Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC - Xbox 360 version reviewed
Really, it's like GTA4 never happened.
I don't think anyone expected Saints Row 2 to be a worthy rival to Rockstar's masterpiece, but at times it's shocking how dated this sequel seems. We had the original Saints Row down as a decent GTA rip-off; one that didn't score highly for graphics, technical polish or gritty atmosphere, but made up for it with some strong personalisation features and missions that majored on fun, fun, fun. Now GTA4 has come and gone, wowing us with its living, breathing city, layers of detail and rich narrative - and Saints Row 2 comes along with, erm, a decent GTA rip off that doesn't score highly for graphics, technical polish or gritty atmosphere, but makes up for it with some strong personalisation features and missions that major on fun, fun, fun. Anybody else feeling a little deja-vu?
OK, that's not quite fair. Just as Saints Row took the GTA III template and made a few wise improvements, so Saints Row takes the best bits from its predecessor and pushes them to the max. Sure, we get a slightly clichéd tale of the old gang leader returning to his city and working to get his gang back on top, but what made Saints Row so enjoyable wasn't the story but the missions - and particularly the missions that had less to do with furthering the plot and more to do with just messing around.
Variety is the key word here. Bone-snapping insurance scams, hooker recruitment, assassinations, bare-knuckle fighting, destruction derbies and riding a flaming quad-bike through the local uni campus are just some of the activities on offer. One minute you can be spraying excrement on city property from a stolen sanitation truck, the next you could be protecting celebrities while throwing crazed fans through the furniture or committing staged police brutalities for a dodgy reality show. All credit to developers Volition: this might be lowest common denominator stuff, but it all hits the right South Park/Jackass spots.
Meanwhile, the fundamental action seems a bit better staged this time around. Defeating rival gangs and acquiring territories is still the name of the game, but the central missions have a more logical sequence and there's less time spent just mopping up gang members or looking for something (or someone) to do (in). Some of the missions are just fantastic. Like motorcycles? Like machine-guns? How about a high-speed chase that combines the two?