After completing Saints Row IV a number of months back, I was faced with a question of which previous game to start next: Saints Row 2 or Saints Row: The Third. Both games had come in a super-special Saints Row bundle that I picked up on Steam, and playing either after SRIV made sense. By playing the third game, I’d be moving backwards through the story of the Third Street Saints, which sounded interesting. By playing Saints Row 2, it’d almost be like playing an origin story (though not really because I’ve not played the original Saints Row), which also sounded very interesting. I opted for playing the second game, because, as I understood it, it was a bit more reality-based (as “reality-based” as a video game can be) than the third and fourth games in the series. And after the fourth game, in which you, the player, become nothing short of a super hero, playing something a little more grounded seemed like a good idea.
(Spoilers ahead! I think. Well, I don’t know yet, because I haven’t written anything. Though…does anyone care about spoilers anymore? I know I do, and this is my blog so…SPOILERS, I say, dammit!)
So let’s get the particulars out of the way first. Saints Row 2 (2009) picks up after the (unbeknownst to me) events of the first game, in which you, the leader of the former gang the Third Street Saints, are presumed to be dead. But in fact, you are alive and ready for some good, old fashioned vengeance. Your hometown of Stilwater has been taken over by three other gangs: The Ronin, a sword-wielding biker gang; the Sons of Samedi, a suitably fucked-up drug syndicate; and The Brotherhood, beefy metal-heads and dealers in weapons. It’s your job to get the Third Row Saints back together in order to take back your city. But of course, it’s not that easy or that simple, because eventually, your real target turns out to be the ultra-nasty Ultor Corporation, a redevelopment conglomerate who’s more than happy to watch the gangs destroy each other in order to reach its own nefarious goals.
The world of Stilwater is an open playground that you can explore freely, by foot, car, or sometimes helicopter (well, sort of). As you do, you unlock stores, activities, mini-games, and missions. Completing the missions, which revolve around the three rival gangs, drives the games story. But in order to open up said missions, you have to gain Respect – that’s where the activities and mini-games come in. The more of those that you complete, the more Respect you gain, and more missions open up as a result. At any given time, multiple missions may become available, and you can play them in any order. There are eleven missions for each gang, plus a few prologue and epilogue missions. The gang missions have you do everything from taking out the gang members themselves, to making deliveries, to stealing/destroying various caches of things, to infiltrating hideouts. The activities and mini-games that you need to do in between the mission (and yes, you need to do at least some of them), involve tasks ranging from protecting drug dealers to playing card games to doing stunt jumps to spraying raw sewage on fancy things (my personal favorite). In addition to gaining Respect, the activities and mini-games also come with player bonuses should you complete them to their fullest extents, usually six levels apiece. For example, completing one of the “Septic Avenger” (HA!) activities to level six grants you 30% improved weapons accuracy.
That’s the game in a decently bullet-riddled nutshell. It’s sandboxy, looks great for a seven year old game, and it’s plenty full of action and adventure. My actual experience with the game itself can be summed up in what I told my husband when, upon finishing the game, he asked how I liked it. My response was:
I loved it, but no one should ever play it.
What’s with the goofy statement? Well, let’s start at the beginning…
For starters, I played the game on Steam, which likely represents the later port of the game to Windows from the PS3/Xbox 360. As such, it’s designed to be played with a keyboard and a mouse. This I could have done with a little effort, but I’m kinda lazy, so I played the whole thing with a controller. Despite the fact that ALL the on-screen instructions are given using keys and mouse buttons/movements, playing with a controller can be done. It took me a little time to figure out which buttons to use to drive, shoot, etc., but once I got the hang of things…
…I fucking hated the controls more than I have ever fucking hated anything.
Believe me folks, they are utterly rotten.
Sure, I could have switched over to keyboard/mouse, or I could have downloaded a mod that at least showed controller prompts, but at a certain point, my pride took over, and I was ridiculously determined to complete to game in the dumbest way that enraged me so badly during some sessions that I truly thought I was in for an aneurysm. When the controls worked, they were fine, but when they didn’t…well…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
Adding to this nightmare was the fact that the game was a motherfucking glitch-fest. Especially terrible was when the game would black out right in the middle of a mission. You best believe that after that happened a few times I started saving like there was no goddamn tomorrow. But also, my teammates would disappear and reappear randomly; while driving, cars would randomly show up just to crash into me, I swear. And once I flew a helicopter right though a building only to blow up, somehow, thanks to an invisible wall in an empty sky.
Setting aside these issues, I will applaud the game’s story – it’s very compelling and well-written. And it’s quite brutal. Really, if Saints Row IV is the comic book version of Grand Theft Auto, then Saints Row 2 is the truth upon which GTA was based. Yeesh. More than once I found myself cringing at the way people (from enemies to friends) were murdered in the most horrific ways, from being shot point blank and without remorse to being trapped and crushed. My character gave absolutely no fucks (like a koala in the rain) about who or how she was killing, so long as the people who needed to be dead were dead.
Oh, did I mention the whole character customization thing? Yep, that’s there, and it’s a nicely robust setup. The character options aren’t as extensive as they are in SRIV (no super hero outfits here), but you can still alter facial features, voices, and movements. In keeping with what I did in SRIV, I made a younger version of my feisty female, imagining that it would fun to see her rise to the top of gang stardom.
So my comment about loving the game but not recommending it is only a half-truth. Frankly, if you play PC games as one should, with a keyboard and mouse, then you probably already quit reading a few paragraphs back and think I’m one of “those” gamers. But if you kept reading then…thank you, for one. And two, I bet this game plays just fine as it was originally intended. (That doesn’t go for the glitchiness, which is likely a persistent problem with the port itself.) As far as action sandbox games go, I don’t know if I enjoyed this more than, say, GTA IV, but it definitely had me paying attention. It was great to spend time with a cast of characters that I knew or had heard of through SRIV, and it was fun getting to know the town of Stilwater, which also makes a guest appearance in SRIV.
I am so far very impressed with the Saints Row series. It’s obvious that the developers set out to create a cohesive and quirky universe, one with its own personality and personalities. With Stilwater now at peace, I’ve only just set foot into Saints Row: The Third, and I can’t wait to see how things pan out before aliens invade Steelport. (Which they do in SRIV. Sorry, spoilers?)