2008 Reviews

Saints Row 2

  • Review Date: 2012-01
  • Release Date: 2008-10
  • Developer: Volition Inc
  • Rating: 6.5

I've always been a little anti-Grand Theft Auto. It looked like a silly driving game with completely unrealistic handling, no actual combat and just joys such as running over prostitutes. How juvenile. Little did I know, Saints Row 2 is a GTA clone. One I actually enjoyed! Maybe I won't mind GTA either? Not that I'll ever find out.

I do suspect SR2 has a lot more combat though, sprinkled with stupid activities to build your reputation and mindless driving.

Let's begin with the length. SR2 took me 30 hours to play through. While the first 1/3 of the game I tried a lot of side activities, after ten hours the main mission was moving along too slowly so I set upon just doing the bare minimum. Never have a I spent that many hours on a game, unless you include addons and mods (in that case I'd have spent hundreds of hours playing Quake). But the core game; most games I'm getting bored after ten hours. So that says something about SR2 that it kept me entertained for so long. There is plenty of variety though - it's not all just run and gun.

The main missions all involve combat. Sometimes while driving but usually on foot. I did have the game set to easy. Not because I'm a pussy, but simply because I don't wish to replay painful activities over and over, nor do I want to replay a bad checkpoint system. And the SR2 checkpoint system IS bad. Very bad. But I'll get into that later. Back to the combat, unfortunately sticking the game on easy made the combat itself a little too easy. Which makes sense. But I was rarely challenged. In most cases I could run into a room, stand on one spot and spray everything with bullets. No need for cover or strafing. There were bits that were tricky and I did die several times, but overall the combat is a breeze, and I can't imagine it being much more challenging upping the skill level. So in conclusion, combat isn't for advanced players in SR2.

What is more challenging are the activities. There were a few that I struggled to even get past level one! And this is why I stuck with easy difficulty, because I'm not keen on spending any more time than I need to doing the activities. You need to do complete them because you need points (called Respect in SR2) in order to do each main mission. There's about 40 main missions (including taking over strongholds which also need to be done), and each mission, for instance, requires you winning 2-3 races to get enough points to start the mission. You can see how I might get bored quickly at these activities. What I ended up doing was finding a solo time race that I could win gold at easily every time and just replayed that over and over again. I probably did the same damn race over fifty times. But it sure beat most of the other activities. In a race against others it just takes one tiny hit to send you careening into an immovable object, while they rarely seem to lose control. If there's a collision in race, you'll often be the one coming off second best.

The motorcycles are nothing but a frustration with their wobbly handling and the rider flying off at the tiniest obstacle. While the car handling was okay, planes and helicopters were utterly atrocious. I could barely get the plane off the ground, let alone steer it around a obstacle course. The helicopter was a joke to attempt to land. I thought White Gold had pretty badly handling for it's air machinery, but SR2 defies the odds and has the worst handling aviation machinery I've ever experienced. I'd probably have an easier time flying a real plane!

Now there is a lot of driving in SR2, unfortunately. Sometimes I found it easier just to save and reload as it takes you straight back to your crib. But then you've got to find a quick car to get wherever you're supposed to be going. Driving from one mission to the next can take a number of minutes, full of other idiots on the road that are oblivious to you flying up behind them and turn straight into you. Furthermore, cars appear and disappear before you're very eyes. You can be driving an old crapper, see a Lamborghini drive past, throw the handbrake on and attempt to chase it down to hijack it, only to discover it's completely disappeared. But there's always plenty of cars around as well as pedestrians and people on foot. Even at midnight in thick rain at a lonely cemetery there's people absolutely everywhere. Does nobody sleep in this game?

I must admit, this game cracked me up at times, mostly during the driving action as I did something crazy, avoided a huge collision or just witnessed something random happening. Such as someone trying to hijack another car, only for the police to turn up and drag the car thief out and beat him. Meanwhile I'm hopping in the police car and hooning off.

The story is a highlight of SR2. When you've got 30 hours to tell it, you're sure to go into plenty of depth over the 5-10 hour shooters. You play a nameless person who breaks out of prison to lead the Saints, a gang in the city of Stillwater. There's three other main gangs, featured through three main episodes through the game, which you need to take down. Then there's the Ultor Corporation, slightly allied to the gangs but ultimately out to eradicate them all as well. I won't go into too much detail into the story, but the characters were all nicely fleshed out and there were plenty of cutscenes. Hell, probably an hour of cutscenes! The character you play you can design the look of completely, with massive detail. Not just what he/she wears and their hair colour, but you can completely change their face in ANY way you want. In fact, it might take some time, but you could create a character to look like yourself! Naturally, my character was nasty looking female, scantily clad and by the end of the game wearing nothing but underwear and covered in tats. The character throughout the story is quite a tough son of a bitch. Unstoppable, no mercy at all, so I had to create a character to go with this. Unfortunately, there were times that I actually sided with the antagonists - they seemed the fairer side. From the outside looking in, your character and the Saints is undoubtedly the most ruthless gang in the city. But playing such a son of a bitch is part of the charm and difference in SR2's story. I never like playing the cheesy hero.

The one big area I haven't mentioned is the design. This is where SR2 is let down. Based on a custom engine which I have no idea what or where it came from, it can certainly render massive areas seamlessly. There's no loading screens, you can drive from one side of this huge city to the other. SR2 is sandbox at it's most... sandboxy. Nothing is out of bounds, you can go anywhere. But the trade off is a lack of detail and finesse. Textures are plain. Post-processing is at at minimum. Lighting is drab and flat. There's a lack of detail on everything. Nothing in this game will give you that warm fuzzy feeling inside. It sure as hell isn't Crysis.

I should probably mention I did use the odd cheat - infinite sprint because the players walking speed is painfully slow considering the distances you have to go sometimes. And infinite ammo. You can buy ammo, and by the end of this game I had half a millions to spend. But I really can't be bothered having to visit ammo shops over and over again. Furthermore certain activities unless both infinite ammo and infinite sprint anyway. But the money issue - why does this game give you so much money when you really don't need it? Apart from the odd surgery and new clothes, the only money I spent was on buying properties and doing them up, and I struggled to actually find that many properties to buy. I've got all this money and nothing much to spend it on! And no requirement to spend it anyway because the combat just isn't that hard and I've got a dozen fast cars already in my garage.

Final word and complaint - the save system. You get a save sometimes during a main mission (but not often enough), and also always once you've completed the mission. There's no quicksave, you can only manually go through the menu, which uses ridiculous keys to navigate through instead of the obvious arrow keys, to manually save. So what happens if you do an hour of activities then quit? It's all lost. And that happened to me early in the game not realising that after doing all these activities I'd had no checkpoints in about an hour. Serenity now! On top of this, when you reload a save you don't go back to the previous position, you're plonked back to your crib, which could be miles from where you ACTUALLY SAVED!

Overall, SR2 is a decent game. The story is interesting, I loved being able to customise my character. There's tonnes to do, but most of the activities are sadly not that fun and too inconsistent. Forcing me to do them to proceed with the many main missions was a bit of a chore. But school kids with all afternoon and evening to play games might not mind so much. The city was massive, but nothing much to marvel over it's beauty. It looks a few years older than 2008. So, it's JUST a decent game.

Saints Row 2
Saints Row 2