Saints Row 2 Revisited

I am dressed in a one piece bikini, wearing a gladiator helmet, carrying a rocket launcher and blowing an illicit casino in the basement of a community center into tiny explosive bits. I am insanity with ordinance. I am death in a funny Halloween costume. I am a Saint.

I never expected to be dragged grudgingly to the conclusion that a violent cacophony of destruction in an open world environment would be my favorite title of last year. I can at least take some solace in making that statement without talking about a certain game by Rockstar. Saints Row 2 is to Grand Theft Auto 4 as Burnout is to Gran Turismo, which is to say that the similarities are enough to talk about them in the same sentence but only so that you can immediately point out how completely different they are.

I understand the hesitancy some have to hear sung the praises of Saints Row 2, and no one should seem less likely to be warbling this a capella. Approach it the wrong way, as I almost did, and you’ll never pierce the flimsy veneer of yet another gangsta drive-by shooter. The game opens with all the wrong vibes where a splash screen Volition logo pops up all pimped out — the kids still say pimped out, right? — in graffiti style artwork. The main menu is accompanied by what I am assured is called “rap music.” You start the game in prison and almost immediately someone gets shived or shanked or whatever the hell they call it when one guy stabs another guy with a sharpened twig. You would be entirely forgiven for turning the game off there.

That would be a mistake.

Followed by a cameraman and illicitly dressed as an officer of the law, I am dispatched to a violent gang uprising at a near by overpass. I arrive to find that the gangland rumble is in fact a group of ninjas fighting a group of pirates. I set them all on fire.

What sets Saints Row 2 apart is not its setting, its plot or even its presentation. It’s the complete lack of pretension. It stands in stark contrast to the morally dubious yet tediously self-absorbed affectations of GTA 4, and once you get as far as the character creation screen, you may realize that this is a different kind of beast entirely.

Myself, I created a well spoken character with a mid-Atlantic kind of accent who seems affable enough, though when you see him strolling down the street with his asynchronous gait gaping at the world like a deranged Sackboy you would do well to suspect that he is indeed six kinds of crazy. Often witnessed sporting a bowler hat and Casual-Friday attire -- when not in a Speedo and gladiatorial gear -- he dispatches justice in uncomplicated and unsophisticated ways.

The game delivered its mission statement to me in an early briefing. One character is explaining a complex assault on an enemy stronghold in detailed plans with sophisticated plot devices and precision timing. It’s the sort of elaborate and convoluted trial of skills that ached with tedious familiarity. My character, as if channeling my own thoughts on the matter, interjects with a better solution: run in and blow everything up. Oh, crazy, leering, psychotic, bowler-hat man, truly we are shorn from the same bolt of evil cloth.

The bulldozer, speeding hazardously through pedestrian filled streets, tears toward the intersection, and just as it begins its aching and screeching turn, I hurl my body into its path. I soar through the air, ricocheting off a sign at a nearby fish market, turning gracelessly through the air and eventually impaling myself onto a lovely white picket fense. My injuries amass a tidy $20,000 toward my total insurance fraud goal of $250,000. I giggle madly as I launch myself into the path of an oncoming dumptruck.

I imagine somewhere in the bowels of Volition, now tragically run through with THQ's budget slashing sword, scribbled on a whiteboard, underlined and surrounded by a box marked with Do Not Erase is the phrase, "Yes, But Is It Fun?" Such a simple philosophy too rarely applied to games. Great, I need to storm the enemy hotel, blow it up and then base jump down the atrium as the explosions tear out the foundations around me. Sounds terrific, but is it fun? I rarely make such grand statements but at almost every turn Saints Row 2 answers the question with a resounding yes.

The streets are populated with endless diversion, and surprisingly few repetitious ideas. I mean, we’re talking about a game here where you are encouraged to deface high-value property by the liberal dispensing of sewage. Childish? Absolutely. Silly? Without question. Who cares?

That I am staring at a glowing checkpoint some four blocks in the distance is nothing new. That I am riding an all-terrain vehicle and that I am on fire; that is new. I blaze through populated intersections, sending cars exploding high in the air and lighting nearby pedestrians up like dry kindling. Understand that each innocent bystander nets me an additional second to add to my clock when I finally cross that checkpoint, and that is why I veer into a picnic table full of seniors.

