Saints Row 2
In this post-GTA IV world, it is practically impossible to look at a new city-based, crime focused sandbox game without making instinctive comparisons with Rockstar's classic. Thankfully, while that may initially sound like its going to be bad news for a game like Saints Row 2, developers Volition seem to have managed to craft a game that many could well find to be the perfect antidote to the rather po-faced seriousness found in the world of Liberty City.
Picking up a few years after the end of the first game, SR2 finds you in prison, comatose after the yacht explosion that ended the original game. Awakening from said coma you get to use the highly enjoyable character creation tool to sculpt your in-game appearance. Soon enough its jail break time and the game proper kicks in on the streets of Stillwater. The central aim of the experience is to rebuild your gang turning them once again into the areas most feared bunch of hoodlums. To achieve this you'll need to pay close attention to the territory system which sees the city broken up into forty-five distinct neighbourhoods, each controlled by one of a number of rival gangs. As the story plays out you'll gradually win over these areas either by successfully completing missions or by simply blasting your way into enemy strongholds and taking over.
The more neighbourhoods you control the better, as they not only all make daily payments into your coffers they also act as a handy source for new gang members. Once you've gained the ability to recruit these delinquents they'll follow you around making your life that little bit easier in the only way hired thugs know how. Its also helpful to remember that if you can make it back onto your own territory while you're being chased by a rival gang you'll find plenty of volunteers willing to, shall we say, help.
The world of GTA IV may have been beautifully realised and its story and missions lovingly crafted, but the reason many gamers poured hour after hour into it had far more to do with the fun they were having simply messing around in it. SR2 understands that perfectly and goes out of its way to push the idea even further by existing in a world where exploring and having fun is not only encouraged its actively rewarded. Even a simple car-jacking can lead to unexpected mini games. Hijack a taxi for example and you'll trigger a 'Crazy Taxi' style mini game where you need to pick up and deliver passengers in a set time to get paid. Pinch a car containing a passenger and keep them from escaping long enough, avoiding the chasing police at the same time, and they'll offer to pay a ransom.
There's seemingly no end to the little mini games and entertaining distractions to be found along the way. Wandering into a destruction derby stadium and finding you can enter the races complete with fully customisable cars isn't even a surprise after a while. In GTA IV simply exploring the map and finding all the locations was half the fun, Saints Row 2 aims to give you something to do when you get there to make it all worth while and is all the more fun because of it.
Customisation is also something you'll see a lot of as you play, the character creation process at the start of the game is hugely flexible and it doesn't by any means stop there. There's huge amounts of clothes available in the shops you'll find along the way for example, and your houses (part of me still refuses to use the word 'cribs') can be constantly restyled as you see fit. Cars too can be modded to your heart's content at garages. Its not just the bodywork you can play with either, there's engine and chassis upgrades too for a price. The more you customise the higher your style rating goes which increases the amount of respect you earn for every mission you complete.
There also promises to be an enjoyable two player co-op mode available either via a LAN or online which should allow you to play through the whole thing with a friend, complete with scaling AI to stop things becoming too easy. Traditional multiplayer will also be supported with game modes allowing eight or twelve player matches in individual neighbourhoods.
The preview code we saw wasn't technically perfect by any means just yet, there were some amusing pop-up issues, the AI wasn't terribly impressive in places and the game needs a hefty rig to keep the frame-rate up. There's also no way of avoiding the fact that SR2 simply doesn't look as visually impressive as it perhaps should considering the richly detailed world we've got used to in a certain other game.
But these are only niggles, we're always keen to herald gameplay over graphics and it is by no means a bad looking game. The title itself certainly looks set to be a whole barrel of fun which definitely isn't something to be sniffed at in this post Christmas lull. Saints Row 2 will hit the PC at the end of January.
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