The lights are on
Saints Row 2 starts off with a bang but, at least for this gamer, went out with a frustrating whimper. The game took several missions to draw me in, but only one painfully poorly thought out segment to send it back to Gamefly.
The mission in question was one of the game's many Stronghold missions. For those of you who have played Infamous or Crackdown you're already familiar with the go to location X and complete objective Y in order to control area Z on the map. Like much of the rest of the game it wasn't the concept of these mission that caused a hang up, but rather the execution. This Stronghold mission from the Sons of Samedi arc tasked me with destroying drug stuffed fish and boat used to transport them at docking area.
Unfortunately, like with many other mission, the enemy AI seems geared entirely towards making your life harder than it should be. In one of the freezers is an enemy with a machete who, for some reason, requires multiple clips from almost any weapon to kill. After one warehouse your reputation meter, kinda like GTA's stars, will be so high that vehicles full of enemies start coming after you. Now this wouldn't be an issue, if it weren't for the fact that unless they are stopped within about five feet of you enemies consistently stay in their vehicle and attempt to run you down with reckless abandon.
The result is cars constantly blocking doors in buildings and trips across open ground normally winding up with you being run down and then killed even before you get back up. Throw in a dash of enemies with rocket launchers blowing you to kingdom come the second you step outside and it quickly became frustrating. That's not even the worse part of the mission though. No matter what time I accepted it, this particular assignment was performed at night in pouring rain that coats the camera, making attempting to navigate the flurry of gunfire and kamikaze cars to get to the docked boats nearly impossible seeing as, for all intensive purposes, I might as well have been blind.
Unfortunately, many of the later missions in each of the game's story arcs eventually build to the same cacophony of annoyance. Gunplay is serviceable, as is navigation, but many of the assignments strain the mechanics well beyond their individual breaking point. Also strained is the game's engine which, when it's not displaying last generation draw distances and textures, is chugging along at frame rates somewhere in the low to mid teens. To put it plainly, for a game that is only a little over two years old it looks horrible. Surprisingly contrary to the engine's other shortcomings, the game's character models possess a fairly nice level of detail and variation.
That's not to say the game isn't fun though, there's a lot to do outside of the missions full of endlessly spawning cars trying to run you down. I found the majority of the tongue in cheek side-missions to be enjoyable, especially the Septic Avenger, with the exception of the Helicopter escort missions which I found to be a massive missed opportunity. There's just something about driving a flaming ATV or crap flinging truck that makes me smile every time.
Outside of missions there is literally a metric ton of little things out and about in the world. From collecting everything from character accessories to tracks from the excellent selection of available songs, or customizing cars and cribs there's plenty else going on to keep you busy. I'd almost venture to say that messing around with vehicles and clothing is more fun than the actual game itself. For those just looking for an inexpensive title to mess around with, a world slightly more wacky and outlandish than GTA, then you've got something good here. Just don't expect a full game's worth of quality.
In the end Saints Row 2 has all of the gameplay aesthetics you could ever want, but none of the polish that it needs. All of the pieces are in place, but they're held together by scotch tape and white glue. For every round of Insurance Fraud there's an enemy waiting to spawn from the nether and run you down. In many ways the game is a parody of itself, with so many great things there so comically cobbled together. It's a godsend for those looking to pick it up that it'll only set you back about $18 from your local GameStop, or a little over $20 if you pick up the Platinum Double Pack of the first two games, because that's about all it's worth if you ask me.
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