Saint’s Row 2: Dousing People In Sewage Electric Boogaloo
I am now perhaps half-way through the story line in Saints Row 2, with a completed percentage of around 40% and nine hours playing time.
In the sake of fairness, I should point out that the game and I are still in our “honeymoon phase.” I ended up dreaming about it last night, even.
When the original Saints Row came out I picked it up and played it. It was a total clone of GTA III with a bunch of San Andreas-style activity enhancements. It was cartoony. It was buggy. It was a blatant, unapologetic rip-off. And that was fine: I bought it to get my “sandbox fix” until GTA IV came out. It was fun enough that when the sequel was announced I figured to pick it up.
Then GTA IV came out and I was totally, completely underwhelmed. I have said this before but I’ll say it again: the “fun” bits that they left out of GTA IV made their way into Saint’s Row 2. IV was too much of a “simulation” for me. That’s great and all: it’s what they were trying for, and they succeeded. But the game they made was not the game I wanted.
I wanted a game with goofy side activities where you blow everything up, douse people in raw sewage, or score points by throwing people into jet engines.
The initial ad campaigns for SR2 were focused not on how similar the game was to GTA IV, which one would think. Instead, they focused on how the game was different. And it is.
Here’s what’s great:
First off, the character creation and customization system. Holy crap, is this awesome! Virtually every physical characteristic of your avatar can be changed (which is par for the course). But what makes this special is the ability to change your character’s gait and even voice. My guess is they recorded the main dialog with six different voice actors.
(Contrast to IV where you can customize. . . nothing.)
There’s a metric butt-load of wearable clothing, jewelry, tattoos, what have you. There is a neat “style” system where you get bonus points for looking good and buying interesting clothes and the like.
(Contrast to IV where you can buy may be 20 items of clothing? And they’re all pretty much the same.)
In fact, you get to customize pretty much everything: any hideout (crib) you buy, your gang’s “style” (Are they street thugs? Do they dress in suits? body armor? Maybe they wear ninja outfits?), the gang’s tags, their call signs, the cars they drive. . . it’s nuts.
Want to drive around in a gold plated sports car with purple racing stripes? No problem. Found a pair of pants you like but they aren’t in a color you want? No problem.
(Contrast to IV where you can customize. . . nothing but your clothes.)
Moving on from that, the next bit that struck me was the sheer quality of the voice work. It is all top-notch, for the most part, and the quality shows in the weirdest places. I was tooling around and all of a sudden my character started singing along (poorly) to Take On Me. None of the lines from the principles or secondaries feel wooden – even the standard “we’re gonna get you” lines from the gang members are well done.
The soundtrack is kind of “eh.” It’s got some gems but it’s mostly “B” quality. Of course, all game soundtracks will be judged according to Vice City forever and ever, a-men, so that’s not too bad (even the music in San Andreas and IV is less-than-stellar).
The storyline missions are actually pretty interesting. There are a bunch of requisite “go here and kill all the goons” and the “chase the guy down” type missions, but they are usually wrapped up in larger things (like, “shut down the gang’s pornography distribution network by destroying all of their computer servers”). They’re not so fed-ex-y, and, unlike most sandbox games, they don’t start out boring (“Drive here. Take this package to that guy.”)
In fact, your first mission involves breaking out of prison and includes a nice gunboat chase.
The side missions, though, are where the game really shines. There are so goddamned many of them I can’t even begin to list them. We have the standard “work as a taxi driver or ambulance worker” ones (and even that one has a twist: you get out of the ambulance and have to use shock paddles), as well as “hitman” and “car collection” ones. But then we have the stand outs.
For example, “FUZZ” puts you in the role of being a “cop” for a reality television series (ala COPS). You drive around in a cruiser and answer weird-ass calls (“break up two people having sex in public”; “beat down a serial litterer”) while he films it. Dispatch the problems in interesting ways and he gets better footage.
There’s a bodyguard activity where you protect celebrities from raving fans, a “steal hookers from pimps” activity, a “blow up as much shit as you can in a short time frame” activity, and even the aforementioned “douse people in sewage” activity (you’re trying to lower property values in an area).
Seriously, there are too many to talk about, and they are all pretty clever.
Here’s what sucks:
I would like to say that it is a “tad buggy” but that is a lie. It is “a lot buggy.” It is by no means as buggy as the first one, but I am pretty sure that the game could have used another month or two in the Quality Assurance hopper.
There are some draw-in issues, and sometimes things just. . . disappear, and that’s weird but at the same time they don’t really affect game play so much. The biggest bug (and it’s a doozy) is that it freezes – crash and burn at the console level, too. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it, either. One particularly maddening freeze for me came during the an end-of-mission cut scene, just before it awarded mission completion and auto-saved (and that was perhaps the fifth time I had attempted the mission).
However, perhaps the thing that irritates me the most is actually a game play issue, and that is territory “push backs”. As you progress through the game, you have to take over territories in the city (as you did in the original game and in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas). You will get rewards for this (additional daily money, plus your thugs are walking around there and you can recruit them).
But, from time to time, another gang tries to “pushback” the territory and claim it for themselves. This always seems to happen when I’m doing something like running around looking for unique stunts or collectables or whatever: I get a panicked phone message and now I have to haul ass across the map to kill four dudes who are wanking into the pool or something.
It’s an irritating mechanic. I understand why it is there but I hate it nonetheless and it detracts from the fun.
In open world, sandbox games, I am not a fain of “maintenance” activities. GTA:SA was the absolute worst for this: not only do you have to maintain your territory, but you have to eat food, and do pushups, and then you have to take your girlfriends on dates, and blah blah blah.
GTA:IV removed the food, territory, and workout maintenance routines but instead amplified the irritating “girlfriend calls you and demands attention” schtick by adding in “hanging out with your pals at a bar.” You could say these are “optional” but they’re really not.
SR2 at least only has the territory thing. At this point, it seems like you can only have one contested territory at a time, so I just let one stay blinky. If I’m near the area, I might go killify some dudes; otherwise, my homies can handle themselves.
There is supposedly a huge multiplayer thing but I haven’t tried that. From what I’ve read, it has the potential to be awesome (there’s even the ability to play the entire game in “co-op” mode).
But to be honest, what sold it for me was that I ended up unlocking a freakin’ UFO that I get to fly around in.