Some of you might remember I was pretty harsh about the world of modern gaming; too much mindless violence, no decent story telling, too little content, too much focus on tits. How on earth could I like a game like Saints Row 2, where both violence and tits (in the form of an endless supply of strippers and prostitutes) are more or less the pillars of the game?
There is a world of difference between a game that tries to cover up the truth, and a game that just blatantly comes out and says it like it is. Many games that are essentially all about violence and tits try to cover it up by writing some sort of excuse into the story, explaining why the protagonist should kill everyone, why tits are important, providing a motivation for the player to perform the mindless killing. That's what we call pretentiousness. You may call yourself an escort girl and have a chauffeur driving you in a fancy limousine to your next customer, but the fact of the matter is you're still a whore.
Then there are games like Saints Row 2, which grabs pretentious games by the ears, kicks them to the curb, and flings poo at them. Saints Row 2 doesn't give you a motivation, no backstory, no emotional nonsense. They just give you a sandbox city filled with a never-ending stream of squishy bloodbags, cars, and guns, knowing full well that gamers don't need any motivation to start killing every one.
The game itself even makes fun of pretentious games. During one of the story missions, you are going to rob a casino run by a rivalling gang. One of your gang members has made a model of the casino, including figures representing everyone in it, and is patiently explaining his detailed plan to rob the casino without shedding a drop of blood. At that point, your gang leader takes the figures that represent your gang, moves them to the front entrance of the casino, and states: "Why don't we just walk in and shoot every motherfucker between us and the money? Would be a lot more fun."
Yes, Saints Row 2 is a Grand Theft Auto clone, but it does it so well, it's actually better than the original. It's a better GTA than GTA, because it has a clear understanding of its target audience. The game has more of a wacky, almost cartoonish feel to it. Realism has been thrown out the window in favour of plain fun. Run people over, and they launch 100 metres into the air like ragdolls. The cars don't handle realistically - they handle in such a way that you can actually drive around town without getting into a crash every three seconds. You can take more bullets than an armoured tank, and your health regenerates. Unrealistic, yes, but it makes the mindless violence so much easier. It doesn't break the flow.
So, the goal of the game is to take over the entire city, eliminating rival gangs in a series of story missions. In order to gain access to the story missions, however, you need to build up respect points by completing mini games. A few examples of the mini games you find in Saints Row 2: drive around in a septic truck and spray as much expensive homes, office buildings, people, and cars with poo. Then there's my favourite, where you have to get hit by as many cars as possible. The laws of physics are discarded here, allowing you to be launched hundreds of metres into the air, bouncing from building to tree to ground. Then there's this one where you drive around on a flaming quad, setting as many cars, people, and things on fire as possible. There are other ways to gain respect, such as dramatic car jumps, two-wheel driving, handbrake turns, headshots, ballshots (by lack of a better term), and my favourite: jumping out of a driving car.
There's a downside to the respect system. It leads to this retarded situation further down the line where you own over 2/3 of the city, but you still have to earn enough respect by flinging poo around in order to gain access to the next story mission. The respect system is also a bit messed up; you'd figure that a gangster would gain more respect by mowing down 50 enemy gang members in an office building than by performing crowd control at a porn star's autograph session.
To make matters worse, the mini games have this odd difficulty curve where, after having completed the first 2 or 3 levels, they become undoable. Maybe a hard core 12 year old gamer can pull those off, but I was put off pretty quickly.
The game also understands its audience when it comes to character customisation. There is so much to change about your character it easily beats most modern role playing games. Want to be an obese fat African American wearing nothing but a thong? Be my guest. Want to be a heroine addicted girl with dreadlocks wearing a cowboy hat? Go ahead. Trust me, there's something mesmerising about mowing down 40 police officers as a blonde, blue-eyed picture-perfect Playboy model wearing tiny red hotpants, red stiletto heals, loose silken blouse, flower-patterned bikini, covered in red tribal and flower tattoos, wearing a red cowboy hat. Customisation is important in the game as the more you trick your character, cars, and homes out, the more style points you get, which act as multiplier for the respect points system. Shallow? Of course. Pointless? Sure. Fun? Hell yeah!
Looking back to the last few months of owning an XBox 360, I have to say that while I found Mass Effect the most intriguing and well-written game (and therefore, the best), and while I found Fallout 3 the most immersive (~120 hours of play time!), Saints Row 2 was the most fun game to play. And isn't that one of the primary goals of a game?
In order to play this game, you need to be able to get off your high horse, and simply admit to your instincts to just have mindless fun. Saints Row 2 is the porn film of the game world. You won't be proud of enjoying it, and you won't shout it off the rooftops when you're "done", but that doesn't mean it leaves you with any less of a satisfied feeling.
A definitive buy.
- Title: Saints Row 2
- Platform: XBox 360
- Release date: October 2008
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