Saints Row 2 – Hands On Xbox 360, PS3

The first Saints Row received generally positive reviews and sold over 2 million copies on the Xbox 360 following its release in August 2006. This popularity guaranteed a sequel, which is going multi-platform on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on the 17th of October.

DarkZero was in attendance at Volition’s press event in sunny Prague where we got the chance to go hands-on with both Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game. We got some extensive play-time on both the singleplayer and co-op modes and you can read our thoughts on these below. We also had an exclusive first-look and tryout of the multiplayer, but we can’t reveal details on that until closer to the game’s release, so check back near the end of the month.

Being set in a sandbox-style city, and featuring a criminal as a main character meant Saint’s Row suffered many fair and unfair comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Of course, at the time there hadn’t been a next-gen GTA release, so the competition really wasn’t as heated. After the astonishing critical and commercial success of GTA IV, Saint’s Row 2 has a lot to live up to.

Thankfully, the boys at Volition were clearly up the challenge. Whilst GTAIV went down the route of cinematic realism, Rockstar’s game was criticised by some for massively reducing the amount of activities on offer in the game-world, for a lack of things to spend your money on, and for a lack of customisation options.

In comparison, Saints Row 2 is much closer to being the spiritual successor of San Andreas, rather than direct competition of GTAIV. This second trip to the city of Stilwater has retained all the juicy slapstick and self-referential humour, whilst the rest of the experience has matured like a fine wine.


The first Saints Row ended rather abruptly, with the main character apparently caught in an explosion during a meeting with a corrupt mayoral candidate on his private yacht. The sequel picks up the story five years later, with the protagonist waking up from a coma to find himself (or herself) in a dingy prison hospital.

That’s right, Saints Row 2 allows you to play as a female character this time round. In fact, you have almost complete control over the appearance of your character. It transpires that you were badly disfigured in the explosion and have the uses of a plastic surgeon who isn’t averse to performing a little gender-reassignment surgery on the side.

After deciding on your preferred sex and race, you can alter almost every feature you desire, from obvious things like facial structure and hairstyle , to body fat and makeup. There are few limitations, and the opportunity to create men with breasts and women with facial hair probably makes Saints Row 2 one of the few transsexual-friendly titles available.

You can adjust your characters walking style, taunt, and compliment animations. You start out as a bit of a brawler when it comes to combat, but various martial arts and fighting techniques can be learned throughout the course of the game. You can even choose from a selection of six voices, and creating a badass black man with the voice of a teenage white girl provides no end of amusement.


This level of personal customisation extends to the rest of the game also. Those who missed the features in GTAIV will be pleased to learn that Saints Row 2 allows you to purchase and improve several properties and businesses, turning them from squalid hovels into luxurious pimp pads. Players can also purchase and improve vehicles, with a huge range of cosmetic and performance enhancing modifications available.

Although there are certainly many things to spend your ill-gotten gains on, money is not the only currency in the world of Saints Row. Being a ‘gangsta’ is all about Respect, which needs to be earned to open up new tasks and missions and ultimately progress through the game. Thankfully, Volition have avoided the potential this game element had for turning into a tedious grind-fest by allowing you to accrue Respect from almost every action you make.

Diversions such as getting headshots and groin shots, killing sprees, creating explosions, reckless and spectacular driving, taking out rival gang members, spraying graffiti tags, stunt jumps, gambling, taunting, hold-ups, drive-by shooting, vehicle surfing, and selling stolen cars all increase your Respect level. Whilst your style level increases your Respect multiplier even further, and although this is affected by which clothes you purchase, rather usefully you don’t have to actually be wearing the clothes to benefit from their bonuses. This leaves you free to squeeze your obese character into a boob-tube and miniskirt.

As with the first game, there are no auto-aim or lock-on features in Saints Row 2, but the free look aiming system is responsive and the health system forgiving enough for this not to be an issue. You are also able to carry several health-giving food items with you at any one time, eliminating the need to search around for medikits or health-packs.