I suppose I must address the rampant and completely indiscriminate violence of Saints Row 2. To take it seriously, would be to take the violence of a Kill Bill or Evil Dead seriously. While the game certainly gorges itself on destructive lusts, it never rises to the occasion of malice. Your character doesn’t struggle with his demonic manifestation. He doesn’t even seem to notice it. It is not cruelty; it is a mechanic, and Volition never allows the game to take itself seriously long enough to matter.

This is realistic violence in exactly the same way that internet pornography is a documentary of human sexuality.

I’m as surprised as anyone to be extolling the virtues of Saints Row 2, and holding it up as somehow equal or superior to some of the most critically acclaimed games of 2008. Yet, here I am still playing it after 3 fairly dedicated weeks, and finding new things that make me giddy every time I fire my Xbox 360 up. While certainly not a game for everyone, if the game ever seemed for a moment intriguing, you may be doing yourself a disservice by not playing it.

Let it be enough that it is fun -- hobo throwing, mini-skirt with a tank-top wearing, sewage spewing, crazy to the very top of the rafters fun.

Comments

Hear hear!

I still love SR2 and it is the one game I keep comming back to when I have down time!

SR2, co-op, was the most fun game of 2008.

Not that I've played every other game. But the statement stands.

Speedo and gladiator helmet not withstanding, I can cheer on every sentiment above with glee.

I went for a dirty trailer park T-shirt, no trousers and a gladiator helmet, myself.

Thank you for conceding that this is "certainly not a game for everyone." I guess I'll go and stand over in that group.

But I'm curious--What is it that gets a game like Saints Row 2 such a gleeful but guilty following, while a game like Postal earns such universal scorn? Are there really such dramatic differences between them?

Sensical wrote:

Thank you for conceding that this is "certainly not a game for everyone." I guess I'll go and stand over in that group.

But I'm curious--What is it that gets a game like Saints Row 2 such a gleeful but guilty following, while a game like Postal earns such universal scorn? Are there really such dramatic differences between them?

Postal's gameplay was crap. All the crassness and lame jokes aside, it just wasn't a fun game.

I went completely naked.

Saint's Row 2 was just plain fun, and I think you captured that well here.

Even though I'm usually not into this type of game, I bought the first one for cheap and found it surprisingly more entertaining then I expected. I thought I got my fill that time around. But I've already heard several others talk about how it continues to go in the direction of embracing the sandbox in a surrealistic and absurdist manner, and now that someone who shares many of the same tastes as me is making that claim, I guess I should take the hint and give this one a run as well.

All things considered I think SR2 was probably the best game released last year in terms of pure fun gameplay value.

I almost didn't get it because I'm so tired of the "gangsta" urban theme, but I'm glad I did, once you get past the cheesy, tired overall theme of the game, there is just so much gameplay in this title, it's amazing. And the customization plays a huge part - even though it's a game about urban gangs you can really play any kind of freaky character you want, and change your dude with your mood. The cutscenes can be totally hilarious depending on how your character looks, I'll never forget my dude in a hotdog outfit jumping up onstage and assaulting a bandmember.

Oh yeah, and co-op? That really seals the deal, completely hilarious fun with a buddy online.

I still haven't beat the game, I hit it up once a week or so and have fun.

kuddles wrote:

Even though I'm usually not into this type of game, I bought the first one for cheap and found it surprisingly more entertaining then I expected. I thought I got my fill that time around.

It is MASSIVELY more entertaining than the first game, which I quickly grew bored with and returned.

kuddles wrote:

Even though I'm usually not into this type of game, I bought the first one for cheap and found it surprisingly more entertaining then I expected. I thought I got my fill that time around. But I've already heard several others talk about how it continues to go in the direction of embracing the sandbox in a surrealistic and absurdist manner, and now that someone who shares many of the same tastes as me is making that claim, I guess I should take the hint and give this one a run as well.

You really should. SR2 is better than the original in almost every way.

Anybody know if the PC version has been fixed/polished-up yet? Is it worth getting on Steam?

Co-op firebombing from the ATV is beyond fun.

Great writing - had me giggling the whole time.

MoonDragon wrote:

Anybody know if the PC version has been fixed/polished-up yet? Is it worth getting on Steam?

