checkpoints during missions that you rarely feel like a victim.

You can also buy a number of gaudy cribs, just like this one.
While GTA IV went on to include the incredibly useful GPS navigation system first seen in Saints Row, Saints Row 2 still has a few unique tricks up its sleeve. The gang system allows you to roll around with a posse of disposable, computer-controlled gang-bangers. They have a tendency to get stuck in doorways, but they're pretty good at following your lead, and if you hop into a vehicle that doesn't have enough seats for your posse, they'll jack a nearby vehicle to keep up. There's also the cruise control option, which lets you maintain your speed without holding down on the gas, making drive-bys and highway mayhem easier to pull off.

You can play through the 20-plus hours of Saints Row 2 on your own, but the game also has a solid co-op feature that allows another player to jump into your version of Stilwater at any time. It doesn't change any of the narrative bits to reconcile the presence of two protagonists, and that can be a little awkward, but aside from being hindered by lag on a particularly fast-paced mission, I found co-op to be good fun.

There's no question that GTA IV is a better game than Saints Row 2, but in some ways, Saints Row 2 is more fun. Saints Row 2 doesn't look nearly as good, and there aren't any heavy moral choices or resonant melodrama, but the cars handle more easily, cops are less of a concern, enemies are easier to kill, and the activities are generally crazier and more over-the-top. If GTA IV got too serious for you, Saints Row 2 might just be what you're looking for.
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Posted by FallopianTube

Great review i recomend this game too. it has alot of crazy stuff that iwanted in GTA4

Posted by jyurakyumihawk

Is there a Donkey Show minigame? It would blow my mind if Kinky Kelly appears in SR2.

Posted by John

I knew the sheer volume of insanity in it would make it at least a 4 star game.

Posted by FallopianTube

dude i hope a video review is coming. there hasent been one in a while

Posted by TooWalrus

Gotta get to this after Fable II. I may drop out of college and be a full time bum.

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Posted by killdave

Great game well worth playing. Puts the fun back in gaming, which these days is rare amongst all the seriousness and moral crap etc

Posted by Elazul

Great review. I agree that while GTA VI is technically "better", I actually enjoyed SR2 quite a lot more.

Posted by norton123

Nice Review

Posted by keyhunter

If GTA 4 can get 5 stars, then why does the superior Saints row 2 get 4?

Posted by davecuk

"There's no question that GTA IV is a better game than Saints Row 2"

What? SR2 is far better IMO. While GTA IV may be more polished and have some better humour (mostly because of Brucie) it's FAR less fun. If I wanted to make the perfect game in this genre by mixing the two franchises together I would take far more parts of Saints Row 2 than I would from GTA IV. I managed to play this start to finnish as well as play alot of diversions etc without being bored at all, while in GTA IV I found myself struggling to complete the main story line due to the tedious and repetative nature of the missions.

Posted by MattBodega

Keyhunter! You should read the review to find out!
Great review, Ryan! I'll be picking up SR2 soon enough.

Posted by Derios

Man reviewed this in a week? You must've played this game not stop. Good show.

Posted by Peacemaker

My game came to a crawl too on the mission you were talking about.  I'm glad they found their spot in the open world genre though.  I wouldn't mind keeping GTA a more realistic, serious game and having Saints Row just be plain stupid fun.

Posted by AaronBelfast

3 reviews within a few days? Your spoling me GB, your spoiling me...

Posted by zig

I do not like this game.  Everything feels unfinished and subpar.  I played it for about an hour and I did not have any fun.  I won't be playing it any further.  This is the end of my comment on Saints Row 2.

Posted by HatKing

I really enjoyed it for about five days now I got Fable 2 which I'll probably enjoy for another week and then I'll get Fallout 3 which I'll probably enjoy for a couple weeks until Gears 2 comes out and so on and so on.  Such a vicious cycle but it has me by the throat.

Posted by ryanwho

Big fan of your 'glee' face, Ryan.

Posted by PLWolf

Great Review Ryan!! This game is in my Gamefly queue. I look forward to checking it out.

Posted by Destroyeron

I'm with TooWalrus.

Posted by tmontana1004

lol at "GTA a better game than Saints Row 2" lmao reviewers are BLIND!

Posted by RHCPfan24

I might get this game but I am tired of people denying GTA4's greatness.  It is amazing and some people don't realize that.  This still looks fun though.

Posted by DavidSnakes

I cannot be the only one completely tired of EVERYONE saying the same damn thing, "GTA4 was boring!  SR2 is so much fun!"  Yeah, well, see how much fun it is in a week, when you've played every gimmicky activity, and there's nothing left to do.  GTA4 didn't need crappy mini games when the main game was fun the entire time.  Substance over style.

Posted by SilverArrows

I totally agree ...... GTA IV is a "better" game, with better graphics, and a better story. Saints Row 2 is a more fun game. I really wish they had improved the visuals on this one, and polished some of the bugs, but as is, it is still a lot of fun.

