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The following review was written by a member of The Escapist community. For more information on community reviews, please see this forum thread.

The problem with a lot of open world games is that they are immediately compared to Grand Theft Auto. When this genre of gaming become more and more popular, things become tough for the lesser known games in the genre. A good example of this is Saints Row by Volition. The game was originally released on the Xbox 360 a few years back and was instantly targeted as just another GTA knock off even though it was actually pretty different. The game sported a bright city to explore, plenty of different activities to complete, and a story that was a throwback to movies such as “Boyz in the Hood” and “Friday.”

Saints Row 2 picks up a few years after the original, beginning with the protagonist comatose in a prison hospital. After escaping from prison with the help of a new friend, you find out that Stillwater has changed since you last walked its streets. It is now your job to take back the streets and once again rule the city by killing everyone who stands in your way.

Like the original, players are given the opportunity to create their very own character. Not only are players given the option to create a male character, but they can now choose to play as a female character. The addition of the female sex in Saints Row 2 is somewhat puzzling because the original game required players to create a male character. It doesn’t make any sense to have the main character suddenly become a woman when considering the overall storyline, but there was nothing that the fans wanted more than to play as a female character. Sure, playing as a woman does screw with the continuity of the connecting storylines, but it also shows that Volition listens to their fans.

Stillwater is just like you remember it from the original game, but even bigger and better with more of just about everything. Volition pulled out all the stops to deliver a bright, violent and surprisingly colorful environment for the player to run around in. Everything from the skyscrapers down to the trailer park looks genuinely cartoonish, while retaining the right amount of realism. Stillwater is the complete opposite of many other open world environments; choosing a very bright, silly, unrealistic look over a dark, gritty, realistic look. The game is a breath of fresh air in the claustrophobic open world gangster genre of games, ditching most of its realism in favor of a cartoon-y look.

The gameplay mechanics are pretty simple and straightforward, but those same mechanics can get in their own way from time to time. The driving controls are simplistic, but the driving physics are loose and laughably bad, which means that your car will rarely drive straight. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to drive down a straight road, only to hit anything and everything between me and my destination. Thankfully, the shooting mechanics fare much better, allowing players to kill dozens upon dozens of faceless thugs without ever breaking a sweat. Unfortunately for those faceless thugs, their artificial intelligence detracts from their overall challenge making them more like cannon fodder than ruthless thugs.

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Saints Row 2 is not lacking good opportunities; it gives the player plenty of them throughout the storyline. The number of activities scattered across Stillwater is impressive. Unfortunately, you’ll be playing those same mini-games over and over again until you either complete them all or reach the brink of your patience.

Playing every mini game wouldn’t be so bad if it were simply a choice that the developer was giving the player, but in Saints Row 2 it’s a requirement. The game forces players to play through the mini-games in order to build up their “reputation.” If your reputation hasn’t met a certain level, you cannot advance in the story.

While the game does offer an initial challenge in the form of lots of enemies and explosions, the main challenge comes from the game’s buggy nature. Not only will you have to deal with enemies, you’ll also need to keep an eye on the inconsistent frame rate and the incredibly stupid artificial intelligence. Frustration sets in when you are asked to blow up a small car with a machine gun from the passenger seat of a very fast moving vehicle while the buggy AI tries to keep the vehicle on the road.

Despite all of the technical problems, the overall fun factor is still incredibly high. Instead of trying to keep some shred of peace in the gaming environment, Saints Row 2 throws just about every rule out the window and encourages the chaos. Grab pedestrians off the street and hurl them into oncoming traffic, shoot down every helicopter you see with a rocket launcher or even drive your vehicle of choice through the local city mall.

If I had to describe Saints Row 2 in one word, it would be “freedom”. The game doesn’t waste a single opportunity to put the player into the cockpit of a mini gun equipped helicopter or give them a rocket launcher that holds infinite ammunition. The game really gives the player the opportunity to do just about whatever they feel like and that makes it stand out from the rest of those games that only claim to have complete freedom.

Saints Row 2 is not a Grand Theft Auto knock off, but more of an alternative. GTA can sometimes feel like its forcing players through a funnel, giving players more and more opportunities and gameplay options as the game progresses. Saints Row 2 does things with complete freedom, giving the player all the keys to the city from the start rather than slowly throwing them a few here and there.

Bottom Line: Frankly, Saints Row 2 is just plain fun. Even though the mini-games get boring quickly, the artificial intelligence is a joke, the frame rate slow down can be painful and the gameplay can be a little too easy at times, the overall fun factor is so high that you’ll quickly forget about those problems.

Recommendation: This game should already be in your collection. BUY IT.

-by Tim Stenger (MrBrightside919)

Anime Review: Aquarion

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