It's been patched to address some of the worst performance problems, but I hear the vehicle controls are still awful, even with a gamepad. If you have a 360 or PS3, play one of those versions.

I just picked this up off Amazon last week and it was delivered yesterday. I plan on having my first taste tonight.

You've got me excited, Elysium.

To be honest, this doesn't really sound like my sort of game, but it might be great as a Horizon's Broadening Project.

Let's pretend for a moment that I've lived under a rock for the last few years and have never touched a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox game. Would I be better off putting Saints Row 2 in my GameFly queue or one of the half-dozen Grand Theft Auto games?

adam.greenbrier wrote:

To be honest, this doesn't really sound like my sort of game, but it might be great as a Horizon's Broadening Project.

Let's pretend for a moment that I've lived under a rock for the last few years and have never touched a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox game. Would I be better off putting Saints Row 2 in my GameFly queue or one of the half-dozen Grand Theft Auto games?

You'd be better off with SR2, by far.

Personally I found SR2 to be more fun than any of the GTA games. I think the customization and co-op are a big part of that. As an example of the sandbox-style urban warfare/driving game, it is really at the top of the genre.

SR2 is great. I'm always keen on new folks picking it up, because I love dropping in for some Co-op

I just picked up the special edition at a best buy for 30 dollars. I've only been able to play for a few minuets and so far it looks fun enough. If anybody wants to play coop with me just add me on xbox live the name is breander.

Well I picked up for the PS3 while my 360 is getting fixed and I've been having so much fun with it. I don't know of a game recently that has made me laugh as much as this one.

The game delivered its mission statement to me in an early briefing. One character is explaining a complex assault on an enemy stronghold in detailed plans with sophisticated plot devices and precision timing. It’s the sort of elaborate and convoluted trial of skills that ached with tedious familiarity. My character, as if channeling my own thoughts on the matter, interjects with a better solution: run in and blow everything up.

This experience mentioned in the podcast 1 or 2 weeks back sold me the game. I'm not really into the gang(ster) type games before but the sillyness of this game has made it so approachable to me, I finished it once and am playing it again with a new character. Going to reverse the order of the gangs I tackled last time through, and playing with some of the cheats on. One thing I missed is the no trophey support on PS3, not that I value the PS3 tropheys very much just missed that little pat on the head that I was doing well that I always get on my xbox.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

Would I be better off putting Saints Row 2 in my GameFly queue or one of the half-dozen Grand Theft Auto games?

Get a GTA first. SR2 will spoil you with its goodness and you'll never be able to enjoy GTA, which is good, but not great.

It's like choosing to go on the Space Shuttle first, and then the Vomit Comet second

I'll have to check this out at some point. I have a deep addiction to character dress-up... I think this will feed the fire nicely.

This is possibly the most out-of-context siggable Elysium post I've seen so far. Hobo throwing? Have to say I'm intrigued.

AcidCat wrote:

The cutscenes can be totally hilarious depending on how your character looks, I'll never forget my dude in a hotdog outfit jumping up onstage and assaulting a bandmember.

The game sounds worth it for that scene alone.

Stylez wrote:

SR2 is great. I'm always keen on new folks picking it up, because I love dropping in for some Co-op

This. I will pester just about anyone I see playing SR2 for a chance to jump in and start blowing sh*t up.

To me, Saints Row 2 was designed completely around all the things that made sandbox games fun in spite of intended design. It was like they made a game out of the parts of the original GTA 3 in between missions that had me and my friends rolling on the floor, spewing peals of juvenile laughter. I remember that there were missions in GTA, sure, but I don't remember anything about it but running around with a flamethrower causing mayhem.

Saints Row 2 is just the mayhem parts, and its story exists to ferry you from one big stupid fun mayhem scene to another. In a way, I feel like it's like comparing the new Batman movies to Iron Man. Maybe Batman was a better movie by some sort of knowledgeable person's standard, but goddamn if I didn't have a lot more fun watching Iron Man.

I voted it #1 or 2 on my GOTY list. So much fun, especially in coop.

So would you guys say that Saints' Row is a parody of GTA?

Everyone should try the Co-op escort missions... Your coop buddy drives while you do the hoing activity in the back... Great bonding experience.... lots of cursing abound.

No, though it may seem like it. I'd say, and not at all to be cheeky about it, Saints Row is an improvement of GTA.