Review: Saints Row 2

SaintsRow2.jpg If I had to choose between Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 2 I’d honestly choose Saints Row 2 without even the slightest hesitation. While it’s not in the same league in terms of storytelling and overall level of polish, for me Saints Row 2 is much, MUCH more fun as a sandbox video game. Comparing the two games is a bit unfair, though, as unlike past GTAs GTA IV is more focused and story driven whereas Saints Row 2 carries on the sandbox funhouse mentality of the three last-gen GTAs. So even though both are in the open-world genre they really are two very different experiences.

What has impressed me most about Saints Row 2 is just how much variety it packs. The storyline, writing and voice acting are woefully bad, but the story missions themselves are remarkably diverse (you aren’t just driving from point A to point B and killing someone like most of the missions in GTA IV) and the sheer volume and variety of side activities you can engage in is more than enough to keep you entertained for at least the 10-15 hours it takes to complete the main portion of the game.

Hitman assignments, chop shop, item collecting, stunts, hostage missions, ho-ing, racing, gambling, drug trafficking, demolition derby: these are but a few of the side jobs you can participate in. However, my three favorite “diversions” have to be Fuzz, Zombie Uprising, and Septic Avenger. Fuzz is a reality show parodying Cops in which you pick up a cameraman and drive around looking from crimes to break up in the most violent, over-the-top manner possible to please the TV audience. Zombie Uprising, on the other hand, is an in-game video game you can play at your crib that, like many games have done in mimicking Left 4 Dead recently, challenges you to fend off waves of zombies. And then there is Septic Avenger, a mini-game that has you spraying all of Stilwater with liquid poo. Enough said…

Another strong point to Saints Row 2 is its multiplayer, the jump-in/jump-out co-op in particular. You and a friend (or another random Xbox Live denizen) can hop into the game together and wreak havoc all across Stilwater. You can work together to complete story missions or side activities or go your separate ways and each do your own thing anywhere on the map. Competitive multiplayer for up to 12 players is also included, and despite consisting of modes that are basically variants of mission types within the single-player mode, online gangsta feuding is good fun for at least a few hours.

In addition to my loathing of the game’s storyline, my other major criticism is with the game’s presentation. I know not to expect cutting-edge graphics from an open-world game of this scale, but I do expect a sequel of a two-year-old game to at least show some form of significant upgrade over its predecessor. I’m sure if I stopped and thoroughly examined them side by side I could pinpoint areas where Saints Row 2 has improved over the original, but in just taking in what was on screen while playing I couldn’t discern any noticeable bump in graphics quality, and the first Saints Row was no graphical showpiece to begin with.

On top of that, the buggy nature of the first game has also been carried over to the sequel. Maybe not to the same extent, but throughout my 15+ hours of play I did come across numerous unsightly animation glitches, more than a few moments of serious slowdown, and even a couple other rare bugs including a complete game crash and this one odd glitch where the environment went blank in front of me and would only load in as I crossed visible loading barriers. Rare or not, bugs like these are unacceptable.

Saints Row 2 is a game that revels in its mindless, immature violence and extreme vulgarity, and it both succeeds and fails because of it. Be it mopping up rival gang members or running down the street and unloading a chain gun into a crowd of civilians, Saints Row 2 is fun because of its outlandish violence and satisfying gunplay. But at the same time, the game glorifies violence so much that even though it’s not meant to be taken seriously it frequently crosses the line and lays on the cussing, hip-hop slang and anarchist violence so thick that it actually becomes kind of disturbing and off-putting at times. And that’s coming from someone who has listened to plenty of gangster rap over the years and isn’t easily put off by bad language and violence!

Saints Row 2 isn’t a great game by any means, nor is it very polished, but it is fun and as long as you are of proper age to understand its tongue-in-cheek glorification of violence it should provide enough mindless entertainment to warrant a playthrough.

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Pros:
+ Fun gunplay mechanics
+ Tremendous mission variety
+ Strong multiplayer component, especially the co-op

Cons:
– Terrible story
– Awful voice acting
– Dated, glitchy graphics

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3 and PC
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Volition
Release Date: 10/14/08 on consoles, 1/7/09 on PC
Genre: Sandbox Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-12 (two-player co-op, 12-player competitive)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!