Now onto what was undoubtedly the highlight of our hands-on time with Saints Row 2: the co-operative play. Volition have done a fantastic job in enabling gamers to play the whole game together with a friend over Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Once a co-op game has been joined, each player can continue to play around in the city with no restrictions.

Players are not tethered to each other, and individual progression is not stunted in any way. Handily, if one player starts a mission then the other player receives an invitation to participate, so gamers never need to be close to each other within the gameworld. Rather than shoehorning another player into the narrative, cutscenes are handled by each player seeing their own character in the place of the protagonist.

Two criminals roaming a city are always better than one, and things really get fun when you team up to take on the various activites that Stilwater has to offer. There are a huge range of these and although we had free reign to play the game for over six hours, we didn’t have time to try them all.

Highlights of the ones we did get to try included:

Fight Club – Locked in a cage, you’re pitted against increasing numbers of thugs. This gets pretty brutal as using Saint’s Row 2’s more in-depth fighting mechanics means you can break people’s necks or bludgeon them with cinderblocks.

Demolition Derby – This last-man standing Battle-Of-The-Automobiles adds some extra strategy to the destruction after each round, forcing you to allocate limited modifications affecting either speed, power or defense.


Trail Blazing – Two men in flame-proof suits, one Quad Bike, Infinite Molotov Cocktails, Limited Time. The more damage you cause by burning up the town, the more time is added to the counter.

Heli Assault – With one person manning the guns and the other piloting an attack chopper, you’re sure to light up the night sky as you reign down explosive justice on your foes.

Escort – Whilst one player must drive swiftly away from pursuing paparazzi who want some juicy footage of celebrity debauchery, the other is in the backseat busy ‘escorting’ the love-starved woman by using the analog sticks to find her sweet-spot.

Of course in addition to these there are the expected Race, Hitman, Taxi Driver, Rampage and Pimping activities, along with an Ambulance Driver mode that sees you performing CPR with the analog sticks and which gifts you with the use of shock paddles as a weapon when completed.

Sometimes it’s the little touches that make all the difference. Mid-mission checkpoints and that fact that each co-op player can revive the other when downed, eases much of the frustration that was present in parts of GTAIV. The available missions in co-op are determined by the hosts progress, but if the second player helps complete a mission that they’ve not unlocked yet, then they will be given the option to skip it when they come across that particular mission in their own game. Such thoughtful inclusions ensure that Saints Row 2 maintains the fun factor.

It’s difficult to tell from a short play, but we’d estimate that there’s at least 30 hours of gameplay here. We spent almost too long playing Zombie Uprising, a video game inside a video game that is accessed through the TV in one of your many apartments, which pits you against ever-increasing waves of Undead in full 3D.


Friendly Fire is optional, but if one player is killed by the other they can choose to initiate a quick one-on-one Deathmatch, with the winner being the player with the most kills after a couple of minutes. Saints Row 2 is packed with content and modes such as this really keep the experience feeling fresh.

There wasn’t really any discernable difference between Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game, so your favoured version will depend on whether you prefer the option of SixAxis tilt control of boats and helicopters, or the 360 pad with Xbox Live and Achievements. The PS3 version will support Trophies, but not necessarily from the day of release.

It must be mentioned that a few bugs were present in the build of the game we played; these were infrequent and mostly visual. It’s unlikely these will all be ironed out by the time the game is in the shops, but at least nothing game-breaking was present.

All in all, we have to say that Saints Row 2 exceeded all our expectations. Volition have really pulled out all the stops to ensure that their game is extremely attractive alternative to GTAIV, and by focusing on what makes fun gameplay rather than realism it may actually end up being a more enjoyable experience.

With just less than a month until the games October 17th release date, we don’t have long until Saints Row gets the chance to prove itself, but you can rest assured that this game is already on our wish-list.