Posted by Pibo47

My only thing about this review, i understand that GTAIV is a better game. But i like SR2 sooo much more. Wouldnt that mean that SR2 is better?

Posted by Good_Game

Where the hell are the video reviews?

Posted by Crono

The first one was laughable not only from a gameplay perspective, but also, and especially, from a story perspective.  If you are one of these people out there that thinks they're a Gangsta and you're pursuing your G.E.D. then you're gonna love Saints Row 2.  Otherwise, this game is worth a rental at best.

Posted by Homes

Mine crashed (about 10 hours in) after every story mission I did. Sent it back to GameFly...

Posted by SpaceInsomniac

First Fable 2 without a video review, and now Saints Row 2.  Not that I don't love reading your text, but I do love a good video review, and I think both these games are easily good enough to warrant them.

Posted by Stephen_Von_Cloud

I think I understand Ryan here.  I mean, fun is a HUGE part of playing a game and that counts for a lot of its appeal.  But in all the other catagories GTA IV might be better, so you appreciate all that it does and see all that as perfect, or better you could say, but since SR 2 is so much fun, you like playing it so much more.  GTA IV is kind of like Braveheart.  I love it, my friends love it, but do we ever sit down and watch it when we pick a movie?  No, we pick something like Billy Madison.  It's just more fun.

Posted by AvD

Lots of comparisons to GTA games and none to the original Saints Row... I  suspect that you haven't played the first one Ryan...

Posted by rpratts

Very Nice review Ryan! I'm planning to pick up this game when I get Little Big Planet!

Posted by MeatSim

This games just plain fun, I think SR has separated it self apart from GTA.

Posted by bgenso

Huh I've never played the first one and always wanted to. But looks like maybe ill just play this one. But I can be an achievement whore sometimes. Hmm

Posted by diz

I played through thet first Saints Row and loved it. I also loved GTA4 too.

This one does not seem different enough  from the old Saints Row to get me interested. Perhaps it's come out at the wrong time for me - The F games (Fallout Far-Cry and Fable) are just round the corner . Also, after Brad's review, I'd prefer to give Dead Space a punt, rather than jump into another sandbox.

Posted by jk80

No mention of the soundtrack in the review, is it any good?

Posted by Kohe321

Good review!

Posted by Demilich

Wasn't Ultor the villian organization in Red Faction?

Posted by KamasamaK

I'm curious what it takes to say you reviewed a game for a certain platform. I'm just wondering because the last couple multiplatform games say only the Xbox 360 version was reviewed, which is understandable if you had to beat the game again (especially one as long as this). I'd rather not get lulled into a false sense that all PS3 versions are now at parity with Xbox 360 (since that's obviously the platform you guys prefer) only to have that assumption backfire when I get the game, and the only way for me to avoid that in these cases would be to *gasp* go to another gaming site for a review of that particular game. I'll still read the review here because I feel I know and trust you guys, but let's try to keep my reading to a minimum please. ;)

Posted by kennybaese

@jk80 I liked it, but one of the songs in the soundtrack is Paramore, and the guys at Giant Bomb don't seem to be very find of Paramore, so......

But I actually liked this soundtrack more than the soundtrack for GTA IV (though GTA's original music was much much better). There were a lot more modern songs in SR2 that I could hear and be like, "I know that song".

Either way, the game is ridiculously fun. I liked the way they handled the gunplay in this one a little better than GTA too. Don't worry, GTA is still a better game by far, but SR2 has a very high pure entertainment value.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

And it's GTA that gets all the bad press :P

I'm not sure why a posse is unique since they did that to a limited degree in San Andreas.

Posted by KillerKahuna

Up there with Fable 2 huh :D I love this game , surpasses GTA IV in fun factor but hey what ya gonna do ?

Posted by BawaTheGamer

great review Ryan.

Posted by daniel_beck_90

great review Ryan , though I like serious games like GTA IV

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

this game is a ton of fun. out of all the games i picked up last week  (far cry 2, dead space, and sr2) this stands out as being the most entertaining even if it's technically not the best.

Posted by SymptomsReagent

Still waiting to play GTA4 on the PC before making final judgments on either franchise.  Good review though.

    
Posted by eternaLightness

I love Saint's Row because it's so over the top. Both SR and GTA offer something different that makes them both enjoyable

Posted by Darro

I believe people can agree that GTA IV is the better game all around but SR 2 is the more fun with its fun activities and its pretty easy from what I've played thus far and it has something I believe GTA IV should have had and that was checkpoints.

Great review Ryan.

Posted by guttershark

i just got back from picking it up

Posted by TekZero

For a game rated "M". I find this game to be a little too immature for my tastes.  Stupidity to the point of boredom.   I'll pass on this; it's just not for me.

Posted by Octaslash

More fun = better.

GTA4 was fun the first time around, but surprisingly for a GTA game, it gets old quick. Saints Row 2 lasts much longer in my opinion.

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