Saints Row 2

There’s plenty of mindless slaughter, pillaging and urban destruction to be had in Saints Row 2 – but is it fun?

Do you like endless, repetitive slaughter? Then Saints Row 2 is the game for you, if only to alleviate boredom for an hour.

Saints Row 2, developed by Volition, was made to fill a very narrow niche: gamers who loved GTA: San Andreas, and those who hated GTA IV. While GTA was witty, subtle and exciting, Saints Row 2 falls flat with repetitive, derivative gameplay, a non-existant plot and nothing new to the original Saints Row experience.

The first thing you’ll notice is the aged, grainy graphics. I thought it might have been my TV, but then I remembered I was playing in 1080p on HDMI. The second thing is the frame rate seems unstable, even in a cut-scene: walking past a group of prisoners causes a noticeable jag, if you can spot it against the vomit-like texture applied to the walls.

After customising your character – which there’s a wealth of options to choose from; including cross-dressing – your body magically recovers from the past two years of being comatose so you can walk over and beat up a doctor in the back of the head. You’re stuck in a prison on an island, and the first objective is to get off the pseudo-Alcatraz and onto the mainland where you can revive your gang and take over the city.

Don’t think too hard when you play this game. There’s no point: it’s all about guns and money. It’s not a sandbox world, it’s a target range. Even children would become instantly desensitised after playing, and you’ve got to wonder why Volition wouldn’t try and extend the longevity of the in-game world a bit more.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun though. Like GTA: San Andreas, Saints Row 2 offers the chance to increase your reputation and bank balance through activities, which vary from protecting a VIP, flying an attack helicopter, drug running, racing, trailblazing around Stilwater, or my favourite, driving around in a septic tank defiling every building owned by a corporate conglomerate.

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Sadly, these missions wear out after a while. Each mission has six levels, and in order to get any real money you’ll have to play each at least four times. Each level is on a slightly different location, but it’s still repetitive and feels like an artificial attempt to lengthen gameplay.

Missions also underpin a critical flaw in the game engine: most of the missions take place in an alternate dimension of the in-game world. Every time you go to do an activity, the game world is reloaded, teleporting you to whatever location and providing you with the tools and cars you need for the job. Once the mission’s done, you’re sent back into the “sandbox world”, and there’s nothing to do. It effectively reduces the need for the in-game world to be huge in the first place: you may as well just use the missions to create completely different environments and provide a more interesting experience.

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And that’s not even the biggest issue: Saints Row 2 is juvenile. Ignoring the fact that it’s derivative and poorly designed, the humour in here isn’t funny, and at times downright offensive. Sexism is alive and well in Stilwater, and some missions, like the one where you slaughter homeless people to use the area as a crib, are just in poor taste.

Funnily enough, the multiplayer is a lot of fun. The co-operative mode, where players can jump in and out of a game in real-time and play the single-player mode, works a treat. There’s a great variety of online modes too from the original game, as well as your standard deathmatch, but all of them are dwarfed by the new Strongarm mode. Strongarm splits players into two teams, and chooses a mission, like Brawl or Theft, and rotates every few minutes. The different types and the constant switching provide great variety and make every multiplayer game fresh, something that I’d like more games across the board to implement.

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While multiplayer is mostly fun, sometimes it falls on its face in big firefights, like the rest of the game: with everyone on the screen, the game slows down to a grind. You’ll notice this repeatedly as you play the game, and it’s one reason I believe Volition decided to make the sandbox single-player world not overly populated. The problem is that while it stops the game from lagging constantly, it’s a hell of a lot more boring than an overpopulated city.

You get what you pay for here: Saints Row 2 was made for the love of anti-establishment mini-games and excessive violence. In trying to be a jack-of-all-trades, it falls short in every section. By embodying the spirit of the original GTA, borrowing the main framework from GTA: San Andreas and trying to copy the expansive in-game world of GTA IV, I’m reminded of three games that were so much better. So as long as you’ve played none of those games, you should have a ton of fun. But given that GTA IV is just better in so many other ways and the original GTA games are free to download, you may as well save the cash.

Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Rating: MA-15+
Formats: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

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