Games From the Bargin Bin: Saints Row 2

When ‘Saints Row 2’ was leading up to it’s release a couple of years ago it got plenty of attention and positive reviews yet it didn’t grab my attention enough to put down $100 for it. Part of the problem was its print campaign that took the angle of taking the piss out of its competitor ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ – a marketing tactic I’ve never responded well to, especially since ‘Saints Row 2’ was very clearly borrowing heavily from the aforementioned gameplay mechanics. ‘GTA IV’ was also still very much a recent release and buying a game that by all extents was a hastily assembled knock-off seemed pointless.

Time has now passed, another ‘Saints Row’ came has hit the shelves and ‘GTA IV’ is a memory. ‘Saints Row 2’ has had it’s pricetag dropped down to a more affordable $20 making it an affordable time filler. So let’s look at how well it held up.

What’s instantly clear to players is that this isn’t a game that takes itself very seriously. Brightly coloured, peppered with course language and larger than life characters give the entire game a sense of cartoonish wackiness. On the spectrum of sandbox wackiness it exists down the other end of the recent GTA games. If the GTA games are a HBO show (gritty, realistic and with the vague sense that they’re putting sex and violence on our screens just because they can), whilst ‘Just Cause 2’ is a Michael Bay film then ‘Saints Row’ is one of the ‘edgier’ programs turned out by Comedy Central, such as ‘South Park’. We’re talking about ridiculous to the point of slapstick if it were directed by Paul Verhoeven. One example that illustrates this perfectly is a mission where you attack a power plant to steal radioactive waste to put into tattoo ink so you can humiliate a rival gang leader when it mutilates his face.

The game begins with the character creation mode. For players who give a damn they can refine their avatars appearance down to the width of each separate nostril. As a gamer with more games than time I find this now common-place routine, and usually pick out a default model and add a few tweaks to give it a personal touch. As you work through the options you’ll find a couple that aren’t standard issue, yet add plenty of character to your dude/dudette. Choosing the way you walk, your taunt, compliment makes your character feel more personal, and having six different voices to choose from is a very nice touch.

Getting into the game proper drops you into the middle of the city of Stillwater. As a gang leader just out of a coma a couple of years long you are tasked with getting your gang back together and taking the city back. This gives you plenty of options for killing time. In order to access missions you need to earn respect in the forms of mini-games that range from contract killings to spraying houses with the contents of a septic tank. As idiotic as riding a flaming go-kart through a college campus is it’s more fun that the average sandbox side mission. In terms of diversions and non-story based lunacy there’s buckets more to do here than the average sandbox. The missions are plenty diverse as well, giving the player something a little different each time around.

Yes, the game requires you to fling shit around.

What brings the experience down somewhat is the environment and presentation. Not terrible mind you, but compared to some of the other games in the same genre it does look a little last-gen. The place quite often has a feeling of emptiness with few vehicles and people around at a time and many disappearing from the map the very moment they go off camera leading to the occasional moment of frustration when a nice car speeds past only for it to have evaporated by the time you’ve done a u-turn to chase after it. Controls can be a little stiff and clunky at times as well, and the lack of lock-on or a cover system means most gun fights turn into circle strafes.

Although the diversions and side-missions get stale after a while there’s plenty of variation to keep things fun. The story isn’t ground-breaking but the level of personality you can give your little criminal does give you a stronger tie to them than, say, Nicco Belic and his fat cousin. If you’re looking for a sandbox that gives you an almost realistic world to play in, this isn’t it. If you’re looking to cause mayhem in an almost cartoony manner than ‘Saints Row 2’ will deliver on the goods better than anything else in the price range.

Score: SEVEN outta